I once had a fortune cookie with the following message: “True love is like ghosts, something which everybody talks about but few have seen.” This quote applies to our maiden Bartime voyage. Le Tigre Lounge, located on the near-west side at 1328 South Midvale, sits in a strip mall adjacent to an auto parts store and a hardware store and is a place many people talk about but few have actually seen.
As unassuming as this little lounge is from the outside, it is full of character on the inside. Immediately upon entering Le Tigre, one is overwhelmed by omnipresent tiger imagery. The presence of tiger paintings, tiger figurines, and even a pair of tiger-print panties hanging from the mouth of a tiger statue near the vintage cash register have all the subtlety of a blow to the temple by a ball-peen hammer purchased at the hardware store next door. Literally, there is a whole lot of tiger action (over 500 items, according to one source), including an actual stuffed tiger at the front entrance. Some items have been gifts from friends and customers; the stuffed tiger came from a friend who shot it in South Vietnam in the 1950s. But because the shades never open in the front window, one is unable to witness this tiger time warp without actually settling down for a cocktail inside of Le Tigre Lounge.
Once inside, one truly feels one has left Madison for the jungle. Don’t expect to hear any Guns’n’Roses, however. Why no G’n’R? The owner, Steve Josheff, who was working behind the bar last Friday night, hand-picks his music for what is easily one of the most eclectic and truly old-school jukeboxes in Madison. On the box you will find the likes of Englebert Humperdink, Willie Nelson, Frank Sinatra, Elvis, and Patsy Cline. The most recent tune is 1985’s “Just a Gigolo” by David Lee Roth. This jukebox, composed strictly of 45-speed records, plays seven songs for your dollar. There are actually two jukeboxes, but the other one takes only 50-cent pieces and has been unoperational the past few times I have visited Le Tigre.
Josheff has been in the bar business for over 50 years. Le Tigre’s initial incarnation was the Fireside Lounge located near the stadium. About 36 years ago, Josheff closed the Fireside Lounge and opened Le Tigre at its current location. There was no particular reason Josheff changed the name. “I went with tigers because I couldn’t get an elephant through the front door,” Josheff jokingly explained.
Josheff also warned not to expect any drink specials at Le Tigre: “Every hour is happy hour!” The bar is well stocked; there are a variety of domestic and import beers as well as your standard mixed drinks. You can also get one of my personal favorites, Pabst in a can. If you order a shot, prepare for a much larger glass than usual — at least one and a half times larger than your typical shot glass.
There is not much variety in Josheff’s wine selection; however, the Chardonnay was pleasant and presented in an unusual crooked-stemmed glass. Prices are very reasonable.
The bar itself is small and intimate, which might explain the three not-so-shy couples with raging PDA last Friday night (or is it the tiger imagery?) According to Josheff, Le Tigre is a popular place for dates and couples, which is one reason he enforces a strict non-swearing policy.
“I’ll give you one warning,” he explains. “The second time you might be asked to leave — it’s all about class.”
One of the most unusual characteristics of Le Tigre is the restrooms, which to access, you must actually leave the physical space of the bar. The men’s room is so small I’m surprised one patron can get in, let alone two. The graffiti is also quite impressive, but I will leave that for you to discover.
Adjacent to the restrooms is a downward-sloping loading ramp. Regulars tell me that after a few of Josheff’s monster-sized shots, it is a blast to slide down the ramp. (Special thanks to Tony, Justin (aka Funk), Matt, Carrie, Mike, Ryan, Chris, Josh, Brent, and Jamie for their insight!) Although intrigued, I decided to leave the slide adventure for another time.
The next time you need to soothe your soul on the near west side, sidle on up to one of the vinyl barstools at Le Tigre Lounge. You will find it to be a memorable experience. The bar is open every day except Sunday, beginning at 4:00 pm daily and closing around bartime. Grrrrrr!
Because there was no signature drink, I researched and discovered an exotic “Tiger” drink that fits the Le Tigre motif just fine. 1960s lounge music is purely optional.
BENGAL TIGER (source: iDrink.com)
1.5 ounce Brandy
0.5 ounce Cherry Liqueur
1.0 ounce Pineapple Juice
0.5 ounce Triple Sec
Take a cocktail shaker and half-fill it with ice cubes. Pour all drink ingredients into the shaker, and shake, shake, shake! Strain into a glass and serve.
Bartime will be at Paul’s Club tonight, Friday, Sept. 14, at 8:00 pm, where we will try to learn the secrets of the tree. Paul’s Club is located at 212 State Street; you can call them at 257-5250. Cheers!