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449 - "Great Party Place, Wisconsin", or: America's Beer Belly

March 9, 2010, 7:46 PM

ROSE: Yah it’s a lot of braunschweiger.

[Brenda starts to ring up the braunschweiger]

ROSE: It’s for my dad….. for his….. trip. My dad……. He… is going to……. Wisconsin.

BRENDA: Oh Wisconsin! A real party state.


BRENDA: Oh yah. He’s goin’ to visit his brother in Wisconsin.

DOROTHY: On a lawnmower?!?!


DOROTHY: Great party place, Wisconsin.


ALVIN: In Wisconsin. Just over the state line.

CRYSTAL: (nodding) Oh….Cheddar Heads.

[Alvin laughs at this and Crystal smiles, too]

ALVIN: Aren’t those just about the dumbest things you ever saw a person put on their head?

[She nods and laughs]

CRYSTAL: I hear that’s a real party place, Wisconsin. Guess I’ll never get to find out.

The repeated insistence in The Straight Story – the slowest road movie ever – that the great, plain state of Wisconsin is a mecca of mirth seemed like a mere running gag, underlining the orneriness of Iowans. Turns out that director David Lynch might not have been joking after all. It seems those Cheddar Heads really do know a thing or two about partying – especially if it involves hanging out in bars.

This map represents localised references in the Google Maps directory to either grocery stores or bars. Yellow shading indicates that there are more references to grocery stores than bars at that particular location. Red indicates more references to bars.

Yellow is generally prevalent in most of the US; one can assume that there are more grocery stores than drinking establishments in those areas. But red dots, where bars outnumber grocery stores, are dominant in a few very particular regions:

  • The aforementioned party state, Wisconsin. The dotting corresponds quite closely with the Wisconsin state line, turning yellow again where northwestern Wisconsin transforms into Michigan’s northern peninsula.
  • North Dakota is also heavily bar-oriented, as are significant parts of Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, Kansas and – ironically – Iowa.
  • Illinois is also a mainly ‘red’ state, with the notable exception of Chicagoland, on the southern shore of Lake Michigan.
  • Curiously, heavily red areas are almost all found in the Midwest. One exception is a red cluster in Upstate New York and Pennsylvania, overflowing to the coast into a semi-separate Boston cluster.

This strange map was produced by Floating Sheep, a website dedicated to “mapping and analyzing user generated Google Map placemarks”. In this instance, the ovine analysts of cybergeography were so startled by this remarkably differentiated result that they wanted to check it against information a bit more official than the data provided by Google Maps (1) .

According to the 2007 Census, there are on average 1.52 bars (2) for every 10,000 people in the US. Those numbers are a lot higher in the ‘red’ states: Wyoming (3.40), Nebraska (3.68), Iowa (3.73), South Dakota (4.73), Wisconsin (5.88), Montana (6.34) and North Dakota, which, with an average of 6.54 bars per 10,000 inhabitants apparently is the top “party state” in the Union. Next time you want to take your lawnmower to a party, you know in which direction to head.


Many thanks to all who sent in this map: James Smith, Dan Boucher, Ted B. Gerstein, Mark Hamlin, J.P. Coughlin, Pepijn Hendriks and Matthew Zook (of Floating Sheep; this map on this page of their site. Do check out the rest of the site for more interesting statistical maps).


(1) No offence to Mountain View’s finest – and mightiest!

(2) In Census Speak, not bars but rather “NACIS code 722410: Drinking places (alcoholic beverages)”.


449 - "Great Party Place, W...

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