The world contains two types of bars. The first type, known as a “drinker’s bar,” features drinks and drinking as the main attraction with few additional frills. The second, which I’ll simply call “a bar with other stuff,” might have a significant food component, video games, and so on. You might be aware of this distinction, and I will not judge the merits of either type, as both have their strong points, depending on one’s particular mood. Keeping this difference in mind, Bartime recently visited Paul’s Club, located a block from the Capitol on State Street.
Paul’s Club is a true drinker’s bar. They do not serve food, they do not have drink menus, they do not have video games, and they do not serve drinks in plastic cups. They do make very complicated, good and interesting drinks for customers to enjoy. People come to Paul’s Club to enjoy the camaraderie of their fellow man, listen to eclectic tunes from the jukebox and enjoy their drinks. The bartenders are professional and cordial, and they know many of their customers by name.
To previous generations, Paul’s was known for its ice cream drinks, such as Grasshoppers or Pink Squirrels. Although it still makes these drinks today, Paul’s current reputation has changed somewhat over the years.
“Paul’s Club is now known more for our microbrew selection and our Bloody Mary,” said manager Jim Meehan.
One entirely unique drink featured by Paul’s Club is called the Firefighter. This drink features a complex recipe that Paul’s Club bartenders are sworn to secrecy to protect. Bar legend has it that a Paul’s Club bartender in the 1960s who was training to be a firefighter developed the recipe. In short, it is a tasty, red, fruity cocktail that packs a punch.
Of course, one can enjoy true favorites that range from martinis to margaritas to cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon. The drinks are moderately priced, and the bar caters to upperclassmen, graduate students, and young professionals.
Upon entering Paul’s Club, one notices a very distinct and unique feature — the large tree appearing to rise from the floor into the middle of the bar and up through the ceiling. Upon seeing the tree for the first time, many people ask, “How did they get the tree in here?”
The tree actually predates Paul’s Club, which opened at its existing location in 1962. Prior to its incarnation as a bar, the location housed a French restaurant known with the peculiar name of Spanish Poodle. The woman who owned the restaurant wanted to create a French cafe-type setting, and consequently found a tree that was about to be cut down on Sherman Avenue. (I suppose changing the name to French Poodle would have been too easy.) The lower part of the tree was cut into sections, then painstakingly put back together inside the restaurant. When the restaurant left in 1962 and Paul’s Club took over, the tree stayed.
There are a few misconceptions about Paul’s Club that need to be dispelled. First, the tree is not fake or plastic; it was once a real tree. Secondly, the leaves are also real, but not original. The leaves are supplied from a theatrical supplier, spray-painted and fireproofed, and reapplied every two or three years. Lastly, Paul’s Club suffered serious fire damage in 1992, but neither the bar, the tree nor the building were entirely destroyed. In fact, the fire started on the second floor of the building, and Paul’s Club mostly suffered smoke and water damage. As a consequence of the fire, the owner decided to remodel the bar as it appears today.
Other distinct characteristics of Paul’s Club are the pewter mugs behind the bar. Previously known as noggins (the original name of the bar was Paul’s Noggin Club), these mugs are specially ordered and made in Pennsylvania, and have the owner’s name, nickname and number engraved. There are currently 285 individual mugs behind the bar, and for the most part, a mug is a quick way to identify a regular. The mugs represent the club concept in Paul’s Club.
As the nation comes to grips with the recent terrorist attacks, I could not help but be reminded of a quote from the 19th-century British poet Samuel Coleridge, who wrote, “Friendship is a sheltering tree.” The meaning behind his statement is appropriate, especially as friends are gathering together to console and comfort one another. On a more symbolic level, we can find truth to his sentiment at Paul’s Club, where friends actually gather to drink beneath a tree.
With this spirit in mind, may I suggest you get some of your friends together and head to Paul’s Club. Take the opportunity to salute our nation’s finest with a Firefighter. While it might not make you more patriotic, you will taste one of Madison’s legendary drinks.
The bar opens at 4:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, 12:00 p.m. Saturday, and 5:00 p.m. Sunday. Paul’s Club closes around bartime, and major credit cards are accepted.
Paul’s Club is well known for its Bloody Mary. The manager, Jim Meehan, provided Bartime with this special recipe.
Paul’s Club Bloody Mary
Mix the following ingredients in a pint glass:
3 ounces premium vodka
5 shakes of Lea & Perrin’s Worcestershire sauce
2 shakes celery salt
3 shakes Tabasco sauce
1.5 ounces of pickle juice (the key to a good Bloody Mary!)
1 shake salt
1 shake pepper
1 can of Sacramento tomato juice
Garnish with lemon, lime, pickle, olive, and celery. Mix well with a cocktail straw or stirrer, and enjoy!
Other good ingredients to add to your Bloody are A1 Steak Sauce or horseradish.
Bartime will complete our tour of Paul’s Club next week with a discussion on the finer points of bar etiquette. Until next week, cheers!