The Worser

The Worser

The Worser

Long ago, there was a small, but very busy tavern known as The Worser at the northwest corner of Main and Pinckney streets, right on the capitol square. As the story goes, the name of the establishment was born out of the owners’ difficulty in obtaining a liquor license. In 1838, as they were putting the final touches on their newly constructed two story frame building, owners Abner Nichols and Jacob George applied for a tavern license. For whatever reason, their request was denied. On being refused, they proudly declared that if they could not open a tavern, then they would open something worser. And so was named the tavern.

The Worser operated without a license and served whiskey and other strong drinks. While it is not clear why the establishment was allowed to stay open without a proper license, it is known that the Worser was frequented by the politicians participating in the first session of the Wisconsin Legislature. At that time, when the state government was in its infancy, candidates running for office considered the purchase of alcohol as a necessary part of getting elected. Accordingly, people looked forward to getting free liquor during the several weeks leading up to an election.

The Worser also was known for a rather strange element. As was in style at the time, the tavern had a dark cellar in which tavern patrons could fight a wild animal in its den. Even though there are not many details in the historic record, some accounts intimate that the wild animal was a tiger. In fact, when Nichols and George later opened the Madison Exchange hotel, they advertised that “gentlemen annoyed by the growl of the tiger could find comfortable accommodations at the Exchange.”  However, the term “tiger den” was widely used at the time to describe taverns that promoted gambling and other forms of debauchery, so the reference might not have been literal.

When the United States Hotel was built years later, the Worser was moved further down Main street, where it unfortunately burned to the ground.

Map courtesy of Library of Congress Geography and Map Division Washington, Ruger map collection, no. 192. Madison, Wisconsin 1867. Drawn by A. Ruger.

Tags: