In Microtones, our newsletter-first column.
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MICROTONES by Scott Gordon, editor-in-chief and publisher
Reading in bars is a good and normal behavior. Finding the time and mental space to focus on a book, especially for pleasure, can be a constant challenge in a world that relentlessly dices up our attention spans with seemingly endless stimulation and endless demands. Doing it over a drink, in a comfortable place where people will let you be, has a natural appeal. I’m not sure the drinking culture at large has ever fully accepted it, because bars are supposed to be social spaces. But even within a social space, people need their breathing room. Sometimes a little noise and chatter in the background actually aids concentration, in my experience. (I’ve had some incredibly good experiences reading at Mint Mark, which at its busiest sounds like a hammer party in a sheet-metal shop.) Then again, a good bar is generally pretty dark. So you could think of this a search for balance, a way to be around people but also in your own thoughts.
Last week’s news that a local business owner plans to open a bookstore-bar on Regent Street have prompted me to seek out a clearer picture of what it’s like to be a bar-reader in Madison these days. I know what my spots are. But I don’t know what kind of a culture exists around this habit in town. I asked my Twitter followers for their recommendations, and it turns out people have a lot to say about this.
The Mason Lounge on Park Street is the clear leader in my informal Twitter poll. I have yet to bring a book in there but it makes sense: It’s laid-back, has a good beer list, and has enough light and couch space to make reading comfortable. Otherwise the responses are all over the place: Genna’s, Plaka, Brothers Three, Plaka, Working Draft, Alchemy, Le Tigre, Mint Mark, the Fluno Center “study pub,” even Cheba Hut! Where have you been all this time, fellow bar readers? (Shut up, we’re reading.) We should all get together! (No.)
If you’ve got a favorite bar reading spot, I’d love to hear from you as well. Just send me an email or reach out on Twitter. Over the next month or so I’ll be giving suggested places a shot and putting together a story based on my findings.
I’ll be looking at a few criteria: Seating, lighting level, crowd vibe, bartenders who check up on folks but not too much, drink selection, noise level. If there’s a little light to read by and people respect each other’s space, I’ll probably be pretty happy. (I realize the “rando asking you what you’re reading and not letting you alone” factor will be way reduced for a cis man, so this will be far from scientific.) I’ve got a dense sci-fi trilogy to finish, so I may as well make a little project out of it. Maybe I’ll see some of you out there and we’ll share a nod of solidarity before getting back to our books.
New this week:
Jaundy Brunswick’s collage works at Communication reveal a defiant search for identity.
The drinks at the newly alcohol-licensed Taco Bell Cantina kind of suck.
In a podcast short, Shaun Soman and Alex Nelson discuss how we can build more inclusive music communities.
Henry Solo talks with Milwaukee rapper Lorde Fredd33, who plays this Friday on the Terrace.
We also caught up with guitarist Bill MacKay, who plays Friday at Indie Coffee.
Elsewhere on the Madison internet: Holograms! The art podcast American Banditokicks off a new season. Metal band Corridoré announces its debut album and shares the first track.