HomeCocktailThe Man Behind Madison, Wisconsin's Caribou Tavern

The Man Behind Madison, Wisconsin’s Caribou Tavern


The Caribou Tavern, or “The ’Bou” because it’s higher recognized, is as old-school Wisconsin as they arrive. Its glass block home windows prohibit peering in from the sidewalk, however its neon signal beckons newcomers and regulars alike to return inside. There, an extended wood bar runs the size of the area, stained glass lights cling overhead, and a griddle on the finish of the bar affords snacks like a grilled summer time sausage for $5.25, fried cheese curds for $6 or the long-lasting ’Bou burger for $6.50. In its 57-year existence, extra has stayed the identical than has modified.

The bar has been a Madison staple since 1966 (its founding proprietor moved the Dutch Tavern from its location a block away and rechristened it The Caribou Tavern), drawing a crowd that doubles as a cross part of the town’s inhabitants: college college students, off-duty service trade staff, staffers from the state capitol and out-of-towners. It modified arms in 1970, when the Schmelzkopf household purchased it. Dennis Schmelzkopf, a retired police officer, ran the bar till he handed away in 2000; now his son, Dewey, owns it. 

There’s no chef, so the particular person grilling your burger is similar particular person stirring brandy Outdated-Fashioneds, pouring Wisconsin beers on draft or cracking open the chilly, low-cost beer of your selection. Amongst these staffing the bar is Winslow Smart, who has been on the ’Bou for 23 years. Smart grew up in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, earlier than transferring to Madison in 1995 to attend the college. After a brief stint at one other bar on the town, he settled into The Caribou, the place he’s develop into an area favourite as a lot for his upbeat persona as his distinctive mustache. Punch caught up with Smart to speak about what makes bartender, how the neighborhood across the bar has modified and his technique for cooking all these ’Bou burgers.

How did you get began bartending?
One in every of my roommate’s girlfriends was a server on the Village Inexperienced. Being a poor pupil, I wanted cash, and she or he mentioned that the bar was in want of a bartender and requested if I’d have an interest. My dad tended bar when he was in class and I look as much as my father, so I assumed emulating any person I feel is an efficient particular person can be a good suggestion. And so I went in they usually employed me.

How did you make the transfer from there to The Caribou?
I lived half a block from The Caribou, so I’d do my learning there through the day typically, and after I acquired achieved tending bar on the Village Inexperienced, I’d cease in usually for a drink. One night time, I used to be in on a Saturday round midnight and the Saturday night time bartender, who would later flip into my brother-in-law, requested me what I used to be doing at 6 o’clock on Sunday. I mentioned I didn’t have any plans, and he requested if I would love a job, as a result of the Sunday night time bartender had mentioned he was not ever going to return again. I mentioned, “I spend sufficient time right here, I’ll as properly receives a commission for it.” And I’ve been right here roughly 48 Sundays a 12 months since.

What do you want about bartending?
For about 10 years after faculty, I had a job doing electronics work for insurance coverage firms, nevertheless it was a 9-to-5 that I hated going to daily, so when the chance got here as much as get out of that and have a tendency bar full-time, I jumped at it. I’m blissful to have the ability to go to work. I’ve a beautiful household that I’ve labored for the entire time that I’ve been right here; they take superb care of me. I’ve actually, actually good prospects. Even with the alcohol that’s concerned, it is rather uncommon that there’s an disagreeable expertise once I’m working. And I don’t should take something dwelling with me. I get to be up at night time, which is the way in which I’m put collectively. So it’s a low-stress, fulfilling job. It’s not likely what I used to be planning on, nevertheless it was the slipper that match.

What qualities make bartender?
I wish to suppose that I’m very pleasant. I’m not as fast as I was, however I’m at all times very immediate. Individuals need to be taken care of and have both simply labored a tough job or studied laborious. I’m at all times watching the place everyone is at, both with the meals that I’ve made for them or the drinks that they’re engaged on. After I see that they’re nearly completed with their drink and I presume that they’re prepared for one more, I can be transferring over there simply as they’re ending. Any person will say, “May I’ve one other Pabst Blue Ribbon?” and I’ll have surreptitiously snagged a Pabst out of the cooler as I used to be wandering over there to them, and poof! One will materialize instantly in entrance of them. Fast service is one thing that I recognize as a bartender and I feel that the clientele appreciates.

What makes The Caribou a Madison establishment?
Its longevity and its location. There may be nonetheless the laundromat subsequent door and not less than a dozen folks from the laundromat are available daily. Within the afternoon, they’ve a beer or a soda pop and a few lunch whereas they do their laundry. Within the night, they’ll have a drink and possibly a number of pictures to make the folding go down just a little extra simply. That is just a bit cinder block place that’s actually incongruous with what’s occurring within the neighborhood. Madison and Dane County are highly regarded locations for folks to maneuver and are rising shortly. However The Caribou Tavern has stayed. The proprietor, Dewey, is regularly getting affords from builders and retains rebuffing them as a result of that is the place that his dad began and he desires to proceed what his dad did. There are 100-year-old homes which can be getting torn down and condos are going up all over the place. And nonetheless, within the shadow of the Capitol, there may be The Caribou Tavern. There’s even the longevity of the folks working right here. The Schmelzkopf household has been right here 53 years. I can rely on my arms the variety of co-workers I’ve had since I began. There’s Suzy, Wendy, Erin, Kevin, Owen, one other Kevin, Jenny, and two Tammys. The 2 Tammys retired over the pandemic once we have been closed for a couple of 12 months. They have been each right here for about 23 years. Ruth, who works Thursday and Fridays, has been right here 40 years. There’s a lot that hasn’t modified, and I feel that’s comforting for folks.

You’re a brandy man. How do you want your Outdated-Usual?
They’re just a little too treacly for me. I like issues distilled from grapes as a result of I do like issues candy, however there’s a restrict. I’ll get pleasure from a pair yearly with dinner at a supper membership since that’s compulsory in Wisconsin. However I definitely get pleasure from making them—and I make an entire bunch of them.

It’s important to make drinks and man the grill on the similar time. What’s your technique?
It’s all about getting every little thing ordered in my head in order that I do know I’ve sufficient time to have the ability to care for every little thing. Forty % of the meals I’m placing out is burgers, and since I’ve made hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of them over time, I now simply instinctively know what temperature every little thing is at once I’m cooking. So once I’m in the course of a drink, I can race over and flip one thing on the griddle then get again and end no matter spherical of drinks I’m doing.

The ’Bou Burger is an iconic Madison meals. What makes it so good?
Now we have a griddle that has about 15 years of seasoning on it that imparts a really scrumptious taste. It was a tragic day when the unique griddle died and [we] needed to get a brand new one in there and reseason it. We use good high quality buns and get our meat contemporary from Jenifer Road Market each morning.

What’s your burger order?
I usually get a “Make me no matter you prefer to, Winslow” request and I wish to ask what field folks mess around in once they have a burger to suss it out, as a result of I would like folks to get no matter they’re within the temper for. However I like only a straight-ahead burger, possibly with some pepper jack, and an entire bunch of actually yummy sautéed onions.

What recommendation would you give a younger bartender simply coming into the career?
Bartending might be enjoyable, and in the event you’re having enjoyable it may be infectious, and hopefully, the purchasers will get pleasure from themselves too. And most significantly, they are going to come again, which is essential to most bartending jobs. So, in the event you’re going to be within the hospitality trade, have enjoyable and revel in your self. However the enjoyable additionally comes with many temptations. I’ve seen many lives within the enterprise get chewed up and a few sadly finish having succumbed to the seductions. So my recommendation to anybody I care about who’s new to bartending can be to cross alongside my obtained knowledge: “Simply use common sense.”




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