Exploring the history and cultural landscape of Madison, Wisconsin – Part 1: Baby boomers & beer bars

July 6, 2007

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor the first wave of Baby Boomers, those born when Harry S. Truman was still president of the 48 United States of America, coming of age in Madison, Wisconsin meant coping with conflicting messages about adulthood: You could drink beer legally when you turned 18, but you couldn’t drink liquor or vote until you were 21.

While there must have been teenagers who couldn’t care less about turning 18, most of those who were lucky enough to celebrate their 18th birthday on a weekday, grabbed their birth certificates and a strip of photos taken in one of those do-it-yourself photo booths at Woolworth’s and hurried over to the new City-County Building on Monona Avenue to obtain the all-important identification card.

Beer bars catering to those between 18-20 are a thing of the past, victims of 1985 Wisconsin Act 337 (effective September 1, 1986), which raised the uniform drinking age to 21. But the memories linger on, even if most of the establishments didn’t.

By the time most of the early Baby Boomers began to turn 21, changes were already afoot in the Madison beer bar scene. Increasing resistance to the Vietnam War on the UW-Madison campus altered the look and feel of State Street, as merchants boarded up their windows and a sort of siege mentality arose. The University’s continued expansion altered the landscape of lower State Street. The Kollege Klub, for instance, was forced to move from its State Street location when the Memorial Library addition was built in the early 1970s — and people who frequented the “old” KK will tell you the new one just wasn’t the same: Something more than the location had changed.

State Street then (in the early to mid-1960s) as now, was a center of action. The Kollege Klub, The Pub, and Chesty’s were three of the biggest attractions. Each had its own reputation, its own crowd of regulars. The Pub, for instance, was known for having long waiting lines, as well as a strictly enforced policy of not admitting unescorted women.

But if someone in your crowd could drive and had a car, it was the “suburban” bars that really drew crowds: Rusty’s and the Bunny Hop in Middleton, and The Black Lemon in Sun Prairie. These bars had large dance floors, great jukeboxes, and huge parking lots that always seemed to be full.

The Bunny Hop closed long ago. Rusty’s is still around, but according to Marlene, who was a Rusty’s regular back in the good old days, things have changed. “There isn’t much of anything on their jukebox,” she reports, and “The dance floor has been long gone.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Black Lemon closed at the end of the 1960s, but the building is still there, and the current owner, a 1966 University of Wisconsin – Madison alumnus, remembers a lot about it. Three months ago, accompanied by a notebook and my camera, I paid him a visit. Any day now, I’ll finish writing my post about “The Black Lemon then and now”.

Until that day arrives, I’ll offer a challenge and a source for more first-hand observations about the beer bar scene in the 1960s. The challenge is to figure out the significance of what’s been hidden under the carpet in the second photo accompanying this post.

The first-hand observations from some Madison Central High School alumni can be found HERE and HERE. I’d love to read more observations, commentary, and memories about the 1960s beer bar scene, but I hope you’ll leave them here, not there.

Note: This post is the first of what I hope will be many more exploring the history and cultural landscape of Madison, Wisconsin. How frequently they’ll occur remains to be seen, because life and work provide many distractions and there’s always “something else to do…”

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous July 6, 2007 at 3:24 pm

Your posts on the teen-angst beer bars has been a wonderful trip down memory lane. One that seems to be omitted from your list was the Shuffle Inn on Park Street, which if my memory serves me correctly, was owned by JoAnn Pedracine’s (Central Class of ’64) father. It seemed to have a little rougher reputation than the Bunny Hop or most of the others that you had mentioned but I think that Mr. Pedracine actually did a pretty good job of running a clean bar. I seem to remember a small dance floor and several pool tables and of course those wonderful Hamm’s Beer scrolling clocks, so it was really like most of the other hangouts of its day.

WormDr
(MCH Class of 64)

Chuck Peterson August 10, 2007 at 12:57 am

Nadine, I was a regular in 1967 at the Shuffle Inn on Park ST and became a bartender shortly after that. The owners at the time were Pete Zilley and John (forgot last name). I worked there until I went active duty to Vietnam in Sept of 68. I returned in Feb of 70 and started shortly thereafter at the new location on the Beltline next to Kayser Ford. My days at the Shuffle were very memorable, in that I gained so many friends from being associated with the business.
I live out of state, but look forward to seeing a few friends when I get the chance to return.

Mr Dawg - hhi, SC October 7, 2007 at 11:12 pm

I recall the fun we used to have ~ 1961-1964 at four 18 yr beer bars north of Milwaukee. There was “The Old House”, The VFW Club”, “Eddie’s and Tessy’s and a 4th one I can not recall. True, the State issued ID card was key.
Good bands and dancing—there was nothing else like it, when you were 18.

Jo Ann November 18, 2007 at 6:15 pm

Hi Nadine! I was tickled to see my name Jo Ann Pedracine Benzer (1964) here and happy to read the wonderful memory-lane information. My folks Al and Bette Pedracine did run the Shuffle Inn on Park Street in the 50’s and early 60’s. They sold it in 1962. The Shuffle Inn during their reign was known for the shuffle board tournaments and live music which they brought in from Chicago. Notables such as famous drummer Gene Krupa performed there. Personally, I was one of the Rusty’s and State Street crowd post high school.

Gary December 20, 2007 at 7:01 am

Jo Ann, I’m a musician and my 1st road gig was at the Shuffle Inn in January 1962. I’m reconstructing my gig history; do you know what the address of the Shuffle was?
I’m also the author of 2 books on music from WI in the 50’s & 60’s, and I’m still seeking info on the Nite Caps, another band that played the Shuffle. I’m at gem777 at earthlink.net
Gary

Anonymous December 31, 2009 at 10:15 pm

I remember seeing Van Halen at the Shuffle Inn in 1978. They were new and in town to open for Journey and another band (I think Montrose) at the Orpheum. The stage wasn’t big enough to handle all the equipment for 3 bands so Van Halen was booted off the bill. Since they were in town anyway they played the Shuffle. I was actually there that night to see a Milwaukee band that I liked and we were initially ticked that their set was cut short for some band called “Van Halen”. Turned out to be a fun,wild night.

Anonymous August 25, 2010 at 4:31 am

Shuffle Inn
The place was a kids dream…hot bands upfront(including the Rockafellas I think), great pool money games($$$), 6 deep at the bar, 60-64 was this weekend beer bar place to be.
We thought it would never end, the UW could wait, but the draft wouldn’t(grad school pulled a few away til 71..sad to tell,as did the war).
Met so many wonderful people, women and friends, all trying to talk close, while the bands roared on.
Corvettes, tops down, stacked up in front, on the best nights…no fights to speak of..to much “action” as we called it!!!
Al and Betty handled everything superbly….
Always started somewhere in town, but had to make the scene at the Shuffle by ten.
Many a new date was met during a band break, with a chance to talk with the person we looked for across the bar….real authentic youth culture Madison made… and no violence or drugs to speak of!!!

Anonymous October 28, 2011 at 2:11 am

Great memories, "shuffle in stagger out" we used to say about the shuffle. But how about "the three bells" on university ave? factory workers, University students and air force (Truax was still an active air base)all mixed. I remember Roy Orbison and for some reason the song "Scotch and Soda" always reminds me of The Three Bells

Anonymous April 8, 2012 at 11:10 pm

I just happened upon this web site and enjoyed reading about my parents’ Shuffle Inn (Al and Bette Pedracine). I am JoAnn’s sister, Pat. It was a great place and we were always so proud of the nice establishment our folks ran. Someone asked about the address — I don’t remember it exactly but I believe it was in the 900 block of South Park Street.
Pat Pedracine Falduto
CHS Class of 1958

Anonymous July 9, 2012 at 2:12 am

I was a student at UW from ’57 to ’62. My friends and I loved the Shuffle Inn: “Dixieland jazz and beer drinking contests. The house band was the Saints of Dixieland. They always ended their night with “When the Saints Go Marching In” with Jim Bebee playing a trombone solo with his foot. When the touring Dukes of Dixieland came in, they took Jim along with them when they left. And yes, I saw Gene Krupa there and thought: What a fall from Carnege Hall!

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