A brief history of Genna's

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Photo of GennasIn 1964, Genna's founder, Frank Genna, opened the tavern at 614 University Avenue. Genna's became the fourth of a famous quartet of bars in the 600 block of University, which included the 602 Club, Bob and Gene's and the Black Bear Lounge. In fact 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 the 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 room which, until the 1980's still reflected the political sentiments of the  sixties, mainly because it had not been painted for twenty years. A former City Inspector once told a story 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 was painted due to the diligence of one determined health inspector, much of the graffiti was carefully replaced in its former spot!

Photo of GennasWhile 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." Although 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.

Photo of GennasKristi Genna came to work for her father in 1984 while an undergraduate at the University. After graduation, Kristi moved to Chicago but returned to Madison due to Franks 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.

Photo of GennasAs the early nineties progressed, the relationship between the landlord and Genna's became 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 set 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.

Photo of Gennas As business wound down on University Avenue the new place was being readied. 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 downstairs was open; however the hard work continued and the upstairs opened May 1st 1993. The new bar offers an array of non-alcoholic beverages and a coffee bar, as well as hors d'ouevres at happy hour and a selection of appetizers at other times.  Alhough the downstairs with its shiny copper topped bar challenged the Genna's regulars, the upstairs was modeled somewhat on the University Ave. location.  A portion of the bar from the old spot was moved and 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 have 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

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