Where Are America's Corner Pubs? Wisconsin.
A reader writes:
Have Avent and Steinglass never been to the Upper Midwest? St Paul, Duluth, Madison, Milwaukee? Corner pubs are everywhere. Get out of the boring Beltway and live a little.
Wisconsin has got to be the closest thing to the English utopia these two dudes describe.
Nearly every town in this state has more bars than churches. Breweries are in fact allowed to own pubs in Wisconsin. In Eau Claire, some of our most popular food joints are that bar around the corner.
I also think Steinglass is mistaken in thinking that this is due to national law; alcohol is typically regulated by states, and in some cases counties, in the United States.
In my home state of Wisconsin, the small town with 400 people, four churches, and four bars is almost a cliché. I’m sure that the zoning laws in DC and thereabouts play the largest role in the demise of the corner bar there; older cities large and small have grown up with the corner bars as cornerstones.
I live in Wisconsin, and we take our kids to the bar and grills (what we call pubs) fairly often. Sometimes I take my daughter out to lunch at the local bar and grill and we sit at the bar with the daytime drinkers and eat our burgers. The local school has a fundraiser with bands at a local bar/grill attended by all the kids and parents.
In fact, in Wisconsin, if you are with your parent, you can have a beer as a ten year old! It is a completely different culture. I’m from neighboring Minnesota, which does very well in this category, but it does not hold a candle to Wisconsin. (This link takes you to a map of the U.S. showing cities that have more bars than grocery stores. Wisconsin and the upper Midwest really stick out.)
You need to visit Milwaukee. We have corner bars, usually referred to as "taverns", on probably every fifth street corner in the city. This was written up in the Telegraph a decade ago:
The big brewers might have rolled out their barrels for the last time but the barmen haven't. There are a reputed 6,000 watering-holes in Milwaukee, one for every 100 residents. If James Bond style isn't your fancy there are sports bars, games bars, yuppie bars, Bavarian bars, pick-up bars, music bars and grumpy working-men's bars where no one says a word.
There are rules for drinking well in Milwaukee. The place is safe enough: its streets are wide and logically arranged, its atmosphere happy. But smart drinkers remember that it's also a big place with bars widespread on district street corners, each reflecting a micro-community. Be prepared to travel. Cabs are plentiful and five or six dollars will usually get you to the next oasis.
I invite you to come for a visit sometime and see!