Skip to Content

Der Rathskeller becomes the Center of Campus

When Leon R. Pesheret, interior designer for the Memorial Union, walked into the "taproom" he exclaimed, "This is a German beer hall!" And so der Rathskeller was born, linking the Memorial Union to Wisconsin's German heritage and the tradition of Gemutlichkeit, referring to sharing good times with friends and well-being springing from social acceptance.

In German, Rathskeller refers to a tavern located in the basement of a city hall. As the center of campus, it was only fitting that Memorial Union would have its own der Rathskeller. Opening in 1928 for male students—it would be another 13 years before women were allowed to use the space—it became a place for relaxation and a social hub. "Danskeller" dances on Friday and Saturday nights were fueled by jukebox music and, in 1933, the first beer was served, making UW-Madison the first public university in the United States to serve beer on campus.

"There really are some things that stand the test of time and Der Rathskeller is one of them for the Union and for this campus." –Mark Guthier, Wisconsin Union director

Today, the jukebox has been replaced with live music performances and game day gatherings. Der Rathskeller, now a campus and city icon, is recognized by students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community members as a warm space to come together—living up to its name and purpose.