Nitty Gritty celebrating dozens of belated birthdays during grand reopening after fire

The fire destroyed much of the back of the restaurant back on November 20, 2022.
Birthday bells are ringing, and birthday beers are slinging. Customers can, once again, fill the seats in the iconic UW birthday bar.
Published: Dec. 27, 2022 at 5:16 PM CST|Updated: Dec. 27, 2022 at 7:22 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - After nearly five weeks and one million dollars in damage later, according to the owner, the Nitty Gritty is back open for business after a fire destroyed the backside of the building back in November.

Birthday bells are ringing, and birthday beers are slinging. Customers can, once again, fill the seats in the iconic UW birthday bar.

“We saw it on the news it was back open again. We were pretty excited,” says customer Beth Kiessling.

The Nitty Gritty is tradition for Kiessling’s family, and despite the fire shutting it down for almost five weeks, she’s happy that tradition can continue.

“My brother celebrated his 21st birthday here, and we just kept coming back ever since then. It’s tradition. Yeah, it’s family tradition,” says Kiessling.

Her birthday was during the time the restaurant was under renovations, but the birthday deals were still honored on Tuesday.

“You have to come down here and eat. Good food, great staff; it’s a family place,” says Kiessling.

Back at the end of November, the iconic birthday bar went up in flames. The fire that caused the shutdown happened in the early hours of November 20. Madison Fire Department says people smoking were seen near the dumpster where the fire started, and it was likely caused by improperly discarded fire materials.

A fire started at Nitty Gritty on N Francis
A fire started at Nitty Gritty on N Francis(WMTV)

It’s a night owner Eric Suemnicht can’t forget.

“Late night one in the morning I got the call the building was on fire. The damage was estimated to $750-thousand to a million dollars,” says Suemnicht.

Suemnicht says they had to completely redo the men’s and women’s restrooms along with repairs to the siding, roof and kitchen. They also had to throw out close to $50,000 worth of food that spoiled.

“It added up, it added up over time,” says Suemnicht.

Suemnicht says it was crucial to get the restaurant up and running by Christmas in order to survive next year, with January through March being some of the most lucrative months of operation. And that target date was met.

“Relieved, that would be the word I would say more than anything. Employees here and, obviously from an ownership standpoint, we feel like we are a big part of the community,” says Suemnicht.

There is some more work to be done to the kitchen and back siding. The restaurant also needs new freezers to replace the ones that were destroyed. But Suemnicht says that work will start at the end of January when parts come in, and it won’t affect business hours.

“Today feels great. You see people out and about, and I think when we get to the basketball games coming in later this week. the building will sort of come to a re-birth again.”

A re-birth for the birthday bar, just what they needed to start 2023 strong and keep traditions alive.

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