Friday, October 1, 2010

Bar Review: The Mason, Madison, WI

The conceit is rather simple: serve good, craft beer in a mason jar. Why a mason jar? How the hell should I know? Why not a mason jar. It conveys homey-ness, it conveys relaxation, it conveys familiarity, it conveys ... ummm ... preservation?

When you run out of cups at home because you're too lazy wash the dishes, you use Mason jars. So, pretend you're at home I guess.

They do, actually, have other glassware - a stemmed straight-walled ale glass that is used for some of the "fancier" items on-tap. Speaking of the taplist ...

It's good, not great, and interesting in a "there doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to this", sort of way. The Mason features somewhere near about a dozen taps, some Wisconsin, most not. There always seems to be Dogfish Head on tap, so if you get a hankering for Midas Touch or Festina Peche you know where you can go. It's taplist is probably most comparable to Maduro's fairly safe list with the occassional oddity thrown in. Admittedly, it is not nearly as comprehensive or deep as Malt House, a similar bar on the East Side of Madison, or Brasserie V, a Belgian-specialty powerhouse on the West Side of Madison. But it does follow in those traditions by catering to its neighborhood with better-than-average to great beer.

But Dogfish Head is probably a good model for the ecclecticism here. From the lounge-y decor with inexplicable roosters, blank tvs, and miscellaneous knick-knacks and covered lamps, to the taplist ranging from Monks Cafe to Festina Peche to Oskar Blues Gordon to Lost Coast Downtown Brown. I like this kind of experimentalism - there's a wide range of beer to choose from and limited taps, so pick something and go with it and see what happens. Drackenburg's Cigar Bar has a similar beer-choosing methodology it seems, and it works well to keep the taps rotating and fun.

The clientele and bar staff is knowledgeable and chatty, so just showing up and saying hello is a viable option. In other words, it's a friendly neighborhood bar, with a good taplist. Is it the most daring taplist, best beer bar in town? No, but it's not trying to be. Should all of your friends drive in from around the Midwest to check it out? No, but that's not its purpose.

It's a great place to grab a good beer that you don't have to think too much about and have a conversation or meet some folks out. It's a neighborhood bar right on the outskirts of downtown that, for me at least, is a great place to meet the wife on the way home to grab a drink after work. If I lived in the Vilas neighborhood, I'd probably be there far more often than I should.

But, MBR, you say, you just complained about The Sugar Maple yesterday for being a similar bar and that bar has way more taps going and it has music. Ah. I guess the way I see it is that the Sugar Maple is a destination, or its reputation is as a destination. And, as a destination, a place to seek out, I'd argue, that you can find better. It is a fine neighborhood bar, though its staff knowledge seemed suspect (though, admittedly it was one trip; comments from others who have been there on multiple occassions assure me that my trip was an aberration). Here, the staff knowledge seems up to par, and it doesn't profess to be, nor is it seen as, anything more than a neighborhood bar that serves pretty decent beer.

So, go, check out the Mason Lounge on Park Street (at West Wash, next to Falbo Brothers Pizza) here in Madison and let me know what you think.

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