Seize the City!

Even though we’re a capital city, the dress code here is decidedly provincial, which is one good reason why the annual Frostiball is such a huge hit. Dashing up the Capitol steps in three-inch heels (with Prince Charming in tow) to dance the night away under the dome is about as cosmopolitan as it gets for our Madtown sophisticate. This year’s gala is January 30.

Art lovers needn’t head to a bigger metropolis to get their fix of world-class paintings, photography, sculpture and more. The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art offers a rotation of exhibitions that is continually diverse, thought-provoking and expertly presented. Opening this month, Apple Pie: Symbols of Americana draws from the museum’s permanent collection to showcase art that addresses icons of American identity, while this spring brings a survey of contemporary art from the state in Wisconsin Triennial. And if a day of art viewing works up an appetite, head up the glass stairs—a work of sculpture in its own right—to Fresco for a dinner of contemporary American cuisine. And for even more art, don’t miss Gallery Night, a twice-a-year celebration held at galleries, museums and businesses across town.

There’s never a bad time to take in a Madison Symphony Orchestra concert in Overture Hall. But it would be unfortunate to miss the symphony’s performance with violinist Pinchas Zuckerman and cellist Amanda Forsyth on February 5–7. Maestro John DeMain will lead this husband-and-wife team through Saint-Saëns’s “The Muse and the Poet.” The concert will also highlight principal organist Samuel Hutchison on the Overture Concert Organ to perform Saint-Saëns’s “Symphony No. 3″—the first time since Overture Center’s opening in 2004.

Sure, we don’t have a Barney’s, Sak’s or Neiman Marcus (neither does Milwaukee, by the way) but we do have one of the largest shopping websites in bop, so huge its editors attend New York Fashion Week, it’s a darling of all of the major fashion mags and the creative minds that work there have their hands in lots of other local projects. Guild, the largest art and craft website, is also a local venture. Context has been cited in GQ, Esquire and Details as a top Midwest men’s shopping destination. And the list goes on. One can literally find anything you’re looking for—whether it’s a gorgeous silk wedding gown (Premiere Couture), handmade headband (Anthology), wooden roll toy (Capitol Kids) or taxidermied peacock (J. Taylor). Pop up to the Square or Monroe Street and find the fashionably dressed everywhere you turn.

The term “sidewalk sale” isn’t so appealing to many. So why is it appealing to so many during Maxwell Street Days, State Street’s yearly blowout? Well, the deals, for one. But more so it’s the camaraderie of your fellow shoppers on the bustling street, the sunshine, the strains of street music, that fabulous handbag. It’s the closest you’ll get to a street bazaar in a foreign city without leaving.  Experience it July 16–18 this year—and every summer after. 

From spectacular costumes to the beloved score—featuring Elton John and Tim Rice’s Oscar-winning “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” and “Circle of Life”—Disney’s The Lion King is already being touted as the must-see performing arts event of the year. The Tony Award-winning Broadway musical will have an extended run at Overture Center April 27 to May 23, but it’ll surely be the roar of the town much longer. 

In a warehouse-like space tucked in the city’s near-east side, renowned artists from around the country quietly come to create innovative series of prints at the equally renowned Tandem Press. Nicola López, Judy Pfaff, Richard Cottingham and David Lynch have made their mark at this printmaking studio, which is open for touring. Not every Madisonian may know about Tandem, but every printmaker likely does.

If you live or work downtown, these spring and fall drop-in t’ai chi classes are a fresh alternative to the modern lunch break. Learn the fundamentals of this ancient Chinese mind-body exercise on the Monona Terrace rooftop at noon on Tuesdays and Thursdays in spring and fall. All ages are welcome, as anyone can learn and benefit from these authentic exercises that help you relax, move properly and cultivate your energy. The next series starts in May.

Head to Overture Hall April 9 or 11 for Madison Opera’s production of The Flying Dutchman. Not only is it a story filled with stormy seas, a deal made with the devil and the promise of redemption through true love—it’s also the Madison Opera’s first staging of an opera by Richard Wagner. Get a behind-the-scenes preview of the production on March 28 in an Opera UpClose segment with general director Allan Naplan.

Sure, you can sit on a bench on State Street and hear street musicians year-round. But an organized concert series on the famed pedestrian thoroughfare featuring big-name acts like Jan Wheaton, Leo and Ben Sidran, and Richie Cole for free can only be Jazz at Five. This summertime staple is thoroughly democratic—sit wherever you want to place your chair (unless you have a reserved table) since everywhere offers great, up-close views of all perfor-mances. Did we mention it’s free?

The Capitol sometimes seems like the Arc de Triomph in Paris—do our denizens even realize what we’re driving by (or around) every day? Or is it so ubiquitous that one fails to notice its magnificence? Either way, get thee to the ninety-plus-year-old Capitol. Not just for school field trips, the stately building houses fascinating stories, architecture and art from around the world. 266-0382 

The UW Arboretum‘s 1260 acres are always fun to explore. But for a new perspective on Madison’s natural treasure, sign up for one of their guided walks. The Visitor Center offers tours year-round that cover topics such as wildlife, the seasons and Aldo Leopold. Family walks introduce children to nature through fun and educational trips, while night walks provide a new way of experiencing the local forests, prairies and wetlands.

The colder months are actually a nice time to visit Picnic Point, the popular natural area at the end of a mile-long peninsula. It’s quiet, the migratory birds are often in flight, and there isn’t any foliage to obstruct the lovely views of the Capitol and university across Lake Mendota. Picnic Point is also home to six visible Native American burial mounds.

When the weather warms, hop on your bike for a new way to experience the city. The Capital City State Trail is a nearly twenty-mile overview of the Madison area. It takes bicyclists through near-west-side and Fitchburg neighborhoods and into the urban center. You’ll pass by Lake Monona, forests and fields, and over and under bridges on this most fun city tour on two wheels.

The concept of Paddle and Portage—paddling for 1.5 miles, portaging a canoe for a mile, then paddling another 1.5 miles—can be hard to understand. It sounds downright brutal! Yet, 360 canoes participated in 2009, so maybe we’re the ones missing the boat. That’s OK, this annual July event is for everyone—whether you’re boating or marveling.

From Middleton to Sun Prairie, man’s and woman’s best friends have at least a dozen picturesque dog parks for romping, roaming and splashing. Not all pet exercise areas are situated near water, which isn’t a bad thing if your pooch has skin allergies or “born-free” moments like tearing across a frozen pond and galloping off through the woods. Most owners of a spoiled Madison mutt know of what we speak. 

Not owning a boat is no reason to be a landlubber all year long. Wingra Boats has a fleet of more than a hundred water toys that’ll get you out and enjoying gorgeous 345-acre Lake Wingra. Gas-powered vessels are prohibited on weekends, making conditions ideal for renting a canoe, kayak, rowboat, paddleboat or sailboat. You can launch from Wingra Park, and certain boats are available at Vilas Beach. For those who want to make sailing more than a one-day excursion, Wingra Boats also offers private and group lessons.

If you’ve ever fantasized about life on the farm, here’s your chance to experience what it’s really like. In exchange for a share of veggies throughout the growing season, area community-supported agriculture farms offer weekday shifts pulling weeds and weighing, washing, bunching and bagging veggies for delivery to CSA share sites across the region. Make no mistake: this is hard labor. But the opportunity to experience and appreciate firsthand where your food comes from brings scores of volunteers out to commune with nature every year.

To seize the city you must embrace it, frigid outdoors and all. For several years running Kites on Ice was the “it” wintertime event to thumb our noses at Jack Frost. Now it’s the Madison Winter Festival and if you go to ski, sled, skate, tube, snowshoe or snowboard rather than just to spectate, you won’t even notice the temperature. It happens on or around the Square—with many indoor locations to thaw your toes—February 19–21.

A gift that took seven weeks to travel here by sea, then by rail from Chicago and to Madison by truck is special, no doubt. Olbrich Gardens’ Thai Pavilion (which was assembled by nine Thai artisans once the materials arrived) is like encountering a palm tree in a forest of evergreens—it’s strangely exotic, and thoughts of far-off lands (and warm weather) take hold. Perfect for quiet contemplation, the pavilion is only one of four in the world located outside of Thailand.

Cool temps mean comfort food is hot. And Ken Monteleone, owner of cheese and specialty food store Fromagination, is happy to accommodate with cheese and wine tastings during his Post-Holiday Blues promotion in January. “It’s an event centered around blue cheese: we’ll have a Gorgonzola from Italy, Rocquefort from France, German-style blue from Wisconsin, a Spanish blue and more,” says Monteleone. Customers can also stop in all day on Wednesdays for cheese and wine flights. 

Seeing the latest action flick works in the comfortable confines of your nearest movie joint. But when you want a more sophisticated experience that may include dinner beforehand at Bar Bistro 608 as well as sipping a cocktail during your independent film, well, Sundance is it. The earthy, soothing décor, coffee shop and multiple sitting areas practically guarantee you won’t encounter surly teenagers and Junior Mints stuck to the seats—only a classy dinner-and-a-movie adults’ night out.

There’s really nowhere else you can taste such a variety of cuisines in one place. And that Asian buffet replete with chicken wings and General Tso’s chicken doesn’t count. So embrace the Taste of Madison if just for this one day, one cheese curd, taco, pizza slice, cookie dough egg roll and scoop of ice cream at a time.

We’ve got microbreweries and wineries but only one local distillery—Yahara Bay. Call 275-1050 to schedule a tour 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Sip and savor limoncello, apple brandy, gin, vodka, white rum, Mad Bird Rum and Holz’s Apple Crisp Liqueur. And coming soon, look for a new whiskey as well as a chocolate vodka.

October Madison Magazine cover model Tory Miller isn’t just here for his looks: he teaches cooking classes at Café Soleil, L’Etoile’s sister restaurant. Miller does demonstrations, which change seasonally, and audience participation and questions are encouraged. Your $95 scores you a three-course meal and wine pairings, too. So forget the Food Network for one night and enjoy your own celebrity chef sighting—right in your hometown. 

Ale Asylum3698 Kinsman Blvd. aleasylum.comPrice: FreeDates/times: Saturdays, 6 p.m.Describe it, 10 words or less: Industrial meets chic. Plus, $2 pints after the tour.Don’t miss: The labels—owner Otto Dilba says their label artwork has to pass the “tattoo test.” “A design won’t go to press unless it’s something … a person [would] want to get tattooed on their body.”

Botham Vineyards8180 Langberry Rd., Barneveldbothamvineyards.comPrice: $3 Dates/times: By appointment for groups of fifteen or more. But the tasting room is open March through December (check the website for days and times).Describe it, 10 words or less: A friendly, unpretentious mingling of wines, automobilia and gorgeous scenery.Don’t miss: The Vintage Celebration in August, when vintage automobiles areshowcased at the peak of the growing season.

Capital Brewery7734 Terrace Ave., Middletoncapital-brewery.comPrice: $3Dates/times: Fridays, 3:30 p.m., Saturdays 1:30 and 3:30 p.m.Describe it, 10 words or less: Island Wheat, Wisconsin Amber, Supper Club. Need we say more?Don’t miss: We all know about the outdoor Bier Garten, open May–September. But drop by during the cooler months for a drink in the lesser-known Bier Stube, a cozy bar that’s open Tuesday–Saturday year-round.

New Glarus Brewing Co.2400 State Hwy. 69, New Glarusnewglarusbrewing.comPrice: Free self-guided tour.Dates/times: Mondays–Sundays, 10 a.m.–4 p.m.Describe it, 10 words or less: You can’t get their brews outside of Wisconsin—literally.Don’t miss: Three things: the renovated hilltop facility, the tasting room where you can sample brews daily from 10 a.m.–4 p.m. and Wisconsin Cran-bic, part of brewmaster Dan Carey’s limited-edition “Unplugged” beer series. Carey will roll out a new set of Unplugged beers in 2010, too.

Wollersheim Winery7876 State Rd. 188, Prairie du Sac. wollersheim.comPrice: $3.50Dates/times: Tours start daily at 10:15 a.m. and run until 4:15 p.m.Describe it, 10 words or less: California vistas in Wisconsin.Don’t miss: The west coast views are more than mere coincidence at this Midwestern winery: the first owner of the vineyard, Hungarian Count Agoston Haraszthy, left Wisconsin in 1849 for California and is known as the founder of that state’s wine industry.

No matter your preferred era or medium, the UW’s Chazen Museum of Art likely has a work of art to set your pulse racing. Or if you’re looking to pay homage to some of the biggest names in the art world, stop on by. Say hello to John Steuart Curry, Mark Rothko, Helen Frankenthaler, Alexander Calder, Auguste Rodin, Joán Miró, Robert Stackhouse, Albrecht Dürer, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec—or at least a painting, sculpture or print they created.

The saying that history repeats itself is often repeated. But there are lessons to be learned from studying our past, and where better to do so than the Wisconsin Historical Society? Brush up on history and culture by viewing William Clark papers and a journal from the Lewis and Clark expedition, original pastel sketches by Hitchcock movies costume designer Edith Head and a remarkable collection of personal papers relating to the Civil Rights Movement.

Although you’ll have to wait until the snow melts, there are seven different Madison Trust Historic Walking Tours that wind through our fair city—whether it’s the architecture of UW–Madison, the scenic Mansion Hill neighborhood, University Heights (Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright’s work is tucked into this cozy ‘hood) or State Street.

It’s the new year—who’s ready to rock? Madison boasts three excellent theaters for live music: the venerable Barrymore on Atwood Avenue, the State Street landmark Orpheum and The Majestic, which reopened on King Street in 2007. All venues have long and storied histories in Madison. And any of the three could be just the place where you find your new favorite band.,,

Madison has long had a reputation as a forward-thinking community—which makes it a great place for innovative theater. Check out a show by Mercury Players Theatre, Strollers Theatre, Encore! Studio for the Performing Arts, StageQ, Madison Theatre Guild or Laboratory Theatre downtown at the Bartell. Or for even more boundary-bending plays, head east to Broom Street, the city’s venerable home for experimental theater.,

What do Cannes, Toronto and Madison have in common? These cities are home to incredible film festivals that once a year turn nearly all their residents into veritable movie buffs. Last year, the Wisconsin Film Festival celebrated its tenth anniversary, with 199 films screened at ten theaters over four days to 32,645 moviegoers. Mark your calendars: the 2010 festival takes place April 15–18.

If you subscribe to the idea that you should never stop learning, don’t miss these free monthly forums, organized by the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters, that feature the state’s leading experts on cutting-edge topics. The latest series examines Wisconsin through the lens of the year 2050, with topics ranging from the demographics of the next generation to sustainable energy sources to how military conflicts affect Americans’ perceptions of society.

__ Enjoy an ice cream or beer at the Memorial Union Terrace.

__ Scream your lungs out rooting for the Badgers at a college sporting event.

__ Stroll down State Street.

__ Take in the sights and sounds of quintessential Madison festivals: Willy Street Fair, La Fete de Marquette, Juneteenth, Africa Fest and the Madison World Music Festival.

__ Experience Madison’s lakes—on the water by boat or skis, around the water on foot or bike, or out on the ice in winter.

__ Make a lap around the Capitol Square during the Dane County Farmers’ Market.

__ Catch a show at Overture Center for the Arts.

__ Watch fireworks set to music at Rhythm and Booms.

__ At least thumb through David Mollenhoff’s Madison: The Formative Years.

__ Cheer for the Mallards at the family friendliest of baseball games.

__ Pack a picnic and listen to Madison’s favorite outdoor music session: the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra’s Concerts on the Square.

__ Develop an opinion on Frank Lloyd Wright and his Prairie architectural style.

__ Realize that having so much fun stuff to do makes Madison great—even if you can’t get to it all!

 Brennan Nardi is editor of Madison Magazine. Shayna Miller and Katie Vaughn are associate editors of Madison Magazine.