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Bonus book bit: Argus, & an event

Hey! Monday night, 10/26/2015, come hear JM, along with writers who eat out for a living, talk about that at "Cap Times Talks" - 7pm at the High Noon, 701 E. Washington. Now, a bonus post.

Lots of words didn't fit into Madison Food. Here are some more of our favorites that we didn't want to be missed. Our writeup of our A to Z visit to Argus was posted back in 2004.

The Argus building at 123 E. Main St. was erected in 1847 and housed the Wisconsin Argus newspaper, which in 1852 merged with the Wisconsin Democrat. The next century saw a succession of various businesses. In the 1870s, it was a combination bakery, candy store, saloon and restaurant. By 1919 it was home to the offices and showroom of Fox Motor Sales, where customers could see the latest in automobiles, and in the 1930’s it was the Service Barber Shop.

Fox Motor Sales ad, 4/22/1920

On April 9, 1950, Art Metcalf’s New Bar-X had its grand opening and ushered in a new phase of life for the building with live music and "flowers for the ladies." Other bars followed, notably the Pourboy Club in the 1970s and the Salad Bar in the 1980s. By the 1990s, the building was in need of some refreshment itself. Fortunately, the new owner, Cliff Fisher, had a sense of history and his renovations kept the building’s character. The northeast side of the Capitol area was undergoing a renaissance from scruffy to yuppie, and the new Argus was part of that.


In 1997, Todd Dukes, the bar’s manager, bought the business from Fisher. Dukes continued to cultivate Argus as a choice weekday lunch spot and evening watering hole for politicians and business people and leveraged new technology to do so. Argus was one of the first venues in Dane County to embrace an internet jukebox. In 2002 Dukes had an electronic ordering system installed that shaved minutes off rushed lunchers’ wait times, by having servers enter orders on handheld devices that transmitted orders wirelessly to the bar and basement kitchen. And the menu of grilled sandwiches, homemade soups, and fresh salads kept customers coming back.

Since 2005 Argus has been owned and operated by Rick Brahmer and Gwen Cassis. When they took over from Dukes, they announced that their new name for the historic bar would be Tonic, but building owner Fisher was among the many who objected and convinced them to retain the name. They also kept the faux-antique clock overlooking the patio, which Fisher had installed when he ran the bar. Unfortunately, the wiring is so complicated that setting the time is nigh impossible, and sometimes the clock’s hands are stuck at ten o’clock for weeks at a time. Fortunately for eaters, Argus’ lunch menu is still all right, and probably more often than twice per day.

Selected references

Adams, Barry. “Argus Bar to Get a New Name.” Wisconsin State Journal, February 10, 2007.
Darlington, Tenaya. “Summer Food Forecast.” Isthmus, July 18, 2003.
Davidoff, Judith. “Recipe for Success: A Restaurant Renaissance Is Revitalizing Downtown.” Isthmus, July 29, 1994.
Levitan, Stuart D. Madison: The Illustrated Sesquicentennial History. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2006.
Stein, Jason. “Argus Food Orders Go Digital.” Wisconsin State Journal, June 7, 2002.
Strohs, Warsaw, Denice Williams, and Walter Shorty. Beer Drinking in Madison : A Complete Guide to Madison Taverns. Madison: Warsaw Strohs, 1983.


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Listen to The Corner Table podcast "Remembering Restaurants," aired December 24, 2020, where Chris and Lindsay talk with us "about the menus and memories left behind when restaurants go away."

Madison Food coverInfo about our book Madison Food: A History of Capital Cuisine is here, or read it for free thanks to the library - print & ebook.



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