Birthday Celebrations and History

Birthday Celebration Rules

Rule #1 Your birthday is defined as 11AM-12 Midnight on the day of your birthday. Bring an I.D. (driver's license). If you are a child bring a trustworthy parent or grandparent.
Rule #2 Drink free soda, specialty birthday cocktails or beer on your birthday and keep the "memento" mug. For those last minute gifts, buy yourself or a friend a Gritty t-shirt, a birthday cake, a Gritty sparkler or a Gritty glo-lite birthday button!
Rule #3 Have a great time!


Birthday Fun Facts

  1. The Madison Nitty Gritty is owned and operated by Eric Suemnicht and Lee Pier. It was opened in October of 1968. The Middleton Nitty Gritty is owned and operated by Birthday Bars, Inc. and has been open since September of 2002.
  2. The Nitty Gritty featured live bands 7 nights a week from October 3rd, 1968 to December 12th, 1974.
  3. The first band to play at the Nitty Gritty was the Tayles, who recorded a live album here in 1970. The last band to play here was The Watermelon Band, made up of former members of The Steve Miller Band.
  4. The Nitty Gritty became Madison's Official Birthday Place on August 22nd, 1985. Dave Tilsen was the first person to celebrate a birthday here. He has been back every year since to celebrate his birthday.
  5. The youngest person to ever celebrate a birthday at the Nitty Gritty is Megan Spude. Her parents, Michael and Denise, brought her to the Nitty Gritty one day after her birth in 1993. She was presented with her first Gritty birthday mug. Megan has been back to the Nitty Gritty every year since to celebrate her birthday.
  6. The 100,000th birthday celebrant was Shankar Iyer, who celebrated his 23rd birthday here on March 18th, 1993. The Nitty Gritty presented him with a 5 day all expense paid trip for two to Hawaii.
  7. The 200,000th birthday celebrant was Lynn Laufenberg, who celebrated her 21st birthday here on November 12th, 1998. The Nitty Gritty presented her with a 5 day all expense paid Caribbean cruise for two.
  8. The 300,000th birthday person was Megan Cork, a 21 year old University of Wisconsin student, who was here on September 23rd, 2003 to celebrate her 21st birthday. For being our 300,000th birthday person, she was presented $1,000 in cash.
  9. The 400,000th birthday was Deb Archer who was here June 5th, 2009 to celebrate her 56th birthday. She was presented $1,000 in cash.
  10. The 500,000th birthday celebrant was Adam Hessling from Cottage Grove. He celebrated his birthday at the downtown Nitty Gritty on June 28, 2011.
  11. Mollie Blied celebrated 10 birthdays at the Nitty Gritty, starting on her 97th birthday, November 11th, 1992. She celebrated her 106th birthday at the Nitty Gritty on November 11th, 2001. Mollie passed away one month later. The oldest birthday celebrant at the Nitty Gritty was Hortense Sperling. Hortense celebrated her 105th birthday here on November 18th, 2003 and returned every year for the next three years. On November 18th, 2006 Hortense celebrated her 108th birthday with us, making her our oldest celebrant to date. She passed away in October 2007, one month before her 109th birthday.
  12. On November 20th, 1992 the Widder quadruplets celebrated their 3rd birthday at the Nitty Gritty. They are the children of Bill and Kathleen Widder of Madison. They were the first and only quads to ever celebrate a birthday at the Nitty Gritty. The quartet, Benjamin, Mackenzie, Christian, and Kristen, have celebrated every birthday here since that first appearance. In November 2010, the Widder quadruplets visited the Nitty Gritty for their 21st birthday!
  13. The most birthdays celebrated in one day at the Nitty Gritty…106…on March 17th 1993.
  14. Come in on your birthday and we will give you a balloon, put your name in lights, and present you with your memento mug so you can drink FREE beer or soda. Hear your name read off on the hour all night and everyone will be cheering for you!
  15. On your birthday receive a Gritty birthday card and use it once a month for a FREE mini sundae.


The Nitty Gritty ... A Madison Tradition for 44 Years

The Nitty Gritty was established on October 3rd, 1968 by Madison TV personality Marsh Shapiro. The building was built in 1898 and served as a general store until the mid 1940s, when it was converted into Glen’n’Ann’s, a popular neighborhood bar that existed until Marsh bought the bar in 1968. The early days of the Nitty Gritty were turbulent ones that reflected the social and political unrest of the Vietnam War era. In the late 60s and early 70s, the “Gritty” served as the informal headquarters for the campus subculture which led to many anti-Vietnam War protest demonstrations and marches. In fact, the 1970 bombing of Sterling Hall was planned by 4 anit-war activists within the walls of the Nitty Gritty. This famous event marked the pinnacle of the anti-war movement in Madison and a change in culture on the UW campus.

During these years, the Nitty Gritty was a famous Midwest blues music venue, featuring live music 7 nights a week. The Gritty featured gigs by the likes of Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Luther Allison, Bonnie Raitt, Charlie Musselwhite, Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, Cheap Trick, and dozens of others. The Nitty Gritty was home to nearly all of the local and regional bands that were established at that time. In 1970, Jefferson Airplane played a 4-hour jam with the Luther Allison Blues Band in what has become a legendary happening on the Madison music scene. A change in attitude and entertainment tastes here on the UW campus and throughout the country marked the end of the music era in 1975, as the Nitty Gritty focused on food and service over the next decade.

In 1985, a new era began as Marsh, and his wife Susan, re-formatted the Nitty Gritty to be Madison’s Official Birthday Place. Since that time, the birthday bell, birthday board, Gritty memento mug, birthday balloon, announcement and songs have become staples of the celebration tradition. Since its inception, the downtown Gritty has averaged about 55 birthdays a day, and about 20,000 birthdays each year. The oldest celebrant, Hortense Sperling, celebrated her 108th birthday here in 2006. The youngest, Megan Spaude, was here just 24 hours after being born. The Widder quadruplets started celebrating their 3rd birthday with us in 1992, and haven’t missed a year since. The birthday total is approaching 500,000 birthdays, and continues to mount daily.

The building has seen 5 major renovations and expansions over the years, expanding capacity from 99 to where it is today, which is up to 400 people on most nights. The building and the concept may have changed over the years, but one common thread running through the colorful history of the Nitty Gritty is the award winning Gritty Burger. Six ounces of ground chuck, bathed in our own special sour cream based sauce, served on a dark seeded bun. Since the start, the Gritty has been known for its outstanding food and service, and we have been fortunate enough to win the Best Burger of Madison award year after year. We are proud to be a part of the Madison tradition and appreciate our loyal customers.

In 2002, due to the heavy traffic of the recently built Kohl Center (UW sports arena located one block away), Marsh and Susan partnered up with longtime managers Lee Pier and Eric Suemnicht (both former UW students) to open a new West side Gritty in Middleton. We are happy to provide Middleton and West Madison with their very own Official Birthday Place, and are pleased to have had nearly 10 years of success in the neighborly Stonefield and Wexford area.

In 2010, the new era of the Nitty Gritty officially began, as legendary restaurateurs Marsh and Susan Shapiro sold both businesses to Lee (with wife Ragen Shapiro) and Eric (with wife Caitlin Suemnicht). Eric and Lee have been working together at the Nitty Gritty since 1997, and have formed an equal partnership with on-premise management to ensure that the tradition started back in 1968 continues well into the future. In 2011, the Middleton Nitty Gritty welcomed Madison native Jason Riewe to the ownership group, as he has worked for the “Gritty” since 1998 and led operations at the Middleton Gritty for many years. We are proud
to be an institution in the community, and are happy that you are here to eat, drink, relax and enjoy
your time at the “Gritty”. If there is anything we can do to enhance your experience, please do not hesitate to ask. We hope you’ll return again soon!