Tomorrow night I’m headed to Restaurant Magnus, it’s my wife’s birthday. We go to Magnus for all her birthdays, our wedding anniversarys, and my birthdays too. We go there when we don’t have anything to celebrate. Madison has lots of good restaurants to check out but we always end up coming back to Magnus. How can you beat great food, atmosphere, and live jazz?
This is not a food and wine site, and many food reviews of the Magnus exist, so let me be brief: it doesn’t really matter what you order, it’s all good. Just make sure you get the bread with chimi-churi dip that comes with the main dishes. That stuff is fantastic and reason enough to eat there.
I love the food at Restaurant Magnus, but it is not casual dining and neither my wallet or waist can manage it more than occasionally, so sometimes we go just for the jazz. With the loss of the Concourse as a jazz venue Magnus is now indisputably the premier live jazz establishment in Madison. It is the only venue in town with scheduled jazz almost every night of the week that isn’t background music or limited strictly to solo or duet performances (if you know of another please let me know because I want to check it out).
The weekday acts are talented local soloists or duets, and the weekend brings full groups as large as Tim Whalen’s Nonet, a small big band. These groups are usually local, but some are national. A cover is usually charged on Saturdays.
Magnus seems to draw an audience that stretches beyond the hardcore jazz fan . After a leisurely meal diners saunter into the bar for jazz and after dinner drinks. Heavy dark curtains separate the bar and music from the restaurant. You enter a warmly lit room with large cushy chairs, a prominent well lit stage, and a large attractive bar that dominates the rear of the room. Many of the people are of the beautiful type (including my wife, Mary are you reading this?). It’s a nice place to be.
There are a few drawbacks. Like many venues, blenders and other bar noise can interfere with performances. Seating is somewhat limited so standing through a performance is possible if you don’t get there early. Some of the wooden booths are hard and uncomfortable. The worst are positioned with a side facing away from the stage. If you’re unlucky and get one of those you may end up with a neck strain from turning to see the performers. Be aware of these things, get there early, and you’ll have a good time.
This weekend the Magnus calendar lists Caravan Gypsy Swing Trio at 9:30 Friday night, and Tony Castaneda Christmas Jazz Band 9:30 Saturday. See you there , and wish my wife a happy birthday!