One common thread in Madison is the passion people have for bars. Students and locals alike often discuss why one place is better than another or what they would do to make a place better. There is no shortage of opinions.
Fortunately for those of us who enjoy such discourse, there is also no shortage of bars in Madison. When a new bar makes an entrance to our urban playground, it is an exciting event and requires firsthand inspection.
This summer witnessed the grand openings of three new bars — Johnny O’s Restaurant and Bar, Crave Lounge, and the Public House. Time will tell how long each of these new choices will integrate into the campus scene. Yet if any of them has a clear head start, it is undoubtedly Johnny O’s, located at 620 University Ave.
Since its June opening, Johnny O’s has only grown in popularity. Lines out the door are commonplace and move quickly, due to a comfortable capacity of about 400. People don’t mind the wait, and few, if any, are lamenting the loss of the dingy food court and Mad Dog’s Bar that Johnny O’s replaced.
The new space is very clean, featuring wood panels, exposed brick and vintage tavern mirrors. An oval-shaped island with an elevated fireplace surrounded by lounge seating greets patrons. The bar is framed by a long, curved counter and is lined with comfortable, modern-looking barstools. The back bar is marked by a large see-though cooler. A concentrated game area features four foosball tables, two dartboards, and Golden Tee.
One of the bar’s most impressive features is a 200-gallon saltwater aquarium, which cleverly camouflages the entrance to the bathrooms.
Johnny O’s is astonishingly large, extending far back from the street. However, it is not imposing, given a stylish design that incorporates creative light fixtures, an exposed ceiling and an abundance of seating. Booths and tables are everywhere, and even when the bar is packed, a few seats always seem to be available.
Garage-door-style windows open out onto a patio along University Avenue. These are coveted seats and allow for an unobstructed view of all who come and go inside. When the weather is comfortable, this is the place to be, and you hardly notice the gigantic ape above Club Amazon watching your every move.
Although still working out some of the typical new bar kinks, Johnny O’s features more than 40 types of martini. While these drinks might not meet the standards of a martini purist, they do offer new tastes to experiment with when a typical Captain and Coke just won’t do.
One of the more popular martini choices is the Ruby Slipper — a tribute to the Land of Oz, mixed with Finlandia Cranberry, orange liquor, sloe gin, sour and cranberry juice. Another top-seller is a variation on the Jaeger-Bomb called the Speedy Gonzalez, which is created with Jaegermeister, Absolut vodka and Monster energy drink. Whether your martini choice is something exotic, like the Stoned Jamaican, or more common, like a Cosmopolitan, expect to shell out between $6.75 and $7.75.
On a more familiar level, bottles of Corona are $2.75, and Lite bottles and taps are $3. Mixed drinks start at $3.25 and peak out at $5.25 for doubles.
Johnny O’s is trying not to be a typical bar — as evidenced by the martini drinks designed to mimic the atmosphere. Co-owner Jamie Okonek explained, “We wanted to create an upscale feel, a place where people could dress up a bit.”
The owners’ stylish intents are not lost on their audience. Girls are dressed in stylish (albeit revealing) tube tops. Guys do the part to look their collegiate best, deciding to leave the hat at home and maybe wearing something other than jeans. While Johnny O’s is a good place for a date, it does have a definite ass-available vibe, further evidenced by the “Elimidate” taping auditions held there in early August. As UW senior Sean Frye said, “Johnny O’s has lots of good-looking girls. It is easy to get distracted!”
In addition, there are larger-than-life projection-screen TVs throughout Johnny O’s. These are dangerous because it is all too easy to glance over your companion’s shoulder and catch “Sportscenter” highlights while feigning interest in a conversation.
Johnny O’s is quickly making a name for itself. Check out all it has to offer, and maybe you’ll agree with many people who think this is the new campus hotspot.
Bartime is back for another semester of serious research. Keep your eyes open every Friday for profiles of all the old and new drinking establishments in the Madison area and beyond. Look for a profile of Crave Lounge this Friday, Sept. 5. Cheers!