Monday, March 11, 2013

Pail & Shovel

In the past few years Wisconsin politics have become a national talking point.  In 2009, Governor Walker announced controversial plans to curb union’s collective bargaining rights which sparked enormous protests.  And in 2012, Wisconsin elected the first openly gay Senator, Tammy Baldwin.  But before all this, back in the Dark Ages of the 1970’s, there was Pail & Shovel.

Varjian and Mallon
The Pail & Shovel Party started when sophomore Leon Varjian ran for Student Senate at the University of Wisconsin - Madison in 1978.  His campaign flyers claimed “Honesty, Integrity, Responsibility...Pail & Shovel Doesn’t Believe In Any Of Them!”  The party’s name comes from their campaign platform: dump thousands of pennies on the UW Library Mall and let students use pails and shovels to collect what they needed.  Because there was a vacancy in the senate, he won the seat.  During his confirmation meeting, Varjian famously wore a clown suit claiming that he’ll give politics “the respect they deserve.”  Once in the Senate, he decided to go big time.  He convinced his friend Jim Mallon to run for President so Varjian could be Vice President or, as he puts it, be “where all the power is”.

The pair was famous for pranks.  Their campaign included promises such as flooding Camp Randall Stadium to reenact historic 19th Century naval warship battles and renaming every male student on campus “Jim Smith” so faculty could remember everybody’s name.  One stunt in particular won them national attention.  Pail & Shovel publicly declared their intention to steal the Statue of Liberty.  But, like so many of their promises, it was quickly laughed off...until one cold February morning in 1979.  The city of Madison woke up, rubbed their eyes, and couldn’t believe what they saw.  The crown and torch-bearing arm of the Statue of Liberty sticking through the ice of Lake Monona.  Pail & Shovel claimed to have stolen the green lady, but the helicopter cables broken during transportation and the statue plunged into the icy waters.


But that was not all.  The next semester saw their pièce de résistance.  On September 4th, 1979, students on their way to the first day of classes were greeted by 1,008 pink lawn flamingos sunning themselves on Bascom Hill.  Vice President (yes, they won the election) Varjian claimed the flamingos were blown north by Hurricane David.  However, Pail & Shovel was not appreciated by everybody and 60 students protested and demanded their student activities money back.  Varjian acquiesced and wrote 60 checks for 10¢ each.  But by-and-large, the Party was a hit.  For a time, Pail & Shovel attempted to rename the University of Wisconsin to the University of New Jersey so the students could have a fancy East Coast degree.  


Pail & Shovel was reelected to a second term under the banner “Are You Stupid Enough To Vote For Us Again?”  The student body spoke, and the Pail & Shovel threw a party.  A 10,000-person toga party, in fact.  The Dalai Lama was schedule to speak on campus at the same time, and was rescheduled so that he wouldn’t get caught in the festivities.  Festivities such as a Dalai Lama look-alike contest.  During their final term, Stu D. Baker, Pail & Shovel’s Sergeant-At-Arms, declared war against University of Missouri, which became tit-for-tat pranks at each others campus.

They did not seek a third term.

The legacy of Pail & Shovel lives on.  Varjian ran an unsuccessful campaign for the Madison City Council with the promise to rename the city to “Cheesetopia”; an idea MTC is not entirely opposed to.  The flamingo prank was so popular that in September of 2009, 30 years after the original prank, the plastic pink lawn flamingo was made Madison’s Official Bird by the Madison City Council.  And President Jim Mallon went on to create the show Mystery Science Theater 3000.  Pail & Shovel is an excellent example of Madison’s quirky personality and will be a campus and city-wide legend for decades to come.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Milwaukee: Historic Third Ward

There are few things in life that I enjoy more than a good road trip and brunch with my co-bloggers. So, when we heard of an amazing brunch place in the Historic Third WardMore Than Curds made the short drive down to Milwaukee.

Upon arriving in the Third Ward, we swung through the iconic Milwaukee Public Market. I feel like this is obligatory if you're visiting the TW.

The Milwaukee Public Market offers a range of delicious and unique edibles including Mediterranean olives, fresh tamales, live lobsters in tanks, beautiful flowers, and a serious slew of baked goods.

My favorite offering at MPM were these cute (and tasty!) Wisconsin-shaped chocolates. A chocolateir after my own Sconnie heart.

After ogling all of the stuff at the Market, we walked (literally) across the street to one of the best brunch places in the city: Cafe Benelux. We arrived at 11:00am and it was hoppin'. Clearly, many of Milwaukee's twenty-somethings have discovered the unparalleled beer list and the well-executed, squeal-worthy menu at Benelux.

The wait for a table was about 45 minutes, which gave us just enough time for a round of drinks at their bar. Greg tried the Confession Grand Cru; it got a rave review. Another favorite among our group was a beer called Santa's Rampage. I was impressed that their beer menu was substantial enough to make a modest codex. I also have to give this place some serious street cred because their beer menu is updated and republished MONTHLY. Benelux has four beers that are brewed in Belgium exclusively for their bar. Swanky!

If you do go to Benelux, do yourself a favor and order the "Tater Tots" (bacon bits, bleu cheese, Sriracha mayo). It'll set you back 9 shekels, but it's TOTALLY WORTH IT! These aren't your lunch lady's tater tots, my friends. These are more like warm, gooey, balls of deep fried hash brown awesomeness.

The brunch menu was impressive. Above is the "Sprocket Burger" which boasts a Miller baked pretzel bun, thick-cut bacon, cheddar, duck fat fried egg, garlic aioli, and tomato jam. Seriously, sign me up for anything that has duck fat as an ingredient. Greg even dared to name it his favorite burger ever.  We also tried the "Mrs. Hollander" (croissant, two fried eggs, black forest ham, belgian bier cheese sauce, and Benelux breakfast potatoes) and the "Salmon Benedict" (smoked salmon, poached eggs, hollandaise). The sweet potato fries that accompanied the burger were excellent as well! I also tried the spicy Bloody Mary. It was so awesome that we didn't have a chance to snap a picture before I put a dent in it. 

After brunch, we took a stroll through the Third Ward. Even though is was a frosty day, the blend of historic and modern architecture in the district made exploring worthwhile. 

Our final destination was the Clock Shadow Creamery. Fun fact: the Clock Shadow Creamery is the only urban cheese plant in the state.

It was a slow day when we arrived. They weren't making cheese on the weekend, but that didn't stop us from snapping a few photos of their cheese making operation and buying a few wedges, too.

Our trip to the Third Ward was a great success and a great way to spend a frosty Wisconsin winter day. It's an excellent part of the state to grab some epic brunch while admiring the industrial architecture and investigating the urban creamery scene. Expect a follow-up post in the Third Ward once the weather warms up a bit. We'll meet you on the corner of Sunday Brunch and Bloody Mary Blvd!