I pulled up to The Edgewater and looked out over the open plaza to Lake Mendota. It was a gray, drizzly day, but nothing could dampen my mood. I was about to spend the night in the only AAA 4-Diamond hotel in Madison, Wisconsin and – bonus – one of only five Historic Hotels of America members in the state.
I made my way into the Wisconsin Building to check in at the street-level, sixth-floor lobby. That tower, and the plaza I’d just left, didn’t exist until 2014, when the icon reopened after a two year closure and a $100-million renovation.
Opened in 1948 as an apartment building, The Edgewater began its life as a hotel in 1950. For decades it was THE place to be. Big bands performed on the roof. Elvis, Bob Hope, Elton John, Bob Marley, Sting, and other A-list celebrities stayed as guests. Cyndi Lauper wrote “Water’s Edge” while at the hotel.
When the Quisling Family, the original owners, spirited Augie Faulkner away from Chicago’s famous Drake Hotel they obviously knew what they were doing.
Faulkner bought the place from the Quislings in the ’60s and, although he died in 1996, his family ran it until 2012, when they sold it to local developer Robert Dunn. Dunn’s company, Hammes Sports Co., may be better known for stadiums than hotels, but the $100 million renovation and restoration is masterful. It’s an example of preservation and modernization working in concert to create a unified experience.
It’s also an example of supreme luxury.
My Premium Lakefront King Room was spacious, with a double-sinked bathroom, separate water closet, step-in shower for twelve (or about that). And a view. I dropped everything when I saw the view. Gray, yes. Drizzly, yes. Gorgeous? Yes!
Two purple armchairs flanked a small table and I turned them around to face the lake while I figured out what to do for dinner that night. I was in the final stages of writing my book (why yes, yes that is an Amazon link), so I browsed room service options thinking I’d just slink into the provided robe and get my creative juices flowing. Then I noticed there was a happy hour down in Augie’s Tavern. Being a sucker for happy hours, I headed downstairs and grabbed a seat at the bar.
It’s my practice to try the local favorite whenever I travel, and since you can’t get much more Wisconsin than beer and cheese curds, I ordered a pint of my beloved Spotted Cow and the fried Clock Shadow Cheese Curds with chili ranch sauce.
I envy people who live in Madison. They can stop by anytime they want and get these amazing, crave-worthy fried cheese curds:
I literally mean crave-worthy. I’m craving them right now. I crave them every time I think of them. I crave them when I’m not thinking of them. And I crave them with a pint of crisp, refreshing Spotted Cow. If you’re not familiar with this Wisconsin Wonder, it’s a craft beer by New Glarus that you can only get in the Badger State. While I don’t (always) have cravings for that, I will (and have) cross borders just to pick up a twelve-pack.
I ate all the cheese curds, and then I ordered Augie’s Burger. Topped with aged cheddar, bourbon pickles (!!!), house-made bacon, and a roasted tomato aioli, it seemed like a good idea.
I also had another local beer, this time from Capital Brewery, which is located in Madison. Properly fortified (a.k.a. STUFFED), I made my way back to the room, slinked into that robe, and tried to ignore the cheese tray they’d thoughtfully left in the room as I watched the sun set in subtle hues of orange and pink.
The next morning I awakened refreshed after a deep sleep in a comfortable king-sized bed, which I had sprawled out on diagonally, because I could. I’d heard The Statehouse puts on a delicious breakfast, but I didn’t want to leave my room so I had them bring it to me. There’s little more decadent than dining on crab cake eggs benedict served with a side of applewood smoked bacon while wrapped in a fluffy robe and gazing out over a pier and a glassy-smooth lake rimmed with mansions and trees.
While I didn’t want to leave (would you?), I reluctantly packed and headed downstairs for a quick tour of the property. It’s impressive, to say the least. Dunn, the new owner, knows that single-use properties are missing out on opportunities, so when he renovated The Edgewater, he added 40,000 square feet of event space. Both rooftops can be used for events and there’s a convention-sized ballroom in the Wisconsin Building. The plaza itself hosts concerts and other events during the summer and becomes an ice skating rink in the winter. Next to the plaza is a staircase that leads to the waterfront and the property’s forty public, and free, boat spots.
Because an open waterfront was included in Madison’s original city plan, including an accessible path to Lake Mendota was an important part of the renovation. They’ve got a copy of “Madison, a Model City” by Madison’s city planner and landscape architect John Nolen, published in 1910, in their seventh floor tribute to Madison. They’ve also got an American Girl doll, since the founder is part-owner in the hotel. Located outside Augie’s Tavern, this media wall highlights prominent Wisconsinites and there’s a display showing photos from The Edgewater’s past and present. They’re trying to create a living history, so anyone is invited to send photos of their time at this iconic property.
My time was over too soon. That’s OK, though. It just means I’ll have to go back, and next time I can relax in the spa, dine lakefront at The Boathouse, and experience the past, present, and cheese curds at this downtown Madison icon.
The Edgewater is located in downtown Madison at 1001 Wisconsin Place. They invited me to stay, but had no idea what I’d write and whether I’d even like robes, views, and cheese curds.
Featured photo credit Bill Fritsch.