Burgers and beers at the corner tap.

Jack walked into Lawry’s just after 4:30, about the same as every day once he’d finished his bread truck delivery route.  Jack was usually the first to arrive and find his place at the end of the bar near the neon lined glass block windows.

“I’ll have ‘the best beer in all the land’ he directed Big Jim who leaned on the bar waiting for the early evening regulars.  Jack knew what he ordered wasn’t ‘the best beer in all the land’, but it was a good, reliable and inexpensive beer brewed up north, in the same place for the last 150 years.  He also still enjoyed many of the more expensive craft and microbrews that were en vogue these days, but often chose the old reliable as he had his whole life to save a few dollars to help put his daughters through college.

Big Jim slid Jack the weekly paper promoting it’s panel discussion that evening on the future of neighborhood bars.  “How come you’re not going to be up on stage tonight?  You’ve tended bar at half the places in town and been drunk at all of them a time or two? No one knows more about bars in this town than their best customer.”

Glancing though the list of panelists Jack laughed at the idea. “There are a few here who know more about how to take the soul away from a neighborhood tavern than how to tend bar at one.  At least they have a writer who’s been to places like Dot’s Tavern that have real charm still.  And you can count on a writer to have lifted a glass or two himself.  I bet he’ll be the only one there actually having a drink tonight.  I’d buy him a whiskey shot if I went.”

“Maybe I don’t have a big enough title to get on the panel, I see there’s a Vice President of something who runs everything from college cafeterias to a steak house and some asian fusion place.  But they ruined the place that used to be a neighborhood tavern, they went and threw most of the place dumpster when they gutted it and pretty much treated the customers who were regulars the same way.  All those old clocks and nicknacks that gave the place character and charm, gone.  What is a ‘bubble-up’ anyway?”

“I guess Applebee’s calls itself a ‘neighborhood bar and grill’ and I am sure they’ve got a bunch of vice presidents of such and such,”  Big Jim chuckled as he drew Jack another beer.

Jack, who’s spent the first 25 years of his adult life, tending bars and working as a bouncer before opting for the more regular schedule and teamster benefits his delivery route job afforded him, wondered how often a vice president of an eighteen location food service operation even set foot in a neighborhood tavern, much less behind the bar of one.

“Some of these guy’s who are taking over the old time neighborhood tavern’s like the Tip Top Tavern have made them into some very nice restaurants….”

“…and that’s just it,” Big Jim started to complete the sentence, “they are too nice, too pricey.  I keep my joint simple so that my regulars can come in and get their burger and beer after work every night.  Larry comes after his mail route and those two brothers who have been stopping in after their bookkeeping jobs for years. Those guys have dinner here with their pals and only spend ten or twelve bucks if they don’t stay too late, but these new places, it’s twelve just for the damn ‘burger!”

“Jim, a few guys still do it right like you.  Genna’s gets the downtown afterwork crowd who live nearby or stop on their way home and they give them a good happy hour deal to keep it cheap.  The Harmony down the street shows you can have a variety of good food that’s still affordable for working guys.  The ‘Bou and Slices…. but there aren’t many. I just hope a few of those places can make it a few more years as long as I do.”

More waste from sanctimonious Soglin.

I didn’t want it to start this way, but I guess it was inevitable. The first post was always going to have to be a complaint about something, about someone, a frequent target. I’d hoped to set the tone initially with something more optimistic, but being stuck for another four years living in a city that really just Paul Soglin’s lawn that he wants us all  to get off of, I am stuck being the counter-grumbler, trying to take back the yard.

It’s been ten days since Mayor Soglin vetoed a beer license for Mad City Frites, a small Belgian fry restaurant on State Street that opened in the last year or so, and with the Common Council voting to over-ride the veto tonight my time is running out so I pound out my comments quickly.

It’s common these days for the Mayor to waste the council and the public’s time.  He’s been doing the same thing with the ordinance to regulate how long the public can rest on a city bench, another issue with virtually no Council support.  Every committee that’s taken testimony and voted on Soglin’s anti-sitting ordinance has unanimously opposed it.   In the face of this option though, his action is to forces extra meetings, extra votes, extra time to hear the outraged testimony.

A veto can be an important act, especially to make a point and take a principled stand, but in this case entirely unnecessary and it’s not even clear there’s a principle stance, but rather just a unwillingness to acknowledge things change. Soglin had his chance to make his point quite well at the meeting with his half hour lecture that didn’t dissuade the Council from approving the license on a vote or 19 to 1. And his position was well reported in the media. Earlier he made his point about the development of State Street when he threatened to veto a license for Hop Cat which passed the council and the Alcohol License Review Committee, with Soglin’s appointees, on just voice votes indicating little division. The current veto served to just increase his image as a cranky man who wants everything his own way while wasting everyone’s time along the way.

He’d be better to just move back to blogging himself. He clearly likes to write just as much as he likes to lecture, penning a three page veto message in his attempt justify his veto.

Alders expressed frustration over the original debate and Soglin’s lecturing. Some apologized and others expressed shame over the Council meeting. But despite the veto, Mad City Frites owner, Taylor Beebe, took the high road saying Soglin, just like her, loves the city and was doing what he thought was best.

Her remarks are noble and for her success a good move, but even as Soglin pleads otherwise, his veto does strike as an attack on “one innocent entrepreneurial restaurant”.  This veto differs from his proposed veto of the Hop Cat license. His argument is State Street and Capital Square are being taken over by restaurants and bars at the expense of retail. A veto of Hop Cat would have served a message that this location should be open for another type of business, for consideration as retail as part of it had previously been. But Mad City Frites already exists. The veto sends the message that he’s displeased with that existing business in that location and his hope can fairly be interpreted as hoping that business will fail so the location can be open for another use. Taylor Beebe would be right to take the Mayor’s veto as a personal attack on her business even though he conflates it with a defense of a large vision.

The Mayor’s veto message is consumed with commentary about the millions invested over the years by the city in State Street and the Capital Concourse and his argument that this “abandonment of the public trust” in granting more licenses “confirmed the potential waste” of this investment. Mayor Soglin would be hard pressed to have made a more disingenuous argument on wasting public investment. Within the last few months Mayor Soglin unilaterally had public art, Philosophers Grove, worth $200,000 torn out and pushed for the removal of a bus stop that likely cost an additional $100,00  as he flounders with how to positively address the issue of homelessness in Madison.  There’s no greater “abandonment of the public trust” when this sort of waste is perpetrated by a very angry sanctimonious man.

All of this begs the question as well of why Mayor Soglin wants to risk wasting even more city investment by following through with his current Judge Doyle Square proposal. If he feels that downtown investment is being wasted then why push so hard for Madison large investment every though TIF funding?

What market outcomes does he think bringing a large number of new workers and the guests of another hotel will do to to the marketplace?

Soglin also dismisses alders who cite market forces as the reason retail has declined downtown over the years and will surely ignore the what the market will demand when there the Exact Science employees and new hotel guests wants and need more places to get lunch downtown and more places to grab a drink at the end of the day. What other market outcomes does he think bringing a large number of new workers and the guests of another hotel will do to to the marketplace?

Tonight the Council will be right when they override Soglin’s veto and that’s the most positive outcome I can think of from this: another quick rebuke and moving on.