Best Nightlife

Out of all the clubs and bars in a city, 10Best narrows the options to those places with the most appeal and the best reputations. We offer a carefully vetted selection to let you explore Madison nightlife on your own. If time is really tight, though, and you don't have the leisure to look through all our offerings, we present our Madison Best Nightlife list. Here, we distill the best businesses down to a special selection of ten. These places promise a stellar experience and a taste of the city that you just can't miss.



Adding a touch of novelty to Madison, The Casbah offers a visual and culinary jaunt to the Mediterranean world. Spread across three floors, the establishment specializes in traditional fare like grilled lamb chops, couscous dishes, Tunisian chicken, and beef shish kebab. You'll also relish dolmades, falafel, hummus, and baba ghanouj, along with a selection of combination plates. Live piano music is played weekly, and there's a full bar and a hookah lounge with a dozen flavored, imported tobaccos. Rickshaw rides can be arranged as well.

Read more about The Casbah →

Upscale and deliciously mellow, this establishment caters to folks who appreciate fine cigars and cocktails. As a result, you'll often find groups of business people scattered around, lounging on comfy sofas, taking in strains of jazz, and indulging in stogies from Honduras or the Dominican Republic. Maduro's poisons include premium scotch, tequila, bourbon, brandy, and all sorts of martinis, cordials, wines, and beers. Come Saturday, DJs spin house music and other intriguing mixes – a perfect cap to the weekend.

Read more about Maduro Cigar Bar →

Set in what was originally a 19th century hotel, this incredibly popular brewpub attracts everyone from business folks to college kids. A pub-like ambience characterized by aged wood and stone sets the scene for this neighborhood gathering place, which offers live music, pool tables, and even an outdoor garden for warmer months. Terrific pub food abounds, and you won't want to miss the fresh-brewed lagers and ales. A dozen standards appear year-round and are accompanied by a handful of seasonal brews too. One of the area's best.

Read more about Great Dane Pub & Brewery →


Retro styling and a young, upscale crowd impart a certain sophistication to this bar, whose dark, streamlined interior glows with blue neon accents. Apropos to the decor, a martini menu offers up tasty potions and contributes a dose of mid-century chic. Try a fresh kiwi martini, or perhaps the Cajun with jalapeno-infused vodka. Beer, wine, and champagne cocktails are also available, along with frozen and ice-cream drinks. If food's in order, a selection of appetizers can help ward off the munchies.

Read more about Blue Velvet Lounge →


For more than a generation now, Cardinal Bar has been one of the city's best places to catch new music and dance the night away. Set in a Victorian building, the club offers great sound and lighting, and musical styles range from the latest electronica, hip hop, and house to 80s, Latin, and jazz. A full bar, including a selection of local microbrews, is available, and bartenders know just what you need. Cover charges vary but are usually less than $5.

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Catering to Madison's gay and lesbian residents, Club 5 actually encompasses several venues, including a busy dance club, a restaurant, an outdoor patio, and distinct areas for men and women. The dance club draws in large crowds, as people come in regularly for great music, sound, and lights. Video shows add interest to the night, and female impersonators and male reviews also perform weekly. The men's club offers pool tables and darts, and the women's club adds in a jukebox. Full bar too.

Read more about FIVE Nightclub →


When you feel the need to trade in typical, rowdy clubs for a more subdued experience, Opus stands out as an ideal oasis of urbanity. Dimly lit and romantic, the establishment provides an optimal environment wherein patrons can enjoy international wines, sip well-mixed cocktails, or munch globally-inspired appetizers, including sushi and tapas options. Prices run a bit towards the high side, but for ambience and style, it's hard to find a place of Opus' caliber in the vicinity.

Read more about Opus Lounge →

This prominent local microbrewery – which has won a number of prestigious awards at beer-making competitions – offers a place to kick back and sample the house product. The Bier Garten is Capital's seasonal, outdoor spot where folks flock to hear live bands play during the summer. When cold weather sets in, the Bier Stube puts patrons in the thick of things with its views of production equipment. In addition to its own lagers, Capital imports English ales, and the brewpub also makes root beer and cream soda.

Read more about Capital Brewery →

Situated in the space beneath Porta Bella, a well-known Italian restaurant, this cozy haven is especially favored by couples and small groups. The romantic place invites intimacy with its warren of rooms, and its wine selection includes Italian, domestic, and international selections. You'll also find a choice of beers (including microbrews), and a full bar ensures that any cocktail you desire is only a bartender away. In addition, a menu of light fare satiates any hunger pangs that may develop.

Read more about Porta Bella's Cellar →

This kitschy downtowner is hard to miss, with its telltale purple facade and Art Deco design. Inside, you'll find a laid-back atmosphere that encourages folks to kick back and hang out. Draft beer flows freely, whether it's pints of Irish stout or something more on the regional side. How does an ice-cold PBR sound? What's more, Vintage serves some of the tastiest bar food around – hearty appetites will want a basket of chili cheese fries to go with their burger or sandwich. During warmer months, patio seating allows patrons to enjoy suds and grub while overseeing the bustle of University Avenue.

Read more about Vintage Spirits & Grill →