Fate of Madison bar with mob ties now awaits plan commission decision

MADISON, Wis. — The City of Madison’s Plan Commission will determine the fate of a bar with Mob ties during its Monday evening meeting.

Since plans were announced to demolish the Wonder Bar on Olin Ave in order to make way for an 18-story apartment complex and mixed use building, preservationists have worked to try and save the structure.

The restaurant was built in 1929 by a rival gang of Chicago mobster Al Capone. Intentionally built outside of Madison’s city limits, it served as a hub for bootlegging alcohol during the prohibition.

It’s so cool, it’s a historical gangster tavern,” said preservationist Janelle Munns. “The thought of this building just turning to rubble just absolutely breaks my heart.”

In May, the Madison Trust for Historic Preservation proposed lifting the building and moving it to another parcel of land. Preservationists have since learned, however, the building would be too heavy to carry over bridges and railroad tracks – limiting potential landing sites to Olin Park and the Alliant Energy Center campus.

Since then, preservationists have compiled nearly 2,500 signatures on a petition asking the plan commission to consider saving the building.

I’d like the city to consider there is another option than this development,” Munns said. “Imagine if the Wonder Bar was left in place and preserved, and a smaller brick building matched in character to the Wonder Bar was built next door? That way we could preserve the character of the building.”

Munns, along with Carrie Rothburd of the Madison Trust for Historic Preservation, are now asking Madison residents to share their input with the plan commission by filling out a form on the commission’s website.

Rothburd said the group is in the process of registering the building on the National Register of Historic Places, but said it’s unlikely a decision could be made prior to Monday’s meeting. For that reason, she’s asking the plan commission to delay its decision.

There needs to be more room for voice in the development process on the part of neighbors,” Rothburd said. “That is partly that developers and the city of Madison need to value the voice of the community more and make more time to listen to it.”

McGrath Property Group along with the project’s lead architect did not respond to request for comment.