Archive for the ‘Divertissement’ category

Remembering Al

December 10, 2021

Al Reichenberger and I were dog-walking buddies. He favored Labradors. I’m a German Wirehaired  Pointer guy. We’d let our dogs frolic off leash and smell the smells of our eastside parks while we discussed matters small and large.

            A friendship was built on these casual conversations and small intimacies. I’m honored that Al’s family asked me to write his obituary.


Al Reichenberger, a complex man who lived a rich and adventurous life, will be celebrated by his friends and family on Jan. 9, 2022, from 3 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., at the Eno Vino Downtown restaurant. Reichenberger died from cancer on Oct. 19, 2021, at the age of 80.

His likes will probably not be seen again in Madison.

Reichenberger was a raconteur and storyteller, a world traveler, a fiercely loyal family man, an avid pilot, a lover of both fine German cars and Labrador dogs, and the guy you always wanted to be talking with at the party.

But for most Madisonians, Al Reichenberger is remembered as co-owner of The Dangle Lounge, 119 East Main St., with his younger brother, Thomas, and for their many legal battles with City Hall over just how much skin could be safely revealed in a Midwestern burlesque house.

Reichenberger spent 25-plus years in the “gentlemen’s club” business before he sold his share to Tom in 1994 and executed a life transition that was unexpected if not astonishing. While wife, Jayne Neuendorf, continued her career at Merrill Lynch, Al settled into being a house-dad for their two sons, Wolfgang and Gunnar.

For a guy raised in the Old World strictures of Deutsch Milwaukee, “house dad” was not an expected life choice, but Al Reichenberger always cut his own path. His parents, Max and Frances Reichenberger, were German immigrants who moved to Milwaukee in the 1920s. His dad was a furrier who began traveling to Germany for various business ventures after World War II.

Al wound up living with German relatives for five or so years, to the point he lost some English fluency. Back in the States, he attended parochial school until his youthful candor became an irreconcilable issue for the school authorities.

Reichenberger was a proud graduate of Rufus King High School in Milwaukee. He joined the U.S. Air Force at 17, served in a bomber refueling station in North Falls, Mont. He later told his boys, tongue in cheek, he was part of our frontline defense protecting Americans from a Canadian invasion.

Politically, Reichenberger was always quite conservative, but he had a strong libertarian streak and did not like to be told what to do, which explains why a military career did not interest him. He told friends that the Central Intelligence Agency had hinted at recruiting him for surreptitious work in East Germany, but Al already had his eye on civilian life. He attended UW-Milwaukee where he earned degrees in business and history and then worked for North Central Air. He came to Madison in 1968 when brother, Tom, opened a bar just off the Capitol Square and needed a partner.

Ah, the Dangle Lounge!

So many stories, many of them even true, have been told about its colorful chapters in Madison history. City officials, urged on by an angry fundamentalist preacher and his flock, tried to close down nude dancing establishments in Madison. The legal fireworks became a show in themselves over the years, as the brothers retained some of the edgiest lawyers around: Percy Julian Jr., Jeff Scott Olson, Sarah Crandall and David Loeffler.

In February 1969, Mayor Otto Festge issued so-called “entertainment guidelines” for strippers and go-go girls, as historian Stuart Levitan details in his book “Madison In The Sixties.” The Festge edict went into a highly detailed, almost salacious, description of “the sensual elements” of a woman’s body that could not be displayed on stage.

Two weeks later, Levitan recounts Reichenberger led “a protest march of go-go girls in bikinis and winter coats around the Square,” as he denounced Festge’s rules “as pretty ridiculous.”

A few years later, the city pulled The Dangle’s liquor license, and the Reichenbergers relaunched the club as The Jazz Workshop, which brought in jazzman Ben Sidran and other musicians. Sidran was playing one night when the great James Brown drummer Clyde Stubblefield, new to Madison, walked in, and they hit it off.

“It was definitely a scene,” says Sidran. “The Dangle-Jazz Workshop was sort of a thumb in the eye of the city fathers, and that of course made it attractive to a lot of us.”

Indeed, Capitol denizens, irreverent lawyers, hustlers, crooks, lost souls, visiting yokels, and lots of excitable men all populated The Dangle.

Isthmus, Madison’s venerable alternative newspaper, was conceived there when bartender Vince O’Hern, a journalism school graduate and Peace Corps veteran, began plotting the new paper with former Capital Times columnist Fred Milverstedt, a Dangle regular.

Eddie Ben Elson, the free spirit, provocateur and lawyer, even announced his candidacy for Dane County District Attorney naked on The Dangle stage. His campaign slogan: “Obey only good laws.”

The Dangle legal skirmishing went on for years and only ended when the Reichenbergers agreed to vacate the downtown property and consolidate their operations at Visions, 3554 E. Washington Ave. Olson, the attorney, points out the city attorney’s office forgot that the deal was supposed to end after five years, which set the stage for Visions to operate for decades longer.

Reichenberger’s great passion was traveling for skiing and adventure. To Switzerland, Austria, Spain, Italy and Germany. “The dollar was so strong it was cheaper to fly to Innsbruck, Austria, and ski there than go to Aspen, Colorado,” says Casey O’Keefe, who first met Reichenberger on a crowded Van Galder bus to O’Hare for a ski trip.

All the better both men were car aficionados. Early on Al had Jaguar XK120s and then Porsches and BMWs, says O’Keefe. On a trip to Stuttgart, Reichenberger bluffed their way into a Porsche factory tour and wound up test-driving a Porsche at “full throttle open” on the Autobahn.

“I know, because I had to do the math in kilometers. It was 148 mph,” O’Keefe says, and then follows up with a hair-raising tale of their impromptu bobsled run in Salzburg.

“Al liked adventure,” O’Keefe attests. Wolfgang and Gunnar make the same point. Their dad was always pushing the limits. He took up snowboarding at the age of 52. At 65 he learned to barefoot water ski.

To look back at Al’s life is to see that he lived the famous American imperative as laid out by Henry David Thoreau in Walden: He “wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.”

Al did just that.


The Jan. 9 celebration of Alfonse Reichenberger’s well-lived life will take place 3 p.m.-8 p.m. at ENO VINO DOWNTOWN, 1 N. Webster St. That’s one block from the Capitol on the 10th floor of the AC Hotel.

Besides Jayne and their sons, Wolfgang and Gunnar, Al is survived by his brother Thomas’ three children, Thomas Jr., Elena and Zachary. Tom Reichenberger died on March 13, 2019, at the age of 75.

Friends who wish to memorialize Al’s passing are asked to contribute to the Agrace Foundation, which cared for Al in his final days. He succumbed to squamous cell and multiple myeloma cancers.


Cocktail Revelations

October 15, 2018

I’ve been working on and off for months on a major writing project. I think it will be a big thing. But, sorry, this story has nothing to do with it. Nope, this one is all about the pleasures of drinking Boulevardiers and fat-washed martinis with your friends. Also in reading  Kingsley Amis’ earnest defense of social drinking in his magnum opus, Everyday Drinking. Not to mention I report on the good Oxford scholars who emphasize the “social” in social drinking:

Dear readers, put down your phones! Science says you should drink with your friends. Seriously. I have in my hand the printout of “Functional Benefits of (Modest) Alcohol Consumption” written by seven Oxford University researchers. They say that drinking with your buds at the local pub may be linked to an improved sense of well-being.

Okay, that’s not exactly a big surprise. But confirming the obvious is what college professors sometimes do. And I know you’re thinking what I’m thinking: Just how do I get a piece of this research money? But the investigators also found, according to Oxford publicists, “that people who have a [pub] that they visit regularly tend to feel more socially engaged and contented and are more likely to trust other members of their community” while those who don’t “had significantly smaller social networks and felt less engaged with, and trusting of, their local communities.”

Yes, it’s the fellowship (and sistership) of drink.

Oh, there’s so much more in my story. Including revelations that could  change your life! (Or not.) Go here for more.

I’ll Drink To That

February 27, 2018

I’ve always liked the camaraderie of sharing a good drink with friends and family. It’s one of life’s pleasures. Work hard, take care of business. You got to do all that. But these off-duty moments while sharing casual talk and small intimacies are experiences I savor.

All the better I can report, Dane County is in the midst of an unprecedented burst of creativity in brewing, distilling and winemaking. Lots of  opportunities, in other words, for folks like me to share the fellowship of an adult beverage.

As I wrote in an Isthmus cover story:

Just go strolling on Madison’s near east side. Late this fall I was out walking the dog one night when I stumbled upon — in a tucked-away industrial court — the brand new $1.2 million State Line Distillery, 1413 Northern Court. Glory! Founder John Mleziva even allows dogs in the tasting room. (And quite the room it is: An artfully designed space with weathered barn lumber and a great piece of abstract art representing whiskey making by Madison’s Leslie Smith III.)

As Fred Swanson points out, a Madison “Beverage Row” is busily taking shape on the east side. A 15-minute walk from State Line sits the Old Sugar Distillery tasting room, 931 E. Main St., which offers a full sampling of its whiskey, rum, brandy and specialty spirits. Or how about perambulating to Bos Meadery, 849 E. Washington Ave., for its fermented honey drink? As for craft breweries, you can’t swing a dead cat on the east side without hitting a growler: I count 10 eastside craft beer tap rooms.

Drive a little farther out and you find Dancing Goat Distillery in Cambridge and Driftless Glen Distillery in Baraboo. And if you head south or go west in Madison and Dane County it’s more of the same. Lots of brew pubs, a smattering of distilleries and more wineries than you would think possible in our cold climate.

Hey, it’s a good thing. And not just because Wisconsinites enjoy a good buzz. Whether it’s a distillery, brewery or winery, all of these makers are idiosyncraticspecific in their missions, and forceful in staking a claim to the Wisconsin terroir. Yeah, it gets down to our identity. And when you consider how so much of small town Wisconsin didn’t share in the economic recovery, and is losing its best and brightest young people to big cities, championing local identity seems no small matter.

Brian Cummins, who founded Great Northern Distilling in Plover, near Stevens Point, makes this case. He points out how Great Northern is one of six beverage makers in the Central Wisconsin Craft Collective producing beer, wine and spirits — all within a 30-minute drive of one another in Point, Plover, Amherst and Rosholt.

Take the tour. They’re proud of their work.

“We’re part of the new creative community,” says Cummins, underlining how quality of life goes up for everyone in a region when there are such artisan producers. “It’s something to point to that makes their towns unique.”

Creative placemaking is what keeps young people in the community, he adds. “For us in central and northern Wisconsin, we need to maintain our millennials. It just can’t continue to drain to Minneapolis, Madison and Milwaukee.”


To read more (and to learn how a great tasting event called Distill America has led the way), please go here.

Death Of A Friend

October 28, 2016

Memory is mutable. It fades. Grows fuzzy. Plays tricks. Disappears. Writing is one way to hold on to meaning. Sometimes for dear life. I wrote this remembrance of David Medaris in a red heat after learning of his death.  I could close my eyes and see and hear David. As if he was there. I’m glad I got it down. The piece begins:

Isthmus has always been a collection of odd and compelling characters. None more so than David Medaris, who began writing for the paper as a West High student and who spent almost three decades as the listings editor and then a staff writer.

I was editor. David was David, which is to say he cut his own path. As the arbiter of listings, he functioned like a human algorithm. He precisely sorted and summarized hundreds of disparate and often recondite events that poured into the paper each week. No monk in a priory had a more exacting system of categorization.

David lived and breathed by his rules. Yet, paradoxically, he was also an exuberant, free-range thinker. He spied life’s complicated facets like a jeweler with a headlamp. Here was the reporter who would ponder endless questions for a story. David had to know. He had to understand. He was immensely curious about life and people. There was a sense of wonder and pleasure in comprehending both the mundane and the profound.

He also had a little sign on his desk: “Just tell the story.”

That was David: Painstakingly diligent, yet the faraway flutter of a butterfly in the Amazon might set him off on an intellectual ramble in the Isthmus lunchroom. He took delight in it.

His death Oct. 18 at age 57 after many years of beating back brain cancer was like a kick in the guts to his friends. His love affair with his wife, Michana Buchman, Isthmusassociate editor, was something any of us would want in this life. He always spoke of her with a tone of awe and respect. If only all of us could be so considerate of our partners. Now he’s gone.

To read more, please go here. The layout includes a marvelous portrait of David by the great photographic team J. Shimon & J. Lindemann.

Neil deGrasse Tyson Would Dig This

March 8, 2014

The tech world’s hard split between information technology  and biotechnology is perplexing.  Despite their kindred values, these really smart people seem to live in parallel universes.  I found myself puzzling over this last year while attending the International Bioethics Forum sponsored by Promega’s  educational institute. Despite a stirling assemblage of speakers on the nature of creativity, none of those brainy ITers seemed to be present.

Perhaps this year’s topic at the forum will draw some venturesome folks from the software world. Here’s how Promega founder Bill Linton describes this year’s convocation:

When we recently talked, Linton explained that the annual forum always picked topics — What is the nature of life? What is the nature of death? — in which the answers weren’t settled. “Sometimes people would leave with more questions than they came in with,” he says with a laugh.

This year’s forum — “3.8 Billion Years of Wisdom: Exploring the Genius of Nature” — promises more of the same. Nothing conventional, but an examination of the “many beautiful examples of life forms accessing information that we simply cannot explain, but call ‘instinct,'” as the promo material says. It runs May 1-2 on the Promega campus.

This is the fifth year the forum has burrowed into consciousness. “There are different points of view of consciousness in nature and taking it a step further — not just of consciousness, but also of intelligence. Does the very embodiment of matter, particularly as expressed in life forms, exhibit a form of intelligence that doesn’t quite fit the human definition of IQ?” Linton asks.

“Nature seems to have evolved with the ability to combine intricate, amazing complexity in ways that are astounding and that we don’t understand,” he adds. The great controversy, he continues, is whether evolution is a blind, random process that sometimes produces advantageous mutations. “Or is there something else happening that is not totally blind randomness?”

This question certainly stopped me in my tracks.

Linton points to the statistical unlikelihood of a light-sensitive organ like the eye evolving in nature eight or nine times from completely different origins. “The fact is, it seems like nature wants to enhance its ability to take in sensory information, and then do things with that information. Some people say that the nature of the universe is trying to find a way to ask the questions: Who are we? What’s out there? Why do we exist?

“In a way, when we ask those questions, it’s nature [expressing] itself, because we are a product of this natural process. That’s pretty amazing for nature to have brought in this element of consciousness.”

The forum runs May 1-2 on the Promega campus in Fitchburg. To read more, please go here.

Now For Something Entirely Different

June 29, 2013

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If I lived an alternative life in journalism, garden writer could be it. This piece in Madison Magazine concerns one of my favorite flowers. It begins:

 I have a penchant for advocating lost causes: Miles Davis’s electric period, Lyndon Johnson’s presidency, horseradish Havarti cheese. But none more disdained than ditch lilies.

These are the orange daylilies—formally called Hemerocallis fulva but also known as tiger, roadside or tawny lilies—that you see happily blooming in mid-July in just about every yard in Madison’s older neighborhoods. The experts snicker.

Oh, you might as well wear white shoes after Labor Day or extol the virtues of two-buck chuck wine as grow ditch lilies. They are the Rodney Dangerfield of landscaping: They get no respect. You can’t buy them at garden centers. Glorious Olbrich Gardens doesn’t even display them. Worse, they’re branded with the plague label.

Invasive species!

To read more, please go here: 

I’ll Have What She’s Having

July 24, 2011

Here’s something different–a story about the most delicious peach in the world. It begins:

When approaching a ripe donut peach, one must temper lust with mindful restraint. First, assume a wide stance, slightly flexing your knees to maintain balance. Then gently grasp the saucer-shaped fruit with your thumb and middle finger, careful not to squeeze too tightly. Thrust your head forward, eyes closed, chin out, mouth open and prepare to swoon.

That first bite will release a wave of sugary goodness slobbering down your chin and, you hope, not on your Tommy Bahama camp shirt or Eileen Fisher cami. Spritzing is always a danger. Envious friends and family who have leaned in to take a close look may get a sudden jet of peach juice to the face.

They too may fall to the ground, writhing in pleasure.

“It’s a fruit you would have expected in the Garden of Eden,” says a close friend who shall remain nameless to protect her professional  reputation. “It’s fleshy and practically obscene with sticky sweet, dripping juices. If I were Eve, I would have tempted Adam with a donut peach.”

Psst. I can get you some….

Tempted?  To read more, go here.  Among other things, you’ll learn  that, according to Daoist mythology,  a single bite of a donut peach can bring immortality.

I’ll Drink To That

March 19, 2011

This Madison Magazine piece was fun to write–an encomium to Restaurant Magnus mixed with New Urbanist reflections on the making of  great urban spaces. The story begins:

Apparently I’ve lived too long. I’ve outlasted another bar, and at my age that’s trouble. Like true love, a good bar calls for a lifelong relationship. But Restaurant Magnus, after a thirteen-year run on East Wilson Street, has died and left me befuddled like some widowed geezer. Me, date again?The always comfortable Harmony covers my east-side needs. But I’m in search of a new downtown hangout. Will it be Johnny Delmonico’s? Capitol Chophouse? Sardine? Genna’s? The soon-to-be-open Tempest Oyster Bar? Or Natt Spil? I don’t know, I just don’t know.

What I do know is this: As a freelance writer I need a Magnus-like place to meet sources. I spend most of the day in sweatpants, torn T-shirts and bunny slippers staring at a computer screen and working the phone in my daughter’s old bedroom (my office!).

To read more about drinking, hanging out and journalism, please go here.

Something old and different

March 31, 2010

Since I posted my Madison Magazine story on twists, I should dig out my 2006 story on the best bars in Madison for bourbon and scotch. The piece ran in the Isthmus Dining magazine. For whatever reason, it was never posted at Here’s the story minus the outdated sidebars: Bourbon-Scotch 2006

Something different

March 23, 2010

Ah, yes, I like a well-prepared drink. Here’s my Madison Magazine piece on the art of the twist, including some cocktail history from the marvelous mixology chronicler David Wondrich.

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