By Emma Pankratz
Polka has been a huge part of Wisconsin tradition since the 1800s, when European settlers brought with them their brass instruments, accordions and concertinas that characterized the lively polka music and dance from back home. Wherever polka music was playing and feet were moving, whether it was at a tavern, dance hall or at home, the tradition was rooted in good friends, food and drink.
Wisconsin certainly has not forgotten this custom. Polka has since been adopted as the official state dance, and everywhere people are still hopping along to the polka beat and keeping the culture alive.
Here are four of the best places in Wisconsin to get your “oompah” on!
In the tiny town of Roxbury, just a 40-minute drive outside of Madison, sits the Dorf Haus, meaning “small village inn,” a supper club that has been serving up home-cooked German cuisine to the tune of polka for more than 50 years.
Proudly straying away from culinary trends, the Dorf Haus sticks to tradition with authentic specialties like Rouladen, weiner schnitzel and a to-die-for fish fry with five varieties, most popularly the Haddock. This strategy has paid off, as the Dorf Haus was named one of the top 10 German restaurants in America by food reviewer and website Tablelog.
Besides the delicious food, this ode to Germany features live polka music, including a “Bavarian smorgasbord” night on the first Monday of every month. As if that wasn’t enough, you can try their huge selection of German beers on tap for a refreshing fix, or get Jim the bartender to make you his “Best of Madison”-winning Old Fashioned you won’t soon forget.
The Essen Haus restaurant in Madison is known not only for its larger-than-life German atmosphere, but the massive “Das Boot” from which its patrons drink their beer. Boasting more than 30 years as Madison’s premiere German eatery, Essen Haus is filled with authentic décor, food, drink and polka music that will bring you to another place.
Featuring regularly scheduled live polka music and exciting themed events throughout the year, it’s not hard to find a time to visit this popular local joint and see what all the commotion is about! While you’re there, try one of their 16 German beers on tap in a colossal boot-shaped glass, plenty big enough for sharing.
Milwaukee has a huge population of beer halls and supper clubs perfect for getting in the groove. Aptly named “Old German Beer Hall,” this popular spot is modeled after the iconic Hofbräuhaus, one of the oldest and most famous breweries in Germany.
Old German Beer Hall not only keeps with the lively spirit of its mother country, but adheres to tradition with huge steins of savory German beer, hearty comfort food classics like Bavarian-style pretzels and bratwurst, and of course German music.
With live music acts playing every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night, many of them polka bands, it’s easy to polka to your hearts content.
Kochanski’s, also in Milwaukee, has something for young and old alike, and it sees plenty of both. The historical polka beer hall is a favorite with locals and has a following of loyal regulars, bringing polka to a new generation and keeping the tradition alive for the over-60 crowd.
With live polka playing on weekends, in addition to bluegrass and other genres, the real treat comes on Wednesday nights for Kochanski’s weekly “Polka Jam,” where patrons can catch up with friends, have a drink and polka the night away.
And who can forget Kochanski’s astounding selection of Polish and German beers, one of the largest in Wisconsin! So try it out—you’re guaranteed a great time in a friendly atmosphere, and rooted in rich history. Even if you’re a newbie to the beer hall and polka scene, you’ll feel like a regular in no time.
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