The Great Dane Pub & Brewing Co. has brewed success

Since opening in 1994, the wins continued to stack up for The Great Dane, totaling 80 awards to date in the annual readers’ poll.
Exterior of The Great Dane
Photo by Eric Kilby/Flickr CC

Since the first Great Dane Pub & Brewing Co. opened in November 1994 on Capitol Square in the former Fess Hotel building, it has been a community favorite, winning three Best of Madison awards in 1995 for beer selection, french fries and businessperson’s bar. From there, the wins continued to stack up, totaling 80 awards to date in the annual readers’ poll.

Co-founders Eliot Butler and Rob LoBreglio went from friends at Vassar College to business partners. LoBreglio, the vice president and brewmaster at Great Dane, homebrewed in college and decided to pursue it full time. Whenever the two men got together, they’d grab beers. In the early ’90s, they were hanging out in Manhattan and LoBreglio was ranting to Butler — now president of Great Dane — about brewpubs, a newer concept that combined a small microbrewery with a restaurant. “[Butler] said, ‘Well, if you want to try doing one, I’d be game,’ ” LoBreglio says. “I was like, ‘Heck yeah, of course, that’d be great.’ ” That started a four-year journey to establish their own brewpub.

When Great Dane opened, Butler says there wasn’t a lot on Capitol Square, and apart from Capital Brewing in Middleton, there weren’t other breweries in the area. He says the businessperson’s bar category wins in 1995 and 1996 made sense, as they inherited that reputation as a politicians’ bar from the previous Fess Restaurant.

close-up of dog head beer taps at The Great Dane

Photo by Thomas Yonash

LoBreglio says Great Dane has focused on traditional brewing, but they have the flexibility to do specialty beers and create popular styles. Voting the Great Dane the best for microbrew, brewpub, beer selection, bar for beer and brewery, the community evidently likes what the Dane does. “As a brewer, [it’s] really nice to have that pat on the back,” he says.

In addition to the recognition for its brews, Great Dane has been awarded best brunch, neighborhood bar, lunch and kids’ menu, and from 1998 to 2018, it won for outdoor dining every year. Butler says not many restaurants are lucky to have the outdoor, landscaped setting the original Great Dane has. Butler and LoBreglio credit their staff members who have been a part of the journey. “It’s incredibly gratifying and confirming that the decisions that we made early on were good decisions,” Butler says. “For me, [winning the awards] just reflects really nicely on the amazing people who have managed and led the restaurants and the pubs and the company over the years.”

In the 27 years that Great Dane has been in business, it has gone from a single location to four locations around Madison and one in Wausau. “It’s been an amazing journey,” Butler says.

Read more about the Best of Madison Legacy Awards here.

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