For his book “Tavern League,” photographer Carl Corey spent two years traversing Wisconsin in his RV, capturing all manner of local taverns, pubs and dive bars. His only qualification for inclusion? The locales had to foster a sense of community among patrons.
“(The taverns) all had their own personality,” said Corey, who will be celebrating the photo book’s release with a party at Mickey’s Tavern, 1524 Williamson St., on Thursday, August 11 from 6 to 8 p.m. “And that personality is dictated by the types of people that congregate there.”
Corey found himself particularly drawn to places like The Red Room in Sturgeon Bay, where each morning the bar’s owner provides a free breakfast of pastries and coffee for the town’s retired shipbuilders. The book also contains photographs of pubs in locales as far-flung as Milwaukee, La Crosse and Elmhurst. Two cities missing from the book, however, are Green Bay and Madison.
“I think (those cities) have another connotation — Title Town with Green Bay and then Madison with the college campus — so I decided to avoid them,” said Corey. “Now, I know there are bars in Madison…that are very much community bars, and I’m sorry I didn’t photograph them.”
With that in mind, here are five local joints that should make an appearance if Corey ever decides to pursue “Tavern League: Volume 2.”
2505 Monroe St.
Laurel Tavern owner Dianne Zilley insisted it’s the personal touches that set her bar apart. “We know (our customers) by name,” she said. “It’s more personal than a T.G.I. Friday’s or a Chili’s.” Fittingly, the local pub, which features a large dining room with a small fireplace and a separate gaming area with billiard and darts, projects a comfortable, lived-in feel.
Sweeney’s Oakcrest Tavern
5371 Old Middleton Rd.
Built in 1951, the Oakcrest has long been a favorite stop for locals, according to bartender Tom Gleason. “It’s just a nice little hole-in-the wall,” he said. “We get a real neighborhood crowd.” The small space behind the L-shaped bar pulls double-duty as the tavern’s kitchen, where a cook grills up fresh meats procured from the butcher shop directly across the street.
Harmony Bar & Grill
2201 Atwood Ave.
On a recent Tuesday evening the Harmony was packed with longtime regulars like Karen Barry and Peter Calderwood, who have both been making regular treks to the bar since it opened over two decades ago. “I often run into someone I know,” said Barry. Calderwood, in turn, praised the tavern’s lack of pretense, calling it a “good, working-class neighborhood bar.” The checkered floors, strung-up Christmas lights and playbills advertising old blues shows only add to its charm.
Tony Frank’s Tavern
1612 Seminole Hwy.
Walking into Madison institution Tony Frank’s, which was established in 1929, can feel a bit like walking into someone’s home. It’s a feeling that persists everywhere from the outdoor patio to the cozy interior, which looks as though someone opted to construct a bar in their living room. “It’s a great family bar and there’s a real sense of loyalty,” said bartender Ali Hurtgen. “We have a lot of people who have been coming in for 20-plus years.”
3801 Mineral Point Rd.
Glenway Golf Course provides a picturesque backdrop for this longtime favorite, which was established in 1928 and has changed little since. “If it’s not broken we don’t fix it,” said bartender Julie J. “People have come in after being gone 20 years and it’s just like they remembered.” Also adding to the bar’s unique character? Shadowbox dining tables displaying everything from Pez dispensers to vintage baseball memorabilia, and a large Bucky Badger sign autographed by famed visitors like former Packers quarterback Lynn Dickey.