Bear & Bottle brings California flair to Madison with its neighborhood pub

Bear & Bottle has been on the north side for five years.
Photo by Sharon Vanorny
Photo by Sharon Vanorny

Celebrating its fifth anniversary this year, Bear & Bottle has established itself as a north-side neighborhood meetup point with a California-meets-Wisconsin atmosphere.

Owners Tim Thompson and Stephani Dalbesio fell in love with “the overall vibe out in California,” says business partner Marcus Schiel. Thompson and Dalbesio also own The Library Cafe & Bar in Madison, The Free House Pub in Middleton and The Flying Hound Alehouse in Fitchburg (where Schiel originally started as a bartender, then became bar manager and co-general manager before signing on to Bear & Bottle before its opening in May 2017).

Diners get a sense of the West Coast, surf shack environment from Bear & Bottle’s high ceilings, abundance of windows and garage doors leading out to a patio. But there is also a warm and inviting neighborhood feel with wood accents, photographs on the walls and a large bar.

The menu is lined with comfort foods, including a classic Wisconsin fish fry on Fridays, tacos and, of course, cheese curds. Other lighter items will satisfy cravings while leaving room for dessert — think salads, poke and banh mi sliders.

The craft beer menu is notable as well, echoing the Madison and California combinations, with sections reflecting local offerings and West Coast brews. Bear & Bottle also blends fresh takes on old standbys and contemporary cocktails.

You can pretend you’re on a mini vacation in California but surrounded by neighbors and friends.

Three Must-Trys

Taco ’Bout It | Street Corn Chicken Tacos

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Photo by Sharon Vanorny

“Tacos have been a focal point of our menu since the beginning,” says Schiel. The customer favorite is the street corn chicken taco. Bear & Bottle sources corn tortillas from Tortilleria Zepeda, based
out of Lone Rock, Wisconsin. They’re made fresh with locally sourced corn using traditional nixtamalization techniques. The result is a sturdier tortilla that stands up to the smoked chicken, house-made jalapeno queso, spicy mayo, queso fresco, Tajín, cilantro, corn and lime.

Marriage of Flavors | Shrimp Rangoon Nachos

Bear Bottle1

Photo by Sharon Vanorny

One of the most popular menu items is the shrimp rangoon nacho plate, which comes with fried wontons stuffed with shrimp and cream cheese filling, carrot and cabbage slaw, sweet chili sauce and scallions scattered over the top. It’s a “nice, welcoming appetizer,” says Schiel.

Take a Sip | Bee Pre-Pear’d

Bear Bottle3

Photo by Sharon Vanorny

The craft beer menu and wine lists are worth flipping through, but Bear & Bottle also has a solid cocktail list. The cocktail menu represents Wisconsin staples — “you gotta have an Old-Fashioned,” says Schiel — and some California-inspired specialties made with fresh juices and herbs. One highlight is Bee Pre-Pear’d made with Tito’s vodka, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, honey, spiced pear and lemon juice, which pairs well with poke.

A Day No. 1 Goal
Community and inclusivity are high priorities for Bear & Bottle’s owners, which is why the business recently partnered with local nonprofits Domestic Abuse Intervention Services, or DAIS, and RISE Wisconsin. Fundraising events have committed 10% of sales or $1 from specific menu items to these nonprofits. Bear & Bottle also hosted a toy drive during the holidays, and it regularly invites the nonprofit representatives to stop by to share info. Bear & Bottle business partner Marcus Schiel hopes to make these events quarterly and is consistently brainstorming new ways to give back. “We want to be more than just a brick-and-mortar building on the corner of the street. We want to be part of this community — that’s been our goal from day one,” says Schiel.

Find Bear & Bottle: 601 N. Sherman Ave., 608-630-8800,

Candice Wagener is a contributing writer for Madison Magazine.

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