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Microtones: Patty melted into oblivion

Welcoming Players’ Bar back into our lives.


  • This is our newsletter-first column, Microtones. It runs on the site on Fridays, but you can get it in your inbox on Thursdays by signing up for our email newsletter.

One of the strongest points of consensus I have found in Madison concerns Player’s Bar. I keep finding out that people I know from across different age groups, tastes, and varying levels of affinity for other sports bars adore the place. Whether they all know they are part of this grand web of low-level solidarity, I have no idea, but a very disparate group of people got excited when Player’s re-opened for takeout orders last week.

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It’s a steadfastly townie but welcoming bar with excellent burgers. People like it. Simple enough. Still, this Winnebago Street spot inspires a fierce devotion, more so than most of the reliable simple things in life. Madison has plenty of neighborhood bars that wield a respectable greasy griddle. Most of them just aren’t as good as Player’s, sorry. I can’t quantify this at all. I just know the burgers are decisively a cut above “not bad for a dive bar” burgers without being remotely fussy, and the staff are no-nonsense friendly folks. It’s just a very easy place to be, whether I’m meeting up with friends or just reading a book and passively watching a basketball game. 

For several years I thought of Player’s as more of an anomaly than it really is. The first time I ever went in, the place still had stock-car hoods bolted to the ceiling. I’ve also had several experiences playing ping-pong there and having to scrabble around under people’s barstools to retrieve the ball, because the table is always set up perpendicular to the bar. My other favorite Player’s memory is of eating lunch there on a Saturday and watching a group of regulars get ready to leave. One was going to need help getting home, but all of them decided to get one last shot for the road. They went with Goldschläger and the bartender swirled the bottle around to make sure everyone got plenty of gold flakes. Small things, but I’m happy to have these memories lately. They’ve got the clink of the bar’s hook-and-ring game in the background, the sizzle of the grill, the absolutely chaotic mix of TouchTunes selections. I’ll take those over the repetitive screen-fried memories I’m forming now.

I took the opportunity this week to get a patty melt on Texas toast, picking it up at a plastic table outside the back door that faces onto Atwood Avenue. Player’s prides itself on having a varied menu of burgers and an off-the-wall weekly special, but for me it’s hard to beat the crispness of the Texas toast and the savory punch of sauteed onions atop melted cheese and dense but tender beef. The bar is also selling mystery six-packs for $5. Mine was half good craft beer (Edmund Fitzgerald, Night Rain, Surly Furious) and half macro whatever (Blue Moon, Saint Archer), which is just perfect for the price, and anyways I hope it clears some room up in the Player’s cooler for some fresh stuff. 

I don’t want to over-romanticize the simple pleasures in life, during what is honestly just a shitty and exhausting time. But the patty melt is as good as ever, and it was nice to share in the excitement with others who know the place is special.

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