Visiting Madeline Island Wisconsin – A Great Spot in the Apostle Islands

Madeline Island is not officially included in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Wisconsin, but it’s right there within a kayak ride of the other 21 islands. It’s such a pleasant place, many people consider the little 14 mile island the best part of their Apostle Island getaway.

A gnome garden on Madeline island.

A gnome garden on Madeline Island.

Named for an Indian princess, Madeline Island is filled with that Norman Rockwell kind of charm that defines the quintessential summer vacation spot. Potted red geraniums, ice cream shops, kids on bicycles, flags waving in the summer breeze, gnomes filling little gardens. It’s all neat and clean and orderly, with one exception.

When we first came across Tom’s Burned Down Cafe, we thought we had stumbled upon the village dump. More generously, it could have been the community recycling center. But finally we realized that this is the most unexpected of wacky finds in the Apostle Islands.

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Make Some Trouble on Madeline Island

The exterior of Burned Down Tom's Restaurant on Madeline Island, Wisconsin.If I have the story right, Tom is Tommy Nelson, who has lived on Madeline Island his entire life. His brothers are respected islanders who are responsible for marking the ice trail the locals use to drive to and from the mainland in the winter when this part of Lake Superior freezes over.

Tommy is the black sheep of the family whose motto is clearly stated above the bar.

“Let’s Make Getting In Trouble Fun Again!”  

He operated a bar out by the airport for several years. When it burned to the ground with the exception of the exterior decks, Tommy brought the decks into the village of LaPointe with plans to rebuild. At first, he put up a big circus-like tarpaulin tent and everyone assumed that was a temporary setting until he got his money and plans together to build a real building.

A collection of signs and other items at Burned Down Tom's Restaurant on Madeline Island in the Apostle Islands.

Slowly, he added some of this and that, stuck some things here and there. His decorating style defies the word eclectic. It’s kind of like eclectic got high on crack, raided a thrift shop and took a spin with the Tasmanian Devil.

A number of road signs and license plates on the floor of Burned Down Tom's on Madeline Island.

There are old road signs and license plates, Japanese lanterns and 70s-era stereo speakers. Sit in rocking chairs or dental cabinets. Don’t look too long at some stuff —  you just don’t want to think about what it is or where it came from. Somewhere under part of the flooring is an old Buick filled with bricks.


Great Music and Drinks on Madeline Island

The bar at Burned Down Tom's on Madeline Island Wisconsin.

Live music fills the tarp-covered collection of junk several nights a week. You can hear everything from zydeco to blue grass to hip-hop, depending on factors that would make no sense to the common human being.

Of course, some residents of Madeline Island, and there are 246 who live here year round, are not fond of Tommy’s decorating style.

More quirky signs in the decor of Burned Down Tom's restaurant on Madeline Island.But those of us who are mojotravelers, we found it priceless.

More About Madeline Island & the Apostle Islands