Central Hotel

Central Hotel & Tavern entertainment partners Jimmy Davis (left) and Bill Rason.

After answering so many of my questions about the plans for his recently acquired Central Hotel & Tavern, Bill Rason finally said, “You know, let’s just have fun! That’s the guiding principle behind every decision.”

“The Central,” as it is affectionately known around town, has a long reputation as the friendly, neighborhood blue-collar working person’s bar. Pool tables? Check. Cold beer? Check. Harleys parked out front? Check. Smoking permitted? Check. But the one thing it hasn’t had, at least in recent memory, is live music. That’s about to change.

Bill has partnered with local entrepreneur and musician Jimmy Davis to upgrade and enhance “The Central Experience” without changing its essential character and charm.

Bill is a fairly recent Madison transplant, having discovered Madison during his traveling days as an engineer for AT&T. The Central is his first foray into bar ownership, and he is bursting with ideas and enthusiasm.

“We built a music stage first thing,” Bill relates. “And we’ve started having live music on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. We knocked out a back wall so we could slide the 3 pool tables back and make room up front for the music.

“There’s a full kitchen that’s not being used now. We’re going to get that back up and running and offer late-night breakfast food. We think that will be very popular. Other than that, just tidy things up a bit, fix some simple issues that need attention. The Central is awesome the way it is. We just want to make it a little better.

“But there is so much more potential in this building, beyond just The Central. That’s where some of the real excitement is.”

“That’s why I wanted in on this project,” interjects Jimmy Davis. “There’s a complete second bar area that faces Second Street, and it opens onto a huge space in the back that was most recently a dance hall, and before that a roller skating rink. We’re talking 350 person capacity, maybe more.

“The bar was called Bronco Bills back in the mid 90s. It wasn’t open for too long, but it’s all still there, waiting to be reborn. And that big space in the back has so much potential. Short of the Ohio Theatre, I can’t think of another venue that even comes close for sheer size.

“I can envision music shows there, of course, but also arts events, performances of all kinds, a truly flexible space. Arts are Madison’s greatest asset, and we’re just trying to lean in and support it.”

“I should add,” says Bill, “that historic preservation is high on our list. As we go forward with these renovations and improvements, I’m confident it will be even more historically accurate. This hotel is a Madison landmark, and we want to embrace that legacy.


Have you all been to Sallie’s Small Batch Ice Cream? It’s in a courtyard area, directly across from the old Ruler store on Second Street. The ice cream is great, but more germain to this column, they are going to have live music on the loading dock/stage on Thursdays, starting with Robert Reynolds this week. The other shows of special note are the two Red Bike shows on Friday and Saturday. The Friday show is a tribute to all genres of 90s music featuring some of Madison’s best practitioners of each style. And on Saturday the Hammerheads will be flat out tearing the place down with their special brand of straight ahead rock and roll. Grab tickets now for these shows before they sell out!

This Week in Music

Thursday, July 22

Sallie’s Ice Cream Stage — Robert Reynolds with Jhonny & Sallie

Elks Lodge — Amy Noel (open to public)

Mad Paddle Brewery — Common Wealth Duo

Off Broadway Taproom — Brian Fink

Friday, July 23

Lytle Park — Rusty Bladen (11:30 a.m.)

Mad Paddle Brewery — The Leftovers

Red Bicycle Hall — Forever Young, Music of the 90s

Off Broadway Taproom — Rivertown Ramblers with Anthony Ray Wright

Saturday, July 24

Mad Paddle Brewery — Johnny & Sallie Show

Lighthouse — Amy Noel & Michael Fortunato

Red Bicycle Hall — The Hammerheads

Thomas Family Winery — The Burma Shavers

Off Broadway Taproom — Luke Henderson

Sunday, July 25

Stream Cliff Farm — Bobby Robbins

Tuesday, July 27

Off-Broadway Taproom — Open Mic Night