Stadium Journey: Wisconsin's Kohl Center

Paul SwaneySenior Analyst IDecember 1, 2009

MADISON, WI - FEBRUARY 05: Marcus Landry #1 of the Wisconsin Badgers shoots free-throw against the Illinois Fighting Illini on February 5, 2009 at the Kohl Center in Madison, Wisconsin. Wisconsin defeated Illinois 63-50. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Review originally published on

Opened in 1998, the Kohl Center is a beautifully new arena utilized by the Wisconsin basketball and hockey teams.  Its location makes for a great time before or after games.  Once inside, you’ll find a fantastic venue to take in a game.

FANFARE Score: 30 (out of 35)

F ood & Beverage: 4

I entered the building, and immediately went to get a brat and some cheese curds. The brat was so-so (not nearly as good as the Red Brat I had for lunch, more on that below), and cheese curds were of course spectacular. Maybe spectacular is too strong, but it was fried cheese, so you get the idea.

A tmosphere: 4

The Kohl Center really is a beautiful facility, both inside and out.  The Dale Chihuly blown glass masterpiece (known as the Mendota Wall) adorns the wall once you enter the center, and there are wide concourses throughout.  Once you reach your seat, you’ll find that the action is accessible whether you are courtside, in the upper deck, sitting (or standing as is typically the case) in the student section, or kicking it in a luxury box.

The student section is loud and passionate, and the pep band is stellar.  The school fight song, On Wisconsin, is one of those iconic college fight songs.  The school recognizes its history (including the 1941 championship won by the school), while making no apologies for having a new beautifully glimmering venue.


N eighborhood: 5

Without a doubt, the best surrounding neighborhood of any of the Big Ten arenas can be found in Madison.  Just blocks away from campus, as well as the main strip of bars and restaurants, there’s enough to keep you busy even if you have season tickets.

The capitol building is about a mile walk from Kohl and there are several addition, and slightly more upscale restaurants that can be found.  In the immediate vicinity I can recommend several stops, as I had a long cold day to work my way through the neighboring bars.

State Street Brats  is a very Germanic looking building, and probably the perfect setting for an OctoberFest celebration. I went for their classic Red Brat and an order of fried cheese curds, as well as a local beer—a Capitol Amber. All were good, and I especially appreciated the toppings bar for their brats—filled with onions, sauerkraut, mustards, and other sauces. All in all a good place to hang out.

Pub —This place on State Street had two people inside watching Jeopardy!—the bartender and the bartender’s friend. It was a big place with lots of pool tables, dart boards, and foosball tables. Seemed like a good place to hangout, but was pretty dead on this particular Thursday evening. I left after drinking a Fat Squirrel Ale.

Quinton’s —Slightly more upscale place, sandwich selection looked good, and had a nice selection of beers on tap. I tried the Hopalicious Ale—my favorite beer of the trip.

Wando’s —A less welcoming place, but at least the bar had a lot of people there—which is generally a good sign. What I loved best about this place is the grill was right behind the bar, and the smells produced from the cheeseburgers and fries really added to the experience.

Red Shed —A nice cozy place that’s been around since the 1950’s. This was the where older alums clearly came before the game. There were about eight people at the bar, I would guess safely that they were all older than me, and they were all wearing red.

Johnny O’s —The bad news about this place is that I bought a beer, and then the bartender told me the beers were half off so the next beer was on the house. I did not need the next beer. This bar was nice enough, but nothing special.

F ans: 4

I sat in the student section, and while I no longer have any illusions that I could pass as one of them, they made me feel right at home.  I was hugged by one stranger, and had arms wrapped over my shoulder by another stranger as they sang.

Like any truly great student section, they have a moniker—“The Grateful Red.”

A ccess: 5

Parking is inexpensive and plentiful near the Kohl Center.  Handicap accessibility is better than any Big Ten venue, and bathrooms are clean and large enough to avoid lines.

R eturn on Investment: 5

A trip to Madison for a Wisconsin basketball game (or hockey for that matter) is well worth the trip.  I paid $20 for my seat about 12 rows up in the student section.  You’ll enjoy the neighborhood, the facility, the energy of the fans, and certainly the cheese curds.

E xtra Points: 3

I’ll give the Kohl Center some extra points for the Chihuly artwork, On Wisconsin and the Grateful Red, and the proximity to an exciting downtown.

Final Thoughts:

If you can only make one trip to one Big Ten college basketball arena, I highly recommend the Kohl Center.  Have a great time!

Paul Swaney is the Co-Founder of Stadium Journey