by Ryan Glasspiegel – Follow Sports Rapport on Twitter
Last week, Dan Kaufman wrote about Wisconsin in the New York Times. Wisconsin in May–we’ve paid our dues through the grueling winter (which was actually much more pleasant than normal this year) and now it’s time for four months of PARADISE! And, when that’s over, it’s FOOTBALL SEASON–a potentially special year where the sky’s the limit if all breaks right for Packers and Badgers.
Unfortunately, however, Kaufman wasn’t writing about the simple pleasures of grilling burgers and brats, sipping cold ones at a beautiful cabin by the lake. Time spent not knowing or caring what time it is. Eat when you’re hungry, drink when you’re thirsty, swim when the sun’s out. Head to the neighborhood bar at night, put $20 in the juke box and monopolize it with cheesy country tunes (AND IT’S TWO BARE FEET ON THE DASHBOARRRRRRRRD), get talked into (or do the talking into but who’s to judge) one too many whiskey shots, wake up without an alarm, repeat. Why would anybody writing about Wisconsin talk about anything other than the blissful paradise Sconnies have earned during the cold, dark days since football season?
Kaufman’s title reads, “How Did Wisconsin Become the Most Politically Divisive Place in America?” There isn’t a real thesis statement in the piece worth excerpting but anybody who watches TV, reads the papers, or goes outside can probably guess what it’s all about. Without making light of important issues such as the rights of labor unions to exist or the necessity of the state to balance its budget (and pipelines in between), it’s SUMMERTIME! It’s too nice outside to be fighting so bitterly.
Although I’m not a full-fledged Sconnie, I’ve spent half my summers at camp in northern Wisconsin and four years studying in Madison. It hurts me to see my adopted homeland in such turmoil. Whether one is an ardent Scott Walker supporter or an equally fiery detractor (and there really doesn’t seem to be anywhere in between), here are 25 things that Republicans and Democrats who together comprise Sconnie Nation should all be able to unite around!
This list is in no particular order.
1. The Green Bay Packers – Does anything in the world garner as much bi-partisan support as the Packers do in Wisconsin? Has any Scott Walker initiative even gotten 51% as much agreement as his recent decision to declare May 23rd Donald Driver day after the Packers’ all-time leading receiver won Dancing With the Stars? It needs to be football season again three months ago. Next time you’re mad at somebody for supporting or hating Scott Walker, remember that it could be way worse: at least he’s not a Bears or Vikings fan.
2. Brat Fest - Anyone make it out this weekend? One of the biggest tragedies of getting in better shape over the past year is that I undergrew my awesome yellow Brat Fest t-shirt that people always used to smile at me and give me positive comments for. (This “problem” has happened with about 80% of my favorite t’s and is an extremely bittersweet aspect of losing weight.) In 2010, Brat Fest set the worldwide record with 209,376 brats sold; since the festival’s inception in 1983, over 3,000,000 brats have been distributed. Yum!
3. The Union Terrace - Some of my best memories involve sitting at one of those autumn-colored tables for hours with a few friends, a deck of cards, and a couple pitchers of Spotted Cow and Honey Weiss. The terrace is one of those rare places where it is impossible to be upset about anything.
4. Delta Diner - This special restaurant embodies the phrase “destination location”–if you find yourself at this exquisite breakfast/lunch spot in northern Wisconsin, it is deliberate and will be delicious. If you’re going on a weekend, make sure that you carve out an hour or two for a wait. It’ll be well worth it, though.
5. Mars Cheese Castle - Narrowly edging out Brat Stop for the obligatory spot on this list devoted to a Kenosha meat and cheese emporium, this essential stop between Chicago and Milwaukee takes the case for LITERALLY being a castle (until its 2011 re-construction, this was the case in title only). Mars Cheese Castle has EVERYTHING! Pro tip: hang around the bar sipping a Spotted Cow for long enough to eat about 50 exquisite complimentary ritz crackers topped with cheddar pub cheese. FILL UP – you’ll be less inclined to splurge on one of those enticing $75 sausage sampler gift baskets.
6. Devil’s Lake - Reasonably accessible for a day-trip or overnight excursion from just about everywhere in the state, this is a beautiful place to hike, grill, camp, and swim without really having to work for it.
7. SummerFest - Food, beer, and music. What else really matters? Kanye’s performance at the Marcus Ampitheater last year (the splendor of which is pictured below) was one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen. Also, one of my first childhood memories involves somehow winning a giant stuffed animal from one of those rigged carnival games. No clue how I did it or whether it was more impressive to win the game or convince my parents to pay the $5 for the right to do so but I was INCENSED that they would not let me take it back home with me because it would not fit in the suitcase.
8. The St. Croix Casino – There are all sorts of hole-in-the-wall Native American casinos spread out across the state. I’ve been to most of them and am going to give the nod to the St. Croix because I think I’ve won every time I’ve played there. There is nothing quite like sitting down at a small casino in Wisconsin on a Tuesday afternoon breaking up a drive through the state, timidly playing $5 blackjack hands with a $40 bankroll, and having a grizzled trucker sit down next to you take out a wad of cash and start playing $100 a hand. This always happens. And they never play their hands logically.
9. New Glarus Beer - Known best for Spotted Cow–which you can find EVERYWHERE in Wisconsin but NOWHERE else–New Glarus beer is 100% Wisconsin-owned, Wisconsin-manufactured, and Wisconsin-employed. Split a case of a sampler pack amongst two or three people and tonight’s gonna be a good, good night.
10. Will’s Northwoods Inn – Ok, it’s not technically in Wisconsin but it FEELS like you’re in God’s Country at this oasis in the middle of Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood. Every Packers fan should have the opportunity to watch a game at this bar–it’s the next best thing to Lambeau. One young whippernsapper named it the best sports bar in America. So you KNOW it’s legit, here are the Will’s cheese curds:
11. Superior Meats – This is the best butcher shop I know of. They have approximately 1,482 varieties of brats alone*. It’s a meat EMPORIUM that is a must-stop in Northern Wisconsin.
12. Camp Randall - The uniform color coordination in NBA arenas during these playoffs is sort of cool–especially when it’s not all white–but it’s more impressive at Camp Randall because everyone brings their own red shirts to the game instead of collecting them from their seats. There’s a special aura when you pass through the arch on Randall. The anticipation for a big kickoff builds rapidly until you emerge from the tunnel and find your seats and 80,321 become 1.
13. Smoke Shack - Have you had this great new Milwaukee BBQ yet? If not, let these pulled pork Kansas City/monterey jack egg rolls serve as a reminder to get on it. If you’re into that sort of stuff, their Facebook page has consistently succulent foodporn.
14. Brennan’s Market – With five locations in Wisconsin, you can eat A LOT of samples! While Mars Cheese Castle might have a bigger overall selection, Brennan’s cheese variety and quality is simply unsurpassed.
15. Big Sky Drive-in Theatre - One of the many unique places in Wisconsin that is a relic of simpler times. There is something to be said for all the communities and attractions that look like they haven’t been touched for 50 years–you almost expect them to be black and white. More work goes into this preservation than one would guess.
16. Golfing in Kohler – It’s sort of a weird thing to be internationally renowned for but Kohler toilets are the gold standard around the world; I’ve seen Kohler retail outlets in rural China and its toilets all over Europe and Asia. That type of international empire has helped bring some world-renowned golf courses to the community.
17. The Pfister – How awesome is it that baseball teams visiting the Brewers legitimately think that they are being messed with by ghosts when they stay at the Pfister? That, its overall beauty and charm, and the fact that one of my grandfather’s sculptures is on a table in the lobby bar are more than enough to qualify it for this prestigious list.
18. Berry Picking in Bayfield - Because few things are as satisfying as fresh, homemade jam.
19. Bernie Brewer – Everything is awesome about a summer night at Miller Park but since the stadium’s opening Bernie Brewer sliding down after a home run has been one of my favorite random parts about sports since the stadium opened. I actually enjoy this aspect of Miller Park even more than the great sausage race.
20. The Wisconsin Dells – Name five things more fun than going down a water slide…waiting…
21. Anchor Bar - At this outstanding dive bar in Superior, this delicious 1 lb. triple cheeseburger with fresh hand cut fries will run you $5.75. I’m not really sure how they make any money. Volume?
22. The Kohl Center - Be it hockey or basketball–men’s or women’s–the Wisconsin faithful put on for their ‘Sity. My biggest undergrad regret is not attending more hockey games. (My dumb reasoning at the time was that 6-10 pm on Fridays and Saturdays was prime drinking time. I should have just snuck in whiskey and mixed it with soda in the bathroom to avoid falling irrevocably behind my fellow students in my perpetually disappointing quest to hook up with girls.)
23. Usinger’s Summer Sausage - Enjoy with cheese and crackers for a bold flavors sandwich. NEVER make the mistake of looking at the nutrition facts – nothing good happens when you do that.
24. Kopp’s Frozen Custard - On a hot summer day, this sensational ice cream melts in your mouth and permeates through your entire body to create a tingly sensation. Or maybe that’s just me.
25. Sconnie Nation – From great Wisconsin and Packers-themed apparel to its new line of beer, the company celebrates and embodies the great state’s wonderful shared cultural customs, attractions, and events. The next time you see a toxic political ad, a divisive battle in a newspaper’s comment section, or a heated argument about the upcoming election in a bar, remember that there are many great products, bars, restaurants, sports, drinks, and nature we can all enjoy in unity.
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