Avenue Club bubbles over with change

Food Fight revamps East Washington corner...
Avenue Club bubbles over with change
Avenue Club and Bubble Up Bar has been revamped with an intriguing menu and cocktails.

Avenue Club and Bubble Up Bar
1128 E. Washington Ave.
257-6877, avenueclubmadison.com

Restaurants come and go. Others reinvent themselves, like the Avenue Bar, now the Avenue Club and Bubble Up Bar. Like its East Washington neighborhood, the Avenue Club has gone upwardly mobile. It began life as a commonplace corner tavern. In 1970, Skip Zach and Cam Hubanks bought it and began to serve dinner three nights per week. By the mid-’80s, Skip’s son Paul and his wife Clare joined the business that was now more restaurant than bar, and it soon doubled in size. The old Avenue was best known for its Friday night fish fry, which included a fish boil–rarely found elsewhere in Madison.

In 2011, Madison dining consortium Food Fight bought the Avenue. Things remained relatively the same until last year when it closed for a major makeover, reopening in the fall. Gone were the rec room paneling festooned with rusty old farm tools and paintings worthy of Thomas Kinkade. The new look can only be described as its antithesis: contemporary, stylish and uncluttered. Many intimate spaces, with both booths and tables, now break up the once barnlike dining room. The long serpentine bar remains, but is transformed with showy zebra-striped wood that’s more suited to the craft cocktails it now dispenses.

Even more dramatic is the revamped menu. Don’t expect canned green beans with the nightly special! Food treatment is every bit as modern and sophisticated as the decor. Both lunch and dinner possibilities rely heavily on dishes to share–soups, salads and sandwiches. Entrees include a 12-ounce strip steak with a red wine sauce and loaded duchess potatoes, and pan-roasted salmon with a crispy potato pancake and creamy spinach. Forgo one of the predictable desserts for a sumptuous ice cream cocktail.

Friday night fish fry survives as a beer-battered cod sandwich; it’s served with either fries, coleslaw or a salad. Variations substituting baked cod or fried walleye are also available. What stands apart, however, is the pan-seared walleye with a shallot and white wine reduction served with green beans, smashed baby red potatoes and Brussels sprout slaw. A rich New England-style clam chowder comes à la carte.

Positively more original is “Chicken and Champagne Sundays.” Fried chicken (marinated, dipped in buttermilk and dredged in seasoned flour) is meant to be shared–either four or eight pieces–with the option of several sides. Obviously, Champagne is a good idea anytime, but drinking it on Sunday is an English wine bar custom that I’ve long waited to catch on here. This nightly special puts the bubble in the Bubble Up Bar with a nice selection of eight sparkling wines, all by the bottle and five by the glass.

The Avenue Club and Bubble Up Bar is open seven days a week for lunch, and dinner and brunch on weekends. There is also a special late-night menu served 10 p.m. until midnight. No matter what the future may hold for the new Avenue, I predict memories of the old place will only improve with age.