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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Thursday, June 20, 2024

The inside of HopCat is sharply decorated and there is space for a large crowd. The bar is an island with access to bartenders from all four sides 

HopCat proves welcome addition to Madison nightlife

I finally paid a visit to Madison’s new restaurant and bar, HopCat. The establishment finished construction over the summer, opening July 17, and is already a successful business with six other locations. I wasn’t sure what to expect prior to making a visit, but I heard consistent hype about it so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to have my own experience. Based on my experience, this new addition to the collection of downtown bars in Madison is in for a long, successful service to the Badger community.

I definitely picked a prime time to visit HopCat, the Friday night of UW-Madison’s homecoming weekend. The bar, of course, was completely full, and more visitors regularly arrived during the night. I imagine those without a specific destination in mind were easily attracted to the two large, yellow, bolded signs and cat logo. Walking up and down State Street, the new bar can’t be missed.

After stepping inside, I was immediately surprised by the sheer amount of space. The first floor alone looks like it could easily house over 200 guests, so I can only imagine what the total capacity is. Even on estimate, it is clear that HopCat is one of downtown Madison’s largest bars. But there’s more than just size for this establishment’s attraction.

HopCat’s design is simple. The outside is a basic black and gray, and the interior has primarily solid color patterns. This simple design makes the two colorful side walls pop. Just like the bright yellow signs outside, the most inattentive person couldn’t miss them. Both walls have graffiti designs along their entire stretches, and I believe they are the most attractive part of the interior. The wall closest to the door is designed with splatter-painted colors and large, sharp letters that may take a while to recognize as saying “Hello Meow.” It sure took me a while to walk up and down the floor a few times before I realized the welcome. I would be impressed with anyone who can resist chuckling at the message. The far right wall is a bit different. There are clearly lined shapes and black spots that, with an abstract approach, may look like a bunch of cat heads.  

These graffiti designs were my favorite part of the interior and I was excited to see the second floor designs. Unfortunately though, the security guard informed me that HopCat closes its second floor every day at 10 p.m. I thought the policy was odd, especially for a very active weekend, like a Big Ten school's homecoming. But perhaps HopCat's employment isn't large enough for late evening work that covers two floors. Nonetheless, my disappointment was short-lived because there was still much more to enjoy on the first floor, like the many framed mirrors that decorate the back wall and the large Frank Zappa poster with a short bio of his rock ’n’ roll career in the corner. When I finally took a seat at the counter, a gentlemen behind me conversed with a friend about his liking of the poster, claiming himself to be a bit of a rock ’n’ roll fanatic. It was nice to hear that I was not the only one who liked what I saw in the place. During my two-hour stay, I noticed and overheard guests pointing at and discussing different parts of the design. The people were enjoying themselves, which is always the biggest plus of any service establishment.

HopCat is very active. The bar has an atmosphere that is impressively formal enough for a suit and informal enough for ripped jeans and a T-shirt. The bartenders and waiters were all in casual or semi-casual attire, sporting jeans, ties and pullover fleeces.

But beyond the appearance of the place and guests, HopCat’s strongest feature is its menu.  The bar features a crazy selection of over 100 different tap beers. Since my arrival, I was repeatedly impressed by this sheer size and quantity in nearly every aspect. The bartender had to approach me three times before I was ready to order. There were just so many options. The top of the menu features a bolded collection of beers dubbed “The Local 30,” which includes popular choices like Spotted Cow, Island Wheat, Lust, Horicon, Fixed Gear and Fuel Cafe. But I encourage guests to go beyond them and try one of the other 70 plus flavors like Badger Brau, Lizard and Thwacki. I ordered the Spectra Trifecta; I was served immediately and enjoyed the new flavor while conversing with a friendly group of three. We talked about the qualms of adulthood and joked about the difficulties of getting a second date. I noticed the bartenders genuinely responding to any interesting comments they heard, pulling more enjoyable interactions from the guests. That is what I believe a downtown bar is all about.

I was told earlier that day I had to order the “Crack Fries,” and constantly heard guests rave about them. I couldn’t help laughing out loud when one gentleman, who was obviously a little drunk, asked his friend if the bartenders are selling crack, then proceeded to repeat the question to one of the tenders. The moment was priceless and I just had to order them. I came to know why the fries are a perfect partner to a delicious beer. Frites better watch out, because a new flavor is in town that is monstrously good.

I will definitely go again. I am already disappointed that I have only made one visit to such a wonderful new place for a good night out. From just one visit, I feel ready to return. I want to stare at the walls, try more of the beers, talk to new folk, actually see the second floor, eat more “Crack Fries” and see what other food the place offers. HopCat is new to Madison, but the Badger community treats it well, and vice versa. I believe HopCat is in for long service to the community.  

Do you love  HopCat? tell Denzel at

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