to us Gennas
1964, Genna's founder, Frank Genna, opened the tavern at 614 University
became the fourth of a famous quartet of bars in the 600 block of
included the 602 Club, Bob and Gene's and the Black Bear Lounge. In
the area bounded by Genna's, Jocko's Rocket
Ship & the Black Bear was known locally as the Bermuda
Triangle as people became lost for days at a time. During the days of
war protests and rioting, Gennas was a popular
hang out of the radical activists. While State Street often looked like
a war zone, Genna's never suffered a broken window during the war
at home. Genna's became known for its bathroom graffiti in the men's
which, until the 1980's still reflected the
political sentiments of the sixties, mainly because it had
been painted for twenty years. A former City Inspector once told a
of trying to get Frank to remove the graffiti,
Frank's reply was, "I painted it, but they put it all back up."
Frank said, "People don't like change." and when the bathroom finally
painted due to the diligence of one determined
health inspector, much of the graffiti was carefully replaced
in its former spot!
While Genna's in the 70's and 80's
often seemed to be without business,
this did not mean that the bar was not successful.
Frank said many times, "I would rather have ten people
in the bar spending 10 dollars than 100 people spending 1 dollar."
few in number, the patrons of Genna's, in addition
to graffiti, were known for gambling. One
local lawyer, since passed away, ran a black jack game in the back. Such games as rap poker, gin and dirty clubs could be seen at any time of the day or night. One story has it that one night a bartender lost his shirt to a regular and then lost the entire nights till as well! As the people played, they drank, and Frank had all the business he cared for. Many of the people who frequented Genna's in these days were legendary Madison characters and Frank tolerated most of them. "Wapun Jack" has been kicked out of the bar for life more times than he has been in prison.
Genna came to work for her father in 1984 while an undergraduate at the
After graduation, Kristi moved to Chicago but returned to Madison due to
failing health and began helping him run the family business.
In 1987, Frank passed away and Kristi became the sole owner of Genna's. Under Kristi's management, the bar grew out of its reputation of being an annex for the 602 Club and began developing a larger following. After some well placed and notorious ads, Genna's quickly became one of the most frequented taverns in the area and played a major role in introducing Rolling Rock to the Madison market. The jukebox was changed toreflect the times although preserving the past. Its eclectic changes even saw a country- western period briefly. Genna's quickly became one of the must bars for the hip student crowd.
the early nineties progressed, the relationship between the landlord
more strained. With the higher drinking age taking effect, those living
above the bar were
no longer patrons and the noise levels generated by the new ambiance
the stage for Genna's
great leap forward.
In 1992 the building at 105 W. Main was purchased by Kristi, her husband, Jack Williams and his mother, Patricia Williams. As it soon became clear that the lease would not be renewed, the decision was made to relocate the bar. Jack, with the help of a few loyal patrons, gutted and remodeled the entire building.
business wound down on University Avenue the new place was being
On February 14th 1993 Genna's closed its doors on University Avenue and
waited five nervous
days before opening on the Square February 19th. At first only the
open; however the hard work continued and the upstairs opened May 1st
The new bar offers an array of non-alcoholic beverages and a coffee
as well as hors d'ouevres at happy hour and a selection of appetizers
other times. Alhough the downstairs with its shiny copper topped
the Genna's regulars, the upstairs was modeled somewhat on the
Ave. location. A portion of the bar from the old spot was moved
reinstalled upstairs, along with the coffee
table and couches. Much
to Kristi's (and Genna's) relief the loyal following built up over the
years from Frank
and Kristi's hospitality moved with the bar. The newer staff members
helped increase business and many of the Square's denizens have found a
new home on W. Main St.
The rest of us have a new reason to come up to the square at night.
top of page Written by John McNamara 1994