Essen Haus


29 Reviews
Essen HausEssen Haus

Type: Bar, Eatery

514 E Wilson St
Madison, Wisconsin, 53703-3431
United States

(608) 255-4674 | map

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Reviews: 29 | Ratings: 48
Photo of mynie
4.28/5  rDev +5.4%
vibe: 4 | quality: 4 | service: 5 | selection: 4

Wonderful downtown location. Beer garden open until dusk. Prices are are as reasonable as they are everywhere else downtown.

This was our first stop on our quasi-beertour of Madison. The inside is dark and bricky. I've only been to facimile German bars--including those in Amana which I've been told are *quite* authentic. That having been said, this place seemed nice and authentic to me. Only, it wasn't the kind of authenticity that takes itself too seriously. The guys were wearing Lederhosen but jokingly, over T-shirts. The girls were wearing German dress, too, but they looked cute, not gimmicky. I didn't even realize the bartender was dressed up, actually, since the outfit looked so nice. And the waitstaff was the tops.

Very wide tap selection, no so much for bottles. There were a couple of fairly rare beers on tap, but as things were just getting started I decided to keep it easy and go with a Bitburger.

Wisconsin's laxity with liquor laws is really refreshing. No, it's not like they don't ID you or anything like that. But little stuff--stuff that authorities in other states are senselessly strict about--they let go. Essen Haus is connected to Come Right In, and they let you take beer from one place into another. On top of that, there was no one out patroling the beer garden to make sure that you didn't stray more than X amount of yards from the premises. Little stuff like that makes for a greatly relaxed atmosphere.

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Photo of BoitSansSoif
3.38/5  rDev -16.7%
vibe: 4 | quality: 3 | service: 3 | selection: 4.5 | food: 2

I am going to rate my overall experience at Essenhaus, which is less than flattering, although beer-wise, it's an excellent find.
My first time here, we sat and sat and were never even approached by the waitstaff. 15 minutes later, we left.
My second time, we were treated warmly. The atmosphere was decent, and the oompah music kicked off halfway through the meal. The waitstaff this time did a stellar job. The beer selection is excellent, and it is enjoyable to drink from a boot, but be prepared to sign a waiver--those things aren't cheap if you break one, and they are tippy! The glassware goes beyond the boots, and you can catch a nice glimpse of window displays if you are walking the sidewalk on the Lake Monona side. It really lures you in. The decor is also charming, and a welcome respite for the thirsty.
I thought my first impressions of the place were unfounded, and based on a unique, atypical, and unfortunate experience...and then they brought out the food. I know what traditional German food tastes like, and although it's not a culture known for its haute cuisine, it's infinitely better than what the cooks tried to push over on us. The sausage barely rivaled those of my high school cafeteria, and the spatzle was already starting to get cold when it arrived. The highlights of the meal were the delicious beers, which washed the food down and made it taste better as I drank my way toward the insole, and the mustard, which spiced up the bland flavor between sips. Why didn't I put it aside? I was famished.
The food was quite pricey for its quality. I ate it anyway; I'll eat almost anything, but I still know what constitutes good food. If all meat tasted this way, I would turn vegetarian tomorrow with no regrets. In all fairness, I will return here because it is unique and charming, and the beer selection is good, which is supposed to be the primary focus of this review.
It pains me to bash what is actually a beerlover's gem, but we got started off on the wrong foot. I went in expecting a decent restaurant with a modest beer selection, but found a great bar with a poor dinner menu. It is one of four local bars I like to bring my visiting friends to, and it should remain just that...a bar, and not a restaurant. It's also a decent place to catch Badger games on the telly if you can't make it to Camp Randall.

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Photo of lowbrau
3.9/5  rDev -3.9%
vibe: 4.5 | quality: 3.5 | service: 3.5 | selection: 4.5 | food: 4

Great atmosphere and beer. There is a polka band playing most nights. Many good German beers on tap, including Franziskaner Hefe and Dunkel, Spaten Optimator, and Paulaner Salvator. Warm pretzels with mustard and horseradish for 50 cents a piece. Service can be a little slow, but not really a big deal. Go next door to the Comeback Inn for a pretty good selection on tap and a huge selection of bottles. Food is good, but can be a bit expensive. I usually go for the Friday all you can eat fish fry. Be sure to go with a and try a boot.

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Photo of uwmgdman
4.18/5  rDev +3%
vibe: 4 | quality: 4 | service: 4 | selection: 4.5 | food: 4.5

Beers: A nice selection of German beers, somewhere around 12 beers on tap, give or take a few. A nice range in German styles, including a few less common styles, including Alts and Munich Helles.

Food: I've sampled 4 different German dishes on different occasions. Every time the food was delicious, portions are quite generous. I really enjoy the red cabbage as a side. I would recommend going for a German dish instead of an American item if you visit.

Service: Service is typically prompt. Especially for meals. Later in the evenings when the place gets packed, it can be a bit spotty, but nothing over the line.

Atmosphere: Very good atmosphere. Often have live German music from one guy to a full polka band. During weekend evenings lots of people drinking a lot of boots and dancing to the polka band. During weekday evenings, a bit more subdued, no problem getting a table, but not too subdued.

Overall a great place to get impossible to find German drafts and German food. Definately recommend. If you prefer more quiet go during the week, less rowdy, for a crazy busy atmosphere, with lots of drinking go on the weekend. If you're there past 11pm on the weekend, the only draw back is the typical student who has too many boots and litters the bathroom with his weinerschientzel.

EDIT: I see a lot of people definately not recommending the food and that was recommended by people who worked there. I've eaten there 4 times and plan on going back. I felt it was good food, maybe some people don't care for German food. I'm still breathing so I guess I'll take my chances again with the cleanliness issue some talk about.

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Photo of badbeer
4.06/5  rDev 0%
vibe: 4.5 | quality: 4 | service: 4 | selection: 4

Nice place, sits right across from the lake. Inside is about as German as you're going to find in America. There are similar places, and they may be more German, but this is pretty damn good, I'd say. Quality of the beer was fresh. It was nice to have a fresh Helles again, they're hard to come by in America. Service was pretty good, they did their best despite being so busy. The effort is what counts. Selection wasn't huge for on-tap selections, but there was enough to keep the palate happy, and with limited offerings they're able to keep fresher things available. I didn't try any food, but it appeared to be authentic German cuisine, perhaps I'll give it a try next time. Prices were a little on the high side for the area, but it's a place I enjoy visiting when I'm in town.

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Photo of Erdinger2003
4.03/5  rDev -0.7%
vibe: 4 | quality: 4.5 | service: 4 | selection: 3.5

I walked in with the expecatations of a Munich beer hall and I saw a lot of heavy drinking and young college kids drink a lot of boots. The beer selection was a little small in my opinion, good, but kinda small. The atmosphere was good, not Germany good, but good. You could talk with friends, some you may have just met, some you've known. They have a small "Beer Garden". It's indoors, the ceiling seems a bit low, and it's next to the bathrooms. The giant ceiling they have is over the food/beer tables next to the tiny stage where not so bad music is played. It got crowded a bit after some time, so about 8:30pm we left for another bar. Overall I would go back just to try the fresher German beer and use the authentic's a bit of fun using them.

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Photo of 4thoseabout2bock
3.65/5  rDev -10.1%
vibe: 5 | quality: 4 | service: 3 | selection: 4 | food: 2

The festive atmosphere to the Essen Haus is infectious.

I was very happy at the Come Back Inn next door, with their excellent selection of beer. When I heard there were TWO dopplebocks (both Salvator and Optimator) on tap on the other side of that magical swinging door, where hootin and hollerin and cheering were coming from, I was lured in to the promise of dark sweet German beer and satisfying German food.

I got the beer. It was great.

So was the atmosphere. Very festive, reminiscent of the beer halls of Munich (when they are filled with drunken American tourists). But, more importantly, all ages were represented here and everyone was having a great time.

The food, however, was horrible. The roulades were supposed to be thin steak and bacon wrapped around sausage meat and pickle. Bacon around sausage. How can you do wrong? Well, they found a way. They came out looking like two little turds and someone forgot to cover them in sauce. The spaetzle was dry and flavorless. The French Onion soup was dirty dish water with onions.

On the bright side the Prime Rib was ok, and so was the liver dumpling soup. Even though the waitress did not bring the au jus with the prime rib (or maybe they don't serve it that way) we kept the livery broth to dip it in and that gave it some nice flavor (if you like liver, which I do).

So listen to DaPeculier Dane. Don't eat here. I was suckered in my the German ambience (under the influence of two doppelbocks :)

But of you love German beer and atmosphere, do DRINK here. And next store. A great stop in a Madison beer tour.

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Photo of DaPeculierDane
4.5/5  rDev +10.8%
vibe: 4.5 | quality: 4.5 | service: 4.5 | selection: 4.5

The Essenhaus is a top beer bar and a must for anyone traveling to Madison. This place is second on my list (after the Memorial Union Terrace) of places to take friends from out of town. The Essenhaus features just about any German beer you could think of…on tap! The specials are great. Half liters are only something like $2.50 during happy hour and boots (normally $16) are only ten bucks on Thursdays. Polka bands play there regularly. The waitstaff are great and wear traditional Bavarian garb. It’s kitchy, dirty, and very Wisconsin. Their bottle selection is great too, plenty of good American crafts and the whole Lindeman’s line from Belgium. Better yet, the Essenhaus has a door to the Up North Bar on its SE wall and a door to the impressive Come Back Inn on its NW wall. If you don’t care for German beer and can’t find the craft you like at Essenhaus, just walk over to the Comeback, grab a pint, and carry it back over to the Essenhaus.

IMPORTANT NOTE: I am not rating the food because I don’t want to bring down this bar’s score. For me this is a beer bar and I just ignore the whole restaurant part. Now this is very important…don’t eat here. Don’t ask why. You do not want to know. Just, what ever you do, don’t eat here. Don’t even think about it. Avoid the Come Back’s food too. Seriously!

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Photo of shbobdb
4.6/5  rDev +13.3%
vibe: 5 | quality: 5 | service: 5 | selection: 5 | food: 1

Wir gehen zum Essenhaus! Was a common battlecry for thursday nights, when a boot (2L) of beer was available for a mere $10, and 1/2L's were on sale for three (note: this has changed recently. Most likely after the looting that occured during the weekend graduation for the class of '05). The waitstaff is ever quick to please and the polka band blares away singing "I don't wan-her, you can have her, she's too fat for me, oh, she's to fat for me." Truly a pleasant germanic atmosphere. Kitchy as hell, but surprisingly authentic within that. Good beers, good times, good friends, what more could you want?
Oh, yeah, food. Avoid it at all costs. Overpriced and it tastes like poison.
Avoid the bathrooms too, if possible. Late in the night they get rather, uhhh, messy.

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Photo of barrelman
4.13/5  rDev +1.7%
vibe: 5 | quality: 4 | service: 4 | selection: 4

Live Polka, waitstaff in lederhosen, multiple German brews. Wisconsin's German tradition runs deep in this place. On any given night the clientele runs from 21 yrs. old to old german faces that are practically dead. Most tables are overflowing with patrons and at least one 2-liter glass boot going around (Hint: Two 1-liter boots go around much faster). As tradition goes, the person after the one who finishes the boot has to buy the next one. A good game to play if you are a broke college kid and have your drinking pants on.

If a 2-liter boot seems a little on the sissy side for you, they also offer a 5-liter ceramic stein (courtesy of Spaten) to test your arm strength. Only my friend Big Joe can lift this thing without two hands and physical/moral support. I have never been to a place that is more condusive to Polka-ing(?) and partying at the same time. The truth is, I can only remember leaving this place twice in six years.

A can't miss for anyone with a shirt and shoes.

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Photo of circuitmonkey
3.78/5  rDev -6.9%
vibe: 4 | quality: 4 | service: 3 | selection: 4.5 | food: 3

Best selections of tap German beer in Madison (and no St Pauly girl). The ceiling is lined with over 2000 mugs from customers who joined their mug club (I gather that you get your own mug, but it stays there for display). The walls are lined with steins and other brewania I went there on a Friday night where there was a German band playing, which was neat, but a little loud and made it almost impossible to hold a conversation if you were on that end of the building. Fortunately this place is a bit of a walk from state street so I have never seen it become extremely crowded to a point that it is annoying (which is a common occurrence at other bars).

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Photo of Sixpoint
3.88/5  rDev -4.4%
vibe: 5 | quality: 3 | service: 4 | selection: 4.5 | food: 3.5

Tourist bar? College bar? German beer bar? Yes, it's all here. There's no place quite like the Essen Haus... a gigantic beer-guzzling rathskellar in Madison. Because it's right off the highway and near the state capital, this place draws a lot of businesspersons for after-work conventions. Yet on any weeknight, expect to see a group of college revelers passing "pitchers," which are actually just glass boots. Also, you'll just see a lot of visitors to Madison go there because of its reputation.

Unfortunately, I've known a lot of friends who have worked here and told me horror stories. I don't believe in trashing someone's reputation, but virtually all of my friends who have worked here told me NOT TO EAT there. That's pretty disturbing... apparently they have some cleanliness and health inspection issues.

That being said, this place definitely has some redeeming qualities. Take, for instance, the beer selection. You'll have a superb selection of German imports here year-round, and in the spring, look for the dopplebocks. In the fall, look for the Oktoberfests.

The atmosphere is awesome. It's basically a gigantic beer hall. On any given night, look for live oompah music. It's pretty insane, they play classics like "roll out the barrel" while everyone guzzles down beer in glass boots.

Basically, just go there and don't eat the food.

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Photo of longarm
4.55/5  rDev +12.1%
vibe: 4.5 | quality: 5 | service: 4 | selection: 5 | food: 3.5

For a truly great selection of fine German beers on tap, there can't be too many places in the U.S. that can top the Essen Haus. Combine that with their attempts to replicate an old German beer hall through the selection of food and the staff's attire, and this is a must stop on any to-do list if you're in the area. When the polka band gets warmed-up and after the crowd has had a few boots of Spaten's Optimator, it's hard to imagine the tents of Munich being any more fun. The first year or so that I lived in Madison, I thought it was quaint and an interesting place, but I could take it or leave it. As time passes, however, each year I appreciate this place a little more and will miss it greatly when I have to move in the near future. From the Franziskaner wheat, to Dab, to the Spaten beers, it's always a delight to get a taste of great German brews.

Food is OK and occasionally excellent, but I wouldn't recommend it purely on the aspects of its German cuisine. The staff is friendly, but don't always seem to know as much as you would expect or hope about the beers on tap.

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4/5  rDev -1.5%
vibe: 4 | quality: 4 | service: 3.5 | selection: 4.5

You gotta love the ever changing selection of tap beers here. And the Comeback Inn (which you can go to from the side door in the Essen Haus) has still more options.
It is all served in very interesting glassware. Don't get any ideas...
The Boot Game is a good experience, but you may not be able to drive for days after playing. And if you're going to play, play it right.
note: If you are under 35, bring your ID, credit cards, social security card, birth certificate, library card, visa, passport, and a note from your mother. Otherwise, you may not get in.

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Photo of GCBrewingCo
3.73/5  rDev -8.1%
vibe: 3.5 | quality: 3.5 | service: 3.5 | selection: 4 | food: 4.5

I am putting together a couple of trips to the Essen Haus for the review.

I was there once in the late afternoon/early evening for dinner and some beers and found the dopplebocks and food excellent. There was hardly anyone there and finding a table was quick and simple. I was dining with a person who knew German food and he said it was very good. The beer selection seemed good as well. Our server was a young girl in traditional garb and she was a little better than average.

Contrast that to my next visit. The place was smoky and getting in the door was difficult. We were only there for the beer so I selected a Maibock that was on the beer menu and a friend had just ordered and said was very good. His was crystal clear and tasty so I ordered one. Mine came across the bar cloudy and very sour yet had enough characteristics of his beer to let us know it was either another bad keg or another bad tap, or the dregs. The bad beer combined with the loud and smoky atmosphere did not make this visit pleasant at all.

The beer menu on my second visit was still very good, but I will not visit the Essen Haus again if it is crowded.

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Photo of daledeee
4.63/5  rDev +14%
vibe: 4.5 | quality: 4.5 | service: 5 | selection: 4.5 | food: 4.5

Worth the stop when in Madison. Located near the main drag. HWY 151 to the left. Authentic German all the way; atmosphere, uniforms, beer, food. The soft pretzels start it off just right. Alot of beer to choose from. This is a nice place to go. Not open for lunch. But you can go to the Come Back Inn which is so adjacent that I wonder if it is owned by the same people.

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Photo of Winter
4.58/5  rDev +12.8%
vibe: 4 | quality: 4.5 | service: 4.5 | selection: 5

Great German bar atmosphere. We stopped primarily to enjoy several rounds of glass boots of Dab. Great selection of beers on tap and imports. Our servers were friendly and prompt. The waitstaff dons uniforms that are similar to "authentic" German clothing-- something right out of the Old World or what I might expect to see at an Oktoberfest celebration. Didn't eat dinner there, but we did snack on the soft pretzerls and those hit the spot perfectly. Would love to stop back again sometime and try the food.

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Photo of cokes
4.05/5  rDev -0.2%
vibe: 4.5 | quality: 4 | service: 4 | selection: 4 | food: 4

This place is a lot of fun.
Authentic German atmosphere. Care has obviously been taken down to the smallest details, even the uniforms of the servers and bartenders Be ready for polka and kraut.
It can get busy at times, but is roomy enough to accomodate. Never seems to get that smoky, which is worth a bit in my book.
Friendly servers.
Plenty of great German beers on tap. Boots are a must.
I have less experience in the food dept, but what I've had has been tasty and authentic.
Bonus points should be awarded for the 25 cent soft pretzels. That is usually all I need to go with a litre of Optimator.

In reference to psugrad's comment on the female situation...I agree that this is not the place to gaze at co-eds...Head to campus for that.

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Photo of psugrad98
4.58/5  rDev +12.8%
vibe: 4 | quality: 4.5 | service: 4.5 | selection: 5

Visited this place when on a trip for Penn State. Forgot all about it untill I saw it on the Food Network last night. This place is really cool. An incredible selection of German beers, both on draught, and in bottles. Service is great, and the patrons and decor add to make a stellar atmosphere. Didn't try the food, but a friend did, and what he had looked awesome! Can't wait to get back to Madison. (Believe me, it aint for the good lookin women)

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Essen Haus in Madison, WI
4.06 out of 5 based on 48 ratings.
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