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Gene Bennett, who named his blue-collar Southwest Side bar Bennett’s Meadowood Country Club, and made it notorious for its “Porn in the Morn,” died Tuesday.

He was 76, an employee said.

“He was just a genuine, super guy,” said Rhonda Hannah, who bartended at Bennett’s for 18 of its 41 years. “He was an absolute wonderful guy and would help anyone who needed it.”

Hannah works the “Smut and Eggs” shifts, when the bar shows hardcore porn on all of its television sets as customers eat their breakfasts from 6 a.m. until noon on Saturdays and Sundays.

She said those mornings are just like any other ones, “only a little bit busier.” Menu items include omelettes, French toast, steak & eggs, along with dishes named in keeping with the “Smut and Eggs” theme. A coffee mug at the bar lists its hours as “6 a.m. ‘till somebody respectable comes in.”

Hannah said Bennett’s son, Jimmy Bennett, will continue to run the bar at 2009 Freeport Road, the way his father always did.

“It’s going to just stay the same. I mean obviously there’s a lot of things that need to be sorted out and figured out and all of that. So for now, it’s just going to work the way it always has,” she said.

Former Dane County Sup. Regina Rhyne, who was at the crowded bar Friday during lunchtime, said remembering her friend was hard to do without crying.

“He allowed all kinds of people to come in here and we had a good time,” she said, noting that she got a kick out of the things Bennett was quoted as saying in the newspaper over the years.

“Mr. Gene was a great man,” she said. “We’re going to miss him terrible. He was the second mayor of Madison. Don’t forget that.”

Rhyne called Bennett’s a place to “eat, drink, and be merry” and a “nice place to come and be neighbors to each other. And the food is good.”

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Gene Bennett

Gene Bennett, front left, who owned Bennett's Meadowood Country Club, playing cards with some regular customers in 2006.

Joe Schiro, 75, said he used to be a regular at the bar and knew Bennett since they were young boys.

“He was a gift to everybody,” Schiro said. “He did a lot of great things — a lot of things that people never knew about.”

Hannah said she’ll miss “everything” about Bennett. “He was great. He was a great boss. He was a great everything.”

“Smut and Eggs” started a few years after Bennett opened the neighborhood bar in 1977 just off Verona and Raymond roads. The X-rated movies were shown only on weekend mornings. Bennett told Isthmus last year that the misconception about Bennett’s was that it showed porn all day and night.

He said his regular customers would be “offended” if porn were on all the time.

Known for his salty language, libertarian political views and saying outrageous things, Bennett told Isthmus, “I tell everybody, if you watch 15 minutes of X-rated movies you want to have sex. If you watch 30 to 45 minutes, you never want to have sex again as long as you live.”

Hannah said Bennett often said he thought his best thoughts when he woke up in the middle of the night.

“That’s when he thought his weirdest, quirkiest things or sayings,” she said.

That’s when he’d dream up what to put on a T-shirt or what to put in a newspaper ad, she said, adding “he said that all the time. He would just wake up and think of these things.”

Two types of T-shirts sell for $15 at Bennett’s: “Bennett’s Porn in the Morn” and “Smut and Eggs.”

Hannah said she has a low inventory right now and needs to order more because people are asking for them in light of Bennett’s death.

She declined to say what Bennett died from, but said he had been sick. He had been coming into the bar for at least part of each week until recently, she said. Bennett’s was closed the week of July Fourth, as it always is each year, for routine maintenance.

Bennett, and his brother, Rich — who operated a Bennett’s on Park Street, called Bennett’s on the Park, from 1990 to 2007 — vigorously fought the Madison smoking ban.

In 2004, the City Council enacted the state’s first full smoking ban in bars, restaurants, bowling alleys and other workplaces. It went into effect the following year. Rich Bennett, who also showed pornography at his bar, blamed the ban for cutting into sales.

Gene Bennett told Isthmus that his establishment attracted all types: “lawyers, doctors, cops. Working people. Bachelorette parties. We’re just having fun. ... If you want to watch educational tapes, you watch them. If you don’t, you don’t. The appeal here is our breakfast. Our food is delicious.”

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Wisconsin State Journal food writer Samara Kalk Derby brings you the latest news on the Madison area's eclectic restaurant scene.