Go home, Wisconsin, you’re drunk

This is a map plotting the ratio of bars to grocery stores across America.


What is up with Wisconsin? Do you people need a lot of beer to wash down all that cheese?

I notice the brown bleeds over into Minnesota and the Dakotas as well. Maybe it’s an upper midwest thing. Or all the Germans that settled in this area. Or our winters, although Wisconsin is mild compared to Minnesota and North and South Dakota.

The link also has similar maps of Canada and Australia — they’ve got nothin’ on Wisconsin. I’d really like to see a map of Europe done up this way, though.


  1. leftwingfox says

    nicer? noticed! That’s it I’m turning off autocorrect, my typos are more accurate than the corrections.

  2. says

    Yeah, but it’s the whole state. Look at that distribution: you can even see the Minnesota/Wisconsin border as a sharp transition.

  3. Kelseigh says

    What’s funny is that according to what I can find online, Halifax Nova Scotia has way more bars per capita on a city-by-city basis than Milwaukee. 23 vs 8.5 per 10,000 people. Although apparently Pittsburg has 11.8, so that’s a thing.

    The good part about the Halifax bars is most of them offer live music 7 days a week.

  4. cartomancer says

    What about bars that double up as grocery stores? (Or, in my own British idiom, pubs that double as corner shops?) Here in rural Somerset it is quite common for the village pub to have a selection of basic food items and toiletries for sale if there isn’t a village shop anymore.

    Also for large numbers of teenagers drinking outside the grocery shops. In fact the two concepts aren’t really all that distinct in these parts.

  5. says

    I notice the brown bleeds over into Minnesota and the Dakotas as well.

    That’s because the Dakotas need more bars to celebrate their LIBERTY donchaknow.

    …you can even see the Minnesota/Wisconsin border as a sharp transition.

    That kind of implies a difference between the two states’ laws, taxes or other policies.

  6. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    I noticed the spillage over into Dah YooPee. Small towns with at most a filling station that sells milk/bread/snacks, a church, maybe a post office, and a bar that sells the alcohol and serves hot food. Lots of doubling up of categories.

  7. robertfoster says

    I suspect there’s more to the story. Take state laws governing the licensing of bars and taverns for instance. Here in Virginia we don’t have bars per se. They get lumped in with restaurants. There’s a law on the books that says that in order to serve alcohol one must also serve a certain amount of food per year. I can’t recall the exact dollar amount, but I think it’s something like $60,000 per annum (might be more). This means that one must have a full fledged restaurant associated with the tavern side of your business. In short, no corner bars here.

    I’ll bet Wisconsin doesn’t have such a law. When I lived in Ohio there there were small, hole-in-the wall bars everywhere. All they served was bar food. Perhaps a sandwich or maybe a burger if you were lucky.

  8. gussnarp says

    I wonder what they’re counting as “bars” in France and especially in Italy. I’m not really an expert on Italy, and I spent very little time in the big cities, but I’ve spent my share of time there and I don’t recall seeing any bars as we know them. Germany was similar, bars were mostly also restaurants, except for dance clubs. In Italy, as I recall, a “bar” is often the name given to a coffee shop (some real Italian expert can correct me if I’ve got this slightly off, as I likely do). Anyway, there are way more coffee shops than grocery stores everywhere in Italy, so that may be what’s actually showing up in the Italy map. In Germany there are probably very few things actually called “bars”, so it shows up as a higher ratio of grocery stores. Thinking about this cultural and linguistic difference in Europe makes me wonder if there’s a similar cultural and linguistic difference playing out in the upper Midwest. Different states have different laws about just what you call a place, whether you have to also serve food, etc. Something other than an absolute difference in the number of “bars” as a platonic ideal may be responsible for what this map shows.

  9. george gonzalez says

    It may be an artifact of the sizes of liquor stores and grocery stores rather than the actual amounts consumed.

    As a comparison, my son noticed a LOT of “Adult Superstores” in the Bible Belt. But that could also be an artifact of the lack of zoning laws and relative accessibility to the Internet.

  10. Marshall says

    I’m wondering what this would look if it were broken down into counties/cities. I live in Manhattan, and I can tell you that the ratio of bars to grocery stores in something like 20:1 here–that’s just the nature of the place. Bars are really small here (grocery stores aren’t that big either), but many people will use a single grocery store, whereas just a few will use each bar. Bars are treated differently here–they’re like items on a big menu, you select one for your taste, not because you want to eat in general.

  11. What a Maroon, el papa ateo says

    In Spain a “bar” is not at all like a bar here–it’s generally a place for the whole family which serves food and drinks of all kinds. My kids used to scandalize their friends by talking about how they hung out in bars all summer.

  12. Hekuni Cat, MQG says

    Having grown up in Wisconsin, this does not surprise me. Unfortunately.

  13. methuseus says

    When I visited Germany with my now wife, I don’t really remember any bars per se. There were restaurants or pubs. We were in the Munich and Bavaria areas, so it may be different than the northern areas. We enjoyed going to the beer gardens, all of which served large amounts of food along with the beer. They were also fairly large, many as large as small carnivals can be in the USA. So it may just be that beer is served everywhere, and Germans prefer food with their alcohol. We’re not really the bar type, so we could just have missed actual bars. That said, even the art museum food court, if I remember correctly, served beer and wine.

  14. methuseus says

    Oh, and having lived in and visited Wisconsin a decent amount, I can corroborate what Nerd of Redhead at 8 and robertfoster at 9 have said. Many bars in smaller towns in Wisconsin have food and sundries and are more restaurant or corner store than an actual bar. Compared to Florida where I live now, there are restaurants and not really that many bars.

  15. gmacs says

    That kind of implies a difference between the two states’ laws, taxes or other policies.

    Yep. Minnesota has more strict liquor* laws than its neighbors, even Iowa. We still have those unconstitutional Sunday Blue Laws, which I’ve heard many Christians bemoan as an unfair violation of the separation of church and state.

    In parts of Southeastern Minnesota, the liquor stores close at 8 except on Fridays, but I’ve heard that the real reason is that the owners don’t want to keep them open later, and they don’t want competition who will.

    *To non-Americans, we pretty much just call anything alcoholic “liquor” here. I’m not sure why.

  16. MyaR says

    Growing up in small town Wisconsin in the 1970s-80s, pretty much all socializing was centered around two institutions — churches and bars. For instance, Church League softball and Tavern League softball. Some people participated in one or the other, some in both.

    I looked up the bars/churches/grocery stores for the county I grew up in (Lincoln) and it’s about 70:33:7. There used to be more grocery stores, but it appears there’s been consolidation. The number of churches is, if anything, greater, and the number of bars appears similar.

  17. says

    I looked up the bars/churches/grocery stores for the county I grew up in (Lincoln) and it’s about 70:33:7. There used to be more grocery stores, but it appears there’s been consolidation. The number of churches is, if anything, greater, and the number of bars appears similar.

    Now I’m starting to get curious what the ratio of bars to churches is like across the country. I’m also a bit curious how alcohol consumption in general correlates with number of churches since there are other places where people get drunk.

  18. george gonzalez says

    Maybe it’s because Wisconsin has a lot of very small towns and villages, and it’s easier to start and support a bar than an grocery store.

    For example in the small Minnesota town that my in-laws lived in, there was a post office, a gas station, the VFW ( which serves alcohol to members or anybody that is okayed by a member ), a bar, a bar/strip club, a liquor store, and NO grocery store, you have to drive 8 miles to the county seat for that.

  19. MyaR says

    Oh, didn’t even think about the VFW and Eagles Club, which also serve alcohol, so that probably adds another 5 or so to the total.

    Halifax Nova Scotia has way more bars per capita on a city-by-city basis than Milwaukee. 23 vs 8.5 per 10,000 people.

    Again, Lincoln County — about 25 bars per capita, not counting things like the VFW. It’s more the small towns than the cities that skew that ratio. Drunk driving was a BIG problem when I was a kid, and probably still is. Also, drunk snowmobile operation. (There are snowmobile trails between bars, with cute little traffic signs.)

  20. Muz says

    I wonder what this says if anything. It’s interesting, no doubt.
    As others have been suggesting about other places, drinking cultures and economies make a big difference.I was just thinking that in Australia bars are just about a dying breed. Monopolistic supermarket companies have taken over the supply of alcohol. Hard to say what that’s done to drinking rates off hand.
    I think I heard there was a downward trend over all, the last few decades, but when Australians drink it is a higher proportion of getting completely blasted and killing one another than some others.

  21. says

    Hahaha, I live in that area of New York State that approaches WI’s bar:supermarket ratio. I noticed when I first moved here that it seemed that there was a teeny little bar every other block. There’s one less than a block away from my new apartment, and there were two within a 3-block radius of my old apartment. There are three bars within a 3-block radius of my office. There are just bars everywhere. It’s like opening a bar was a popular hobby here at one point.

  22. Irmin says

    @10, ethicsgradient:

    Notice that Germany does not have a lot of bars, compared with France, Spain, Italy or the UK.

    I’d add that we also have a whole lot of (often smaller) grocery stores (apparently, one of the reasons (but not the main one) why Wal-Mart left the German market was due to too fierce competition). At least from what I remember from vacations in France, there were less but bigger grocery stores there.

  23. Alverant says

    That explains why Walker is governor. Sadly there aren’t many bars where I live. There are plenty of restaurant/bars but no “pure” bars.

  24. jazzbot says

    Wisconsin is ethnically mostly German, I believe, and the Milwaukee breweries have had a lot of lobby influence on state government ever since the end of Prohibition. That’s why when bottle and can deposit laws were popular in other environmentally concerned states, Wisconsin was never able to pass one. Another evil aspect of Wisconsin’s tavern and brewery lobby is that they are responsible for thus far being able to stymie the cannabis legalization and decriminalization efforts in the state.

  25. markbrown says

    @ethicsgradient #10

    I’m actually fairly surprised there was any green on the UK map at all. There was even some in Scotland and Northern Ireland! Mind Blown!

  26. barbaz says

    I second Irmin#28’s thoughts. I have at least 8 grocery stores in walking distance.

  27. laurie says

    I’m curious as to how “bar” is defined. Is it a place to consume alcohol, or is it any place that sells alcohol? The definition is a big factor in determining the numbers, as many, many grocery stores and gas stations in Wisconsin sell alcohol. Also, bars (drinking establishments) are allowed to sell off-sale, but only before midnight.

  28. procrastinatorordinaire says

    @12 gussnarp

    In Italy, as I recall, a “bar” is often the name given to a coffee shop

    Not quite. An Italian bar always serves coffee, but they also normally serve alcohol in the form of beer, wine, liqueurs and spirits, and food. They are indeed all over the place. I can understand you mistaking them for coffee shops as that is normally their main product. [I lived in Italy for 20 years, but left in 2008, so I don’t know if there have been many changes recently.] Aside from the bars, there are also pubs, wine bars and clubs.

  29. says

    I notice that Ireland isn’t mapped. It could cause confusion. Out in the countryside the bar and the grocery shop are often one and the same.

  30. blf says

    Yeah, in my experience, a French “bar” is also a “coffee shop” and usually welcomes families and children. In addition to coffee, beer, vin (of course!) and, usually, spirits (and sometimes cocktails or similar), are served. But not too often (in my experience) food, albeit the-restaurant-next-door (also serving beer and vin) might deliver. And then there are also pubs and dance clubs and so on…

    Open-air markets (and covered versions, marché couvert or les halles (frequently with a “bar” or “coffee shop” or three…)) are extremely common. Not counting those would, I’d guess, skew the figures; and then if you do count them, are you just counting the market or the number of stalls / shops in the market?

    I used to joke, when I lived in Ireland, that there must be law saying requiring pubs to be no more than 500m from each other (or, equivalently, that no-one should have to walk more than 500m to get to a pub (or to stagger back home!)).

  31. says

    Another fact that’s probably represented in this map: there are regions where big grocery store chains are battling it out. In those places, it’s typical to have 5 grocery stores in a market that will really only support 1 or 2. I know that’s true of Southwestern Ohio/Northern Kentucky, for example.

    Maybe some places don’t have a less than average number of bars, but they have more than the average number of grocery stores.

  32. gog says

    I grew up in Wisconsin. The city where I grew up wasn’t very big, so I can actually count the grocery stores and bars within city limits purely from memory. Five bars, two grocery stores. That’s city proper. If you scale up to, say, city and the three towns it borders, then the numbers go way up for bars; up into the tens. But the number of grocery stores remains the same; there are two for that geographic area.

  33. MetzO'Magic says

    I notice that Ireland isn’t mapped.

    Because the scale would have needed to be logarithmic then. Also, how do you represent a colour beyond black?

    But seriously, Northern Ireland is there, and it would probably be representative of Ireland as a whole in this respect. I’m quite surprised that Wisconsin appears to outdo it. I’m guessing the criteria that separates a bar from a coffee shop that sells alcohol from a restaurant etc. in the dataset that was used is the main culprit here. Use a different means of classification and it could all go another way.

  34. Akira MacKenzie says

    There are three grocery stores in my small Wisconin hometown. (i.e. a Pick N’ Save, Piggly Wiggly, and a Wal-Mart) There are three bars within walking distance of my house, with over a dozen more scattered throughout the town, and I live in rural Wisconsin.

  35. sugarfrosted says

    I seem to recall that growing up in Wisconsin that growing up in Oconomowoc their were tons of bars. I was 8 at the time. How do I know this? You were allowed to bring your kids with you as long as they didn’t exclusively serve alcohol.

  36. jakc says

    Many years ago, I passed up Morris for a small college in Wisconsin. That was back when the drinking age was 18, and the number of taverns seems to have declined since then (4 or 5 in an easy walking distance from college versus 10 or 12. Of course, both grocery stores that were close have disappeared) As for milder winters in WI than SD, I’d say that the winters in places like Hot Springs or Rapid City are nicer than say Superior or Madison

  37. says

    As a native Wisconie, I couldn’t be more proud. The 450-person town that I grew up outside of had a 4/2/1 Bar/Church/Grocery ratio. My first car accident was hitting someone pulling onto the road from a country bar outside of a near-by town. When I visit my sister in Milwaukee, we always drink.

    It is funny how the reason for our drinking culture in Wisconsin is explained by our German and Polish heritage, yet Germany and Poland were overwhelmingly green. The only conclusion you can draw from that is that Germany and Poland rounded up all the drunks and put them on a boat to America. That, or all the drunks volunteered because they were drunk and thought “what the hell!”

    And how do we buy food? Why do you need food? Beer has plenty of calories.

  38. Paul K says

    I live in a small town in Wisconsin, and work 25 miles away in a small city in Minnesota. Between the two towns are no other towns, but there are ten places where you can buy alcohol. A couple of them also serve food, but most are bars. That road is a fairly busy one, but there are also bars farther out, on roads that really lead nowhere. I don’t understand how all of them can stay in business, other than some truly heavy drinkers. The county has less than 30,000 people, and all of these bars are in one small part of it.

  39. says

    Went and looked at the international maps too. I don’t think this information is worth much. Has more to do with what gets labeled a “bar” in different places, zoning, alcohol licensing etc. In Paris where I live there are very few “bars” (in the sense of what an American from the Midwest would call a “bar”) but there are a lot of cafés and bistros which is not the same thing at all in terms of what sort of people go there (everyone including children and the elderly), for what (to eat, drink, rest, people-watch, meet friends, soak up the sun, read, work, tweet, kill some time, etc.) and when (morning to night).

  40. John Horstman says

    @chimera (previously Bicarbonate) 51: That likely has some effect, though bear in mind that the only restaurants (or bistros) that don’t serve alcohol here (in Wisconsin at least) are fast food franchises. Many (I’d estimate a bit less than half) the coffee shops in Milwaukee have liquor licenses as well. It could certainly still be the case that there are a similar number of alcohol-serving institutions in most places and what varies most is what gets labeled a bar versus a restaurant, but this is not the most likely possibility, especially since some of the places with the most bars per capita also rank high on the list of most restaurants per capita.

  41. David Marjanović says

    It is funny how the reason for our drinking culture in Wisconsin is explained by our German and Polish heritage, yet Germany and Poland were overwhelmingly green. The only conclusion you can draw from that is that Germany and Poland rounded up all the drunks and put them on a boat to America. That, or all the drunks volunteered because they were drunk and thought “what the hell!”

    Here in Germany, and elsewhere in Europe that I’ve seen, there are lots and lots of grocery stores, all in fierce competition with each other. There’s nothing comparable to Wal*Mart.

    (Wal*Mart tried to establish itself. It failed and left.)

    Booze places are plentiful, though I don’t know if any of them would qualify as a bar.

  42. Sili says

    Going out to drink is prohibitively expensive here (though not at Icelandic levels). I think more alcohol is bought at the grocery stores and then consumed at home.

  43. qwerty says

    PZ forgets that in Wisconsin people put a beer sign in the front window of their living room and consider it a bar.

  44. Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened says

    UK has 58% more bars than grocery stores.

    Sounds about right, though it would depend on your deinition of grocery store. I assume a “bar” is anywhere whose primary purpose is to sell alcohol that can be consumed on the premises.

  45. Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened says

    To illustrate my point, my small Berkshire market town of c. 30,000 people has 13 pubs in the town centre, and at least four others which are within a 10 minute walk of the town centre. The town centre also has two off-licenses and two corner shops which serve alcohol.

    I live about 25 minutes walk from the centre, and I have three pubs within a 10 minute walk, and another two within a 15 minute walk. I have one corner shop/post office, which serves alcohol, and one supermarket, which serves alcohol, within a ten minute walk.

    The entire town has three supermarkets; a Tesco, a Morrison’s, and a Lidl.

  46. gog says

    @Paul K:

    Another border person! I grew up in Polk County. I have some guesses as to where you are, but I wouldn’t want you to give away more than what’s comfortable.

  47. Menyambal says

    I am a member of a private club in a town in Arkansas. I was visiting some folks in that that town, and us going out for a drink seemed a good idea to them. They took me to their club, with me thinking I was underdressed, and thinking that I was going to be their guest. To get in, I had to show identification, which was standard practice at a bar (the law says you have to be of legal age), and to sign something, which was odd, and to pay five dollars, which confused me. Otherwise, it was not an elegant country club, it was a bog-standard bar, which I loathe.

    I asked what the hell was going on, and was told that I had just joined the club, and was now a member. I could now drink legally in that town, or at least in that club. There were no bars allowed, there, but private clubs were fine and legal. Fortunately, joining a club was as easy as walking into a bar.

    Honestly, I cannot even recall what town that was, and I am sure that if I went back to that club I would have to join again. Not that I would bother.

    The point of the story is that somewhere in Arkansas is a town with no bars, in which strangers can go into large, smelly buildings and get as drunk as their money can get them.