With boho spots perched on Willy Street, study-appropriate cafes along State Street near UW-Madison, and arts-minded coffee shops, Madison, Wisconsin, is home to a buzzy cafe scene. Here are our 10 favorites.
Fresh off its 10th anniversary, Bradbury’s is a block off Capital Square along North Hamilton Street, with a mix of communal-style and bar seating in its tiny space. Walls of windows heat up the place on even the coolest of days. Coffee is culled from various roasters around the country, highlighted as “guest” espressos (such as San Francisco’s Ritual Coffee Roasters), and food options to pair with include specialty crepes, both savory and sweet, piled with ingredients like kale, lemon curd, and smoked trout. Closer to home, coffee beans come from either Kickapoo in the Driftless Region or Ruby in Nelsonville.
Crescendo Espresso Bar
At both of its two locations, Monroe Street and Hilldale Shopping Center, Crescendo Espresso Bar flaunts a minimalist-chic interior. You can grab a seat at the bar or near the windows. There’s also a fireplace (perfect for Wisconsin winters) and live music on occasion. Pastries are baked each morning on site for the ultimate in freshness and feature inventive flavors like rosemary cheddar and orange coconut. Gluten-free customers can be satisfied with Tummy Yummies’ gluten-free muffins in three flavors. As for coffee and espresso drinks, they’re brewed using beans from Anodyne Coffee Roasters in Milwaukee.
Proof that Madison hosts a cool café scene? The Victory’s owner (Patrick Downey) used to run a café in Brooklyn, N.Y., but left that to return to his hometown. Tucked along Atwood Avenue on Madison’s eclectic East side, Downey’s vibrant art is hung on the walls (check out this Instagram feed devoted to The Victory’s art gallery). Coffee and espresso drinks are plentiful—from pour-over coffee to mochas, plus affogato (espresso over ice cream) and kombucha—and the breakfast game is strong. Choose from waffles, an egg/ham/cheese sandwich, breakfast panini with smoked salmon, and more. At lunch time, options widen to include more paninis as well as cold sandwiches.
Mother Fool’s Coffeehouse
Tucked into the Willy Street neighborhood on the East Side since 1994 (with the same owners since 1995), this cozy little boho café fits right in with delightfully mismatched armchairs, lots of dairy-free milk options, and a roster of singer-songwriter or open-mic shows. Everything that’s poured or served has local roots. Coffee and espresso drinks are brewed from Colectivo Coffee Roasters’ beans, the kombucha is from Madison, and the pastries and snacks (nearly all are vegan) stem from East Side Ovens in Milwaukee and Tummy-Yummies in Madison.
Lakeside Street Coffee House
Perfectly suited for a weekend brunch, Lakeside Street Coffee House is perched along the shores of Monona Bay just south of downtown Madison within a residential neighborhood. Live music performances (like ukulele, classical guitar, or acoustic folk-rock) perk up the space on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings. In addition to coffee (brewed from True Coffee Roasters’ beans, based in nearby Monona), there’s tea (from Milwaukee’s Rishi Tea), beer, and wine on the menu. Breakfast and lunch foods stray from the typical and include Asian peanut tofu salad, a quinoa tabbouleh flatbread, and quiche of the day, plus scones from Lazy Jane’s on Madison’s East Side.
Michelangelo’s Coffee House
Just look for the black and white awning a block from Capital Square, along bustling State Street, the topper of Michelangelo’s Coffee House since 1997. The interior decor of this indie-owned cafe mirrors what you’d find in a Parisian café. Two separate rooms provide various seating options, whether you prefer to clack away on your laptop at a bistro-style table set or sink into a sofa. Fare is more than muffins, with soup and sandwiches and enticing desserts such as layered cakes. As part of its Fair Trade mantra, coffee is sourced from Equal Exchange and Cafe Social.
Ancora Coffee Roasters
As one of Madison’s heavy-hitter roasters, dating back to 1994, Ancora Coffee Roasters boasts two cafes. The one on King Street is a block from the Capital Square, but if you’re looking for more of a restaurant-type environment, turn to the University Avenue location. The good news is that both locations offer amazing breakfast and lunch options. You’ll find dishes like blackberry ricotta pancakes or a prosciutto and peach sandwich, served in a bright-walled space featuring inspiring paintings. Coffee and espresso drinks, as well as teas, change with the seasons, from a blackberry-caramel latte to cold-brew coffee sweetened with Fruity Pebbles cereal milk (yes, really!).
If you’re impressed by creative reuse of space, then be sure to check out Porter: it opened in 2016 inside a former train depot called Milwaukee Road Depot. Built in 1903, the station features lovely historic bones, making this a sweet spot for meeting a friend for lunch. (Thankfully the menu goes beyond coffee, with picks like avocado toast and a yummy roast-turkey sandwich folding in sage and gost cheese. To-go salads are also sold here. Coffee drinks—brewed using Counter Culture Coffee beans, connected to a North Carolina cult-favorite coffee roaster—range from a drip cup to bulletproof (with butter and MCT oil). Should you be more in the mood for a “happy hour” beverage, beer is on tap at Porter.
One definition of “indie” at Indie Coffee (on Regent Street near Camp Randall) extends to the live music shows featuring indie bands and musicians. Even Jason Mraz performed here in a surprise acoustic set. This isn’t just a cafe for sipping cappuccino; there are also film screenings, book readings, and other meetups designed to bring together creatives. And its waffles are famous, having been on “Wake Up With Al (Roker).” (Be sure to try the Red and White waffle if you’re a Badgers fan.) Other tasty treats include scones, muffins, and biscotti, plus other pastries and desserts sourced from Grace Cheesecakes and Madison Sourdough. Many regulars like that the breakfast and lunch menus are not relegated to specific times. Instead, they’re served all day long.
Black Locust Cafe
Straddling both a diner and coffee-shop vibe, Black Locust Cafe is along East Washington Avenue within the Robinia Courtyard complex, which also houses Jardin and Madison Tap (two other restaurants). Open until just 3 p.m. daily, that only means it’s a great lunch spot. Crepes with ethnic influences (like the jian bing with bean paste and fried wonton) are joined by sandwiches that are anything but light (such as a burger or pork-belly sandwich), but vegans will also find lots to eat (Impossible burger and tofu scramble are two examples). Specialty blends of juices are joined by wine and coffee or espresso drinks for a new take on a coffee-centric cafe.