Newly opened The Botanist Social specializes in gin cocktails, elevated fare

The new State Street restaurant brings a wide variety of gins and late night fresh food to the bar scene.
drink next to a menu on the bar at Botanist Social
Photo by Maija Inveiss

It’s taken more than two years for Valbon Beqiri’s restaurant concept to become a reality. The Botanist Social opened earlier this month on State Street after years of planning.

“I’ve always been in the restaurant business, which makes for crazy hours, but it’s something that I love,” Owner Beqiri says. “I love creating a space where people can come to enjoy themselves and celebrate achievements.”

Beqiri — whose parents operated a restaurant in Fort Atkinson when he was a kid — is no stranger to the restaurant industry. After having spent most of his childhood at his parents’ spot, Beqiri went to college in Whitewater, and graduated in 2010 before opening Brickhouse Pizza Pub in his hometown. 

Four years later, Beqiri opened a second restaurant in Fort Atkinson, Fort 88 Smokehouse. After those two restaurants, he set his sights on Madison and moved to the city with the intention of opening his third restaurant — The Botanist Social (located on the 200 block of State Street, where The Icon used to call home). 

The interior of The Botanist Social at the bar

Photo by Maija Inveiss

COVID-19 pushed plans behind, but as soon as Beqiri was able to get inside the space, the serious work began. He and his team had to fully renovate the interior — changing it from a bright red space to a more dimly lit, intimate atmosphere. 

“I think that the interior and the aesthetics is different than any place in Madison, especially on State Street,” Beqiri says. “It’s just kind of an East Coast vibe that we brought here, it’s a cozy spot where we play good music that makes you feel good.”

Beqiri says The Botanist Social is meant as a “come for the food and stay for the drinks” spot. The restaurant serves “elevated” bar food with a late night menu open until midnight on weekdays, and 1 a.m. on weekends.

The restaurant has only been open for a couple weeks, so the menu is still being figured by head chef Joseph Shutsa, but Beqiri says the lobster rolls and mushroom flatbread have been fan favorites so far.

The Botanist Social also boasts one of the largest gin selections of any bar in Wisconsin with 47 options. The cocktail menu started more manageable to help the bartenders get their feet under them, but Beqiri says that could change soon.

A Tom Collins made at The Botanist Social

Tom Collins made at The Botanist Social (Photo by Maija Inveiss)

Photo by Maija Inveiss

“I didn’t want to overwhelm anybody by having them make super complex drinks right off the bat, but actually after just a week they’ve been doing a really good job,” Beqiri says. “Once we get totally comfortable we’ll start making much more complex stuff.”

Beqiri says the restaurant hasn’t quite found its identity yet, however, he says people have already spent hours inside at a time because of the atmosphere. 

“From day one we’ve had great crowds, everybody gets wowed by the decor when they walk in, they love the vibe itself which is great,” Beqiri says. “I could not have asked for a better opening week — of the three restaurants I own now this opening went better than any I had before,” he says. 

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