Sometimes you don’t have to walk very far to feel like you are a world away. That is the beauty of the Echo Tap, located only a few blocks off campus at 554 W. Main St.
The Echo Tap is a bar true to the tradition of a neighborhood tavern, an escape from the noise of State Street. Situated at the convergence of student housing, upscale condo developments, sports fans on their way to the Kohl Center, and travelers passing by via the bus station, the bar attracts patrons from every slice of life.
Because it opens everyday at 9:30 a.m. and stays open until bartime every night of the week, no single crowd ever dominates. “In the day we might get some construction guys, and then at night we’ll see more students,” longtime bartender Troy Cox explains.
Situated across the street from the bus station, the bar is in many ways a convenient rest stop. Furthermore, the Echo has a takeout liquor license. So long as it is before 9 p.m., you can walk in and buy a bottle for the long journey ahead.
Weary travelers have historically welcomed the sight of the Echo Tap. Long before the bus became popular, train passengers would walk across West Washington for a quick drink. The bar’s name is derived from the “echo” sound of trains passing by.
Regulars will tell you how one bartender used to stop a ceiling fan with his tongue — provided he had enough liquid courage. Or maybe they’ll tell you about Bear, a man as big as the name suggests who worked at the bar for 25 years.
Owned by the same family since 1941, these stories are what you hope to find at a bar that sticks to its roots. “People like to linger — this is the type of place people might stop by for a beer everyday,” Cox adds.
Just because the bar is comfortable does not mean it is subdued. The crowd gets livelier as the night moves on. With plenty of televisions and only a quick walk to the stadium, sporting events are particularly popular.
A solid jukebox loaded with the Dead, Phish, Little Feat, the Beatles, and Stevie Wonder keeps the mood light-hearted. Helping out are good drinks, tasty food and well-priced specials.
The most popular special is the combo of $3 Captain and Cokes and $1.25 PBR pints on Thursday and Saturday. The other drink specials also offer very reasonable value.
There are 19 beers on tap. Seasonal beers by Capital Brewery make their way into the rotation, and currently the Winter Skal is available for $3.25. Other favorites such as Spotted Cow and newcomers like Shiner Bock are also among the choices.
While people are drawn to the drinks and the camaraderie, the food serves as another magnet. A different feature is offered daily to accompany the usual menu. The Echo’s Friday-night fish fry is a personal favorite and is a delicious reminder that we are indeed in the heart of Wisconsin.
The city of Madison is certainly changing. High-rises and martini bars seem to sprout like weeds. The Echo is a gentle reminder of our simpler roots. It is proof that character can’t be fabricated but must be created through the test of time.
Bartime will take a trip this weekend to the suburbs for some tropical drinks at the newly opened Cheeseburger in Paradise, located in Greenway Station at 1601 Aspen Commons in Middleton. Cheers!