Graduate Student Guide
- 1 Contacts and Other Resources
- 2 Banks
- 3 Food
- 4 Grocery Stores
- 5 Housing
- 6 Furniture
- 7 International Student Resources
- 8 Newspapers
- 9 Religious Groups
- 10 Fun Stuff: Unions, Clubs, Outdoors, Activities, etc.
- 11 Van Vleck Miscellany
- 12 Everything Else
Contacts and Other Resources
The two most convenient banks for the campus-centric are
with the first probably the most popular. There is a free ATM for members of both banks in Ingraham Hall next to VV.
Despite being settled in the middle of the country, there are a ton of restaurants in Madison – Indonesian, African, Italian, Himalayan, Laotian, Bakeries, Brew Pubs, Coffee Joints, you name it -- and everyone has their favorites.
The biggest resource for finding food (and entertainment!) in Madison is probably the Daily Page (the online version of our local paper, the Isthmus), where you can search local restaurants by name, locality, and cuisine. There, they have reviews, hours, contact info, pricing, etc. Be sure to peruse their Madison's Favorites section for some quick tips!
Here are some general food facts:
- Food Carts: Open for lunch in Library Mall at the foot of Bascom Hill near Lake & State Street. Very good and very cheap, and out as long as it's not too cold.
- Ingraham Hall: Not as good and not as cheap, but very close to Van Vleck, and has acceptable coffee (bring your own cup to save money!) and decent snacks. Try the lunch special: sandwich and 4 sides (soda, fruit, cookies, etc.) for five bucks.
- State Street (past the food carts) is full of restaurants and Coffee shops – there are at least a half dozen coffee roasters in town, and each supplies a different set of shops. In particular for lunch, there are the popular chains, such as Potbelly Sandwich Works, Einstein Bros. Bagels, or Chipotle... or hit the more independent spots such as the Sunroom Cafe or Ian's Pizza.
The local foods are beer, ice cream, cheese, and brats (say hello to your new-found Wisconsin-love-handles). Each year Madison hosts Bratfest, a record breaking event. UW has Babcock Hall Ice Cream on campus which creates delicious ice cream available in the Unions. Other great local places to hit are the Chocolate Shoppe (which has also experimented with soy creams) and Michael's Frozen Custard. Local breweries include the Great Dane, Captial Brewery and Ale Asylum. You could also take a trip out to the New Glarus Brewing Co-- camp out in the New Glarus Woods State Park and take the tour of the brewery while you're there.
In early September (2nd-3rd), check out Taste of Madison to see many restaurants all in one place at one time.
Try a good ol' midwestern Fish Fry on Friday night – All you can eat fried fish generally served with a bran muffin, clam chowder, or coleslaw. Most Brew Pubs and some churches have them, and the Orpheum has a particularly tasty fry.
Farm fresh food
The Dane County Farmer's Market is amazing and HUGE. The big one is open every Saturday morning, and is located on the capitol square for most of the year. In addition to the ludicrous amount of fresh produce, there are also bakery stands, coffee, and fresh juice carts for quick breakfasts.
There are also a few smaller markets scattered around town, almost every day of the week:
- Sunday: 8:30am to 12:30pm in front of Pierce's Northside Market
- Monday: (none)
- Tuesday: 4pm to 7pm on Ingersol at Williamson, 2pm to 6pm at 1602 S. Park St,
- Wednesday: 8am to 2pm on MLKJr Blvd, 7am to 1pm at the Hilldale Shopping Center,
- Thursday: Thursdays, 2pm to 6pm at the Villager Mall on Park St., 2pm to 6pm in the McFarland Centre, 7:30am to 1:30pm in the Greenway Station shopping center,
- Friday: (none)
- Saturday: 6am to 2pm on the Capitol square, 7am to 1pm at the Hilldale Shopping Center, 9am to 2pm at 1602 S. Park St, 7am to 1pm at Sheboygan Ave. and Segoe Rd., and 8:30am to 11am in Watertower Park.
During the summer and fall, you can wander out to one of the many local farms. Grab some friends and drag them along to a U-Pick farm while strawberries, raspberries, apples, or pumpkins are in season -- the distance can detract, but the produce is much cheaper when you pick it yourself.
If you're in town for the summer, you might consider signing up for a Community Supported Agriculture food box. CSA is a way to support a local farm by paying an annual fee in the winter or spring which buys you a share of the season's harvest. Once harvesting begins, members pick-up a weekly box of fresh foods which may include produce, fruits, cheeses, eggs, meats, poultry, flowers, herbs or preserves. The typical CSA season in Wisconsin runs from the end of May through mid-October. You do have to pay the lump sum up-front, and some weeks you'll find yourself with five pounds of chard... but for most of the summer you'll have your produce needs met, and you can feel good about supporting small local farms. Better yet, most of the university's insurance providers offer rebates for signing up for a CSA -- somewhere between $50-$300, depending on the plan and how many people you're sharing with (for example, if two people on GHC share a box, they might pay $450 for the box for a box lasting 25 weeks, but they they could each get $100 back, making that $5/week per person). If you're interested, remember to sign up early -- most programs are full by May.
- Aldi Foods: CostCo-esque in inventory and pricing, but not restricted to bulk items. It's like grocery shopping at Overstock.com.
- Capitol Centre Foods: If live downtown and have no ride then try here. It's small and a little more expensive, but they deliver.
- Copps: Your standard grocery store with multiple locations.
- CostCo: A little out of the way, being in Middleton, but cheap. They sell stuff in bulk - three packs of mayonnaise, 50 oz bottles of shampoo, 17 lbs of sockeye salmon - you get the picture. You'll need a membership if you choose to shop there, though - about $50/year.
- Cub Foods: Family size packs of everything!
- Walgreens: Pharmacy/Grocery store. In a pinch, it will do (no produce though). There is a Walgreens on the corner of Lake & State Street near Van Vleck, and on the Capitol Square.
- Whole Foods: Kinda spendy, but good bread, specialty stuff, and produce through the winter.
- Woodman's: two locations -- East and West. If you have a car and the time, go here. Very large, very cheap, but time consuming. They don't take credit cards, so bring a debit card or check book. The produce is pretty poor, but they're huge and, again, cheap. Check out the liquor store for a large selection (you can buy all types of alcohol in grocery stores in Wisconsin... but not after 9pm).
Madison is particularly Co-op-friendly town. Besides being good places to get groceries (produce in particular) in a friendly atmosphere, they also do a lot to give back to the communities. Some offer free cooking classes and send out newsletters to their members. Join to save money, get involved, and help to keep them going.
- Regent Market Cooperative, 2136 Regent St. 233-4329... a little off the beaten path, but goto if you're in the area.
- Willy Street Co-op The largest and most active co-op in the Madison area. If you like organic and fair trade foods, then this is the place to go. They also offer a large selection of bulk foods and spices, as well as fresh fish and deli meats. For a quick bite, they have a deli, salad bar, and in-store coffee shop. 1221 Williamson St. 251-6776.
- Asian Midway Market: The go-to market for the majority of the department's asian students, this centrally-located store comes highly recommended. In particular, they offer a great selection of specialized produce. 301 South Park Street; 255-5864
- Brennan's Market: Great for Produce, Meats, Cheese, Micro brews and Wines. You won't find things like Flour and Saran Wrap here, but definitely worth the trip.
- Dane County Farmer's Market: Not a grocery store, but definitely check this out! On the capitol square on Saturday mornings April–October from early to noon. Everything had to have been produced in Wisconsin. Great for meats, eggs, CHEESE, produce, breakfast, and just about anything you could ever want – except milk. Great place for Cheese curds!
- Farm Fresh Atlas: Not a grocery store, but a good resource for where you can buy local foods and a list of farms in the areas.
- Garden Asian Market: A full service Asian food market specializing in fresh meat, produce, and seafood. Mostly Chinese-leaning, they do a good job of providing a wide variety of items within their niche. It may be far out, but it's worth the trip in its pleasantness and selection.
- India House: Indian grocery store
- Lee's Oriental: Next to Penzey's spices. 3240 University Ave; 231-1593
- Oriental Shop: They carry mostly dry-goods, and tend to lean toward stocking more Korean items. 1206 South Park Street; 255-0326
- Trader Joe's: A specialty grocery store originating in California, now located at 1810 Monroe St. Unlike most specialty stores, they do have many things that any grocery store would. Though they aren't exactly cheap, they do have much lower prices for what they provide than most other places.
Haven't found a place yet? Already hate your apartment?
- Off-Campus Housing Search: Probably the best search site for students.
- Again, Craig's List is a good resourse. Also a good place to look for roommates outside of the department.
- University Apartments: On campus graduate housing, particularly popular with married couples (especially with children). Singles are also welcome. Many of them are on the bus rout #80, a free route which runs from the apartments through campus every fifteen minutes throughout the day.
Location, Location, Location
Graduate students tend to clump in their housing. The best areas are just a bit away from campus, far away enough to be out of the undergraduate mayhem, but still close enough to keep the commute down.
The Vilas neighborhood, just south of VV between Park and Monroe north of Lake Wingra, is a great example of a good grad student filled neighborhood. East of the Capitol building, we also have the Willy St. neightborhood (between Williamson and Rutledge streets, between Paterson and Thornton) and the other side of the Isthmus (between Mifflin and Lake Mendota, no closer than Blount and no farther than Baldwin).
A little farther out, there is also Sheboygan Ave, which includes Normandy, Chapel Hill, Carolina, Monticello, Hilldale Towers, Park Towers, and Sovereign Apartments on the near west side.
Biggest guideline: stay close to campus or a busline (don't plan to park on campus). You will receive a free bus pass for the Madison Metro system which is very reliable. Check out the “plan your trip” link to find bus routes near you.
Stuff your landlord might not tell you
Lots of apartments have water, sewage, heat, and and sometimes electricity included in rent. For those which don't, be sure to find out what to expect through the Madison Gas and Electric web page. Just tell them the address of the place you're looking at, and they'll tell you what the highs, lows, and averages have been over the last year.
- Property information:
The City Assessor has all of the basic information about Madison properties on file, including how many units are on the property, how much square footage there is, if there's AC in the building, what school district it's in, who your alderperson would be, and what else is on the property (e.g. garages). They'll even tell you how much the property is worth, and how much your landlord is paying in property taxes. Sometimes the square footage isn't broken up--for example, maybe there are two units on the first floor, but they'll only tell you that there are 1,700 sq ft on that floor, not how it's split up between the two units. It can be a useful site for rounding out your knowledge of places you're considering renting.
- Tenants rights:
The Tenant resource center is a small non-profit membership organization which provides housing counseling, mediation services and office assistance. Their website includes tips for new renters, generic rental forms, and advice for what to do if your landlord just won't get back to you about repairs, returning deposits, etc. There is also the Student tenant union, which is specifically targeted to UW students.
Many properties in Madison are run by rental companies -- some large, some small -- some good, some not-so-good. Larger companies tend to have lower prices, and more people working toward maintaining rentals. However, they may have less of an investment in taking care of each individual property or screening their tenants. Some people feel better renting from small companies, or landlords with only one or two houses. You may get more individual attention and care. Individuals have more investment in protecting each property, and renting to good tenants, so the properties tend to be in more reliable condition. However, with fewer properties comes fewer resources and higher prices.
Whatever choice you make, be sure to have a conversation with your potential landlords about their polices, especially if you aren't going to be able to see things in person. It may also be good to Google the company or person to see if other people have had something good or bad to say about them or their properties. In particular, ApartmentRatings.com has a few of the apartment complexes around town listed.
Here are some general impressions/very subjective opinions that some of us have gotten from/about a few of the larger local companies:
- AB Holdings: In particular, they have a couple small apartment buildings on Vilas that are particularly ideal for two people. Quite a few people from the department have rented these units and have been pretty happy.
- Apex Property Management: Great company. Well-maintained properties, with many of the more recently remodeled rentals being very nice. Their representatives are helpful and responsible, and their tenants seem to be generally satisfied.
- The Christensen Company: Not terribly up-to-date apartments, but worth taking a look at.
- Madison Property Management: Lots of choices, but notoriously junky properties. They tend to cater mostly to undergraduates, and their rentals show it. We wouldn't recommend renting from this company unless you visit first.
- Tallard Apartments: Nice properties with very friendly and responsive staff. Their rentals tend to go early in the season.
- Wisconsin Management Company: Nice enough properties, but kind of flakey representation. Make sure to ask lots of questions.
- The Wright Company (or Norris Ct. Apartments): Very nice older buildings, but kind of sketchy management. Nothing is going to be in stellar shape, but they do tend to rent more to graduates and professionals, so they aren't beat up either. If you do rent from them, don't expect them to be very responsive, and be sure to be especially careful about protecting your security deposit by taking photos and keeping a record of your move-in report.
- St. Vincent DePaul's: Like Goodwill. Has cheap dressers, desks, chairs, and general household stuff. Will deliver for a small charge. This is also a great place to donate any furniture or other items that you no longer want – they will pick up the items from your apartment. There is also a Goodwill in town, but they won't have nearly the same volume of furniture.
- Craig's List: a free online classifieds site. Great not only for furniture, but also pet resources and last minute apartment hunting.
- Eagle Heights Apartment Bulletin Boards: Lots of cheap stuff from people graduating, many of whom are moving overseas. You can even find cars. You can try posting your own wanted posters on the boards. You can find these boards at the bus stops for the (free) bus 80 route.
- Freecycle: A community "give stuff away for free" website with a Madison branch.
- The Todd Drive Area: Just west of park street on the beltline. American Furniture for furniture and electronics, Home Concepts for cheap but nice looking furniture, and Steinhafel's for furniture and mattresses.
- SWAP. The UW's surplus supply store.