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Coloma Village Park: Home of the Chicken Chew

Chaos in the Country: My Walk on the Wild Side at the Coloma Chicken Chew

Aug. 3, 2022 at 6:06PM

A few years ago when my brother, his friends, and I decided we wanted to take a camping trip. Not just any camping trip but the slimiest and grimiest camping trip possible. After some frantic googling for “the worst campsite in Wisconsin,” we landed on our dream site.

Tucked away a mile down a dirt road in the woods of Poy Sippi, Wisconsin, was our grimy little dream known as “Lake Ponder.” Upon arrival, we saw our shirtless host, Yosef, whose primary form of ambulating was via a John Deere mower. His property was scattered with abandoned cars, boats, and various machines. I will not lie; we thought that we might have bitten off more than we could chew.

On the contrary, we had one of the best weekends of our lives. Granted magical drinking powers, the four of us drank two 30 packs of Hamm's, a few Four Loko’s, fifty-some assorted domestic beers, a 12-pack of White Claws®, a bottle of Wild Turkey, and a bottle of tequila. 

Each morning we were greeted with a “beer can tragedy,” as we decided the best way to dispose of empties was by chucking them over our shoulders (all were dutifully picked up in the morning). One night featured dancing in the moonlight to the commands of our leader dressed in a denim coat, no shirt, denim shorts, and a fanny pack with a built-in speaker. Later, we continued our bizarre celebrations by gathering onto a rickety raft and shooting off Roman candles like feral children.

While he crafted a chair out of denim

The weekend ended with our host—while he crafted a chair out of denim jeans—informing us that “we were a lot less crazy than he thought we would be.” However, we did find a half-burned wig in the firepit when we arrived, so only higher powers know what Bacchanalia transpired, making our drunken revelry look tame.

We left that weekend changed. Permanently seeking out new places for “freakends,” as we called them. The subsequent freakends have all been things of beauty, albeit not quite as magical as the first. Or at least not until the Coloma Chicken Chew of 2022.

What Is the Chicken Chew, and How Did I Get Here?

I’m going to venture that not many reading this article know what and where the hell Coloma, Wisconsin is. Until the Fall of 2020, I had also never heard of the small town roughly 75 miles north of Madison, Wisconsin. As COVID-19 raged throughout the country, my significant other was working remotely, my brother, Drake Nikolai, was freelancing remotely, and my funemployment was also taking place from a remote location. We had the realization that we could live anywhere we wanted, as long as there was internet—unlike the overlooked and underappreciated workers in essential services.

A Vrbo search revealed a lake house in this sleepy little town, and it was listed for a rather reasonable amount. So the three of us signed a short-term lease from November 2020 to May 2021. To avoid COVID-19, we would be moving to a place where over 70% of the voters supported the president, who at the time was ranting against masks and suggesting injecting bleach into your veins as medical advice.

After it’s all said and done, I can’t recommend highly enough living in a nearly abandoned lake town during a once-in-a-generation pandemic. The peace, the connection with nature, and the near-isolation from society were all a godsend.

A few months into our stay, my best friend Charlie called and asked where I was living. I said you’ve probably never heard of it, but it’s a tiny town in the absolute middle of nowhere called Coloma. To this, he responded: “You should have told me you were living in Coloma; that’s where my fiance is from!” 

Later that day, I sent him a picture from the patio overlooking the lake. Soon after, we realized some sort of bizarre cosmic coincidence was playing out in which the owner of the home we were staying in was a member of his fiancé, Stephanie’s, family. It seems some sort of preternatural confluence led us to our strange new home.

The 50th Anniversary Coloma Chicken Chew

The Coloma Chicken Chew is my divine paradox: a small-town rager with everything I love and hate about America wrapped into one bizarre mess. I have long been enchanted by small-town America, yearning for a sense of community in contrast to today’s individualistic, fractured society. Especially alluring are the ghosts of once bustling Main Street communities reshaped by economic earthquakes of the past. These relics harken to a more simplistic lifestyle where community, nature, and good old-fashioned ruckuses—all of which the Chew encompasses—come together in a beautiful, terrible, and twisted way.

Yet, these treacly views of the past sugarcoat a time when women, people of color, and other groups were often more aggressively subjugated to a secondhand social status. Small town Wisconsin does, in part, represent a hotbed for racism and other regressive views. Coloma, checking in with a population of 450 people, is no exception.

Fast forward to June of 2022. My friend, Charlie, and his fiancé were approaching their wedding. I also happened to be Charlie’s best man. So, to honor Stephanie’s family tradition, I was invited, along with Drake, to the Coloma Chicken Chew for a country-fried bachelor/bachelorette party as honorary members of their family.

To make matters even more mysteriously fateful, we found out that Drake and the Maid of Honor, Hayley, have the same golden birthday, which would come to pass at midnight of the Chew.

I struggled with how to summarize and convey my experience at the Chicken Chew. Only a timeline of events can do some justice to the strangeness of the day. The weekend unfolded as follows.

“Leave society, be a monkey”—Viagra Boys, “Return to Monke”


6:00 p.m.

Drake and I head to the tailgate party of a friend visiting from Seattle at the Brewer game on the O’Lydia’s shuttle. Halfway through the trip from O’Lydia’s to Miller Park (American Family Field for those of you who care about naming rights), some repugnant, sun-leathered woman from Florida starts singing “we love our constitution.” I could tell where this was heading. She then began snidely singing “wooooo Roe overturned” mere hours after six unaccountable religious clerics struck down women’s bodily autonomy. I yell, “SHUT THE FUCK UP!” as the emotional temperature in the bus escalated to a high. I can tell this is going to be a strange weekend indeed.


2:00 a.m.

We wrap up bar hopping in the Bay View neighborhood. Despite our best intentions, we recklessly blow past our self-imposed deadline to return to my apartment to get a good night’s sleep before our trip to Coloma.

6:00 a.m.

My alarm clock sounds. It is time to prepare for our pilgrimage. 

7:00 a.m.

We arrive at a Wendy’s in Milwaukee and crush a few Breakfast Baconators. As someone who works in public health, I have already acquiesced that all notions of healthy living have been thrown out the window for the weekend. 

We begin our ascent north to Coloma.

10:45 a.m.

Significant thunderstorms hamper our progress, but we arrive at Stephanie’s parents’ house in time to make it to the Chew for the 11 a.m. cornhole tournament.

11:00 a.m.

Stephanie’s father drops us off at the large Coloma Village Park—the home of the Chicken Chew. The air is already crackling with anticipation, the savory scents of festival food wafting through the air.

Drake and I are absolutely clobbered in the cornhole tournament by some locals. We lose 21-0 and 21-2 in our two matches. The first of which was to a father-son duo in which the father looked absolutely nonplussed in his number 69 jersey. The second of which was to a team led by a man wearing a “legalize freedom” shirt. I can only assume it was a protest shirt in response to women losing their bodily autonomy the day before.

I can already see that a last-minute decision to change into my ZZ Top t-shirt was prudent. It is the only article of clothing that can help partially convey that I am not a city slicker interloper in the yearly celebration of rural debauchery. 

I am surrounded by men and women wearing MAGA clothes, confederate flags, freedom shirts, shirts conveying sexual innuendos about guns, and aspersions at non-heterosexual identity. While part of me is deeply disturbed by the toxic insecurity, I accept that this is to be expected in this bizarre small-town ethnography.

11:30 a.m.

Drake and I are mistaken as the two sons of a local potato farmer. We’ve done it; we’re blending in.

Cornhole tournament in which Drake and I are completely put to shame Cornhole tournament in which Drake and I are completely put to shame
A Chicken Chew attendee who is “Thirsty for Beer and Hungry for Beaver.” A Chicken Chew attendee who is “Thirsty for Beer and Hungry for Beaver.”
This man has freedom in his DNA This man has freedom in his DNA
Local “Vape Nation” enthusiast Local “Vape Nation” enthusiast
Beer Disposal Container: Human ingenuity at its finest Beer Disposal Container: Human ingenuity at its finest

11:40 a.m. 

On the way to grabbing the first Coors tallboy of the day, I wanted to snap a picture of the railcar in the central area of the park. A local jumped in and shouted, “Vape Naysh!” in homage to the 2016 meme inspired by Ethan Klein.

12:00 p.m.

We make our way down to the village park’s softball field to watch the ongoing fastpitch tournament. 

Stephanie recounts to us the mythos of the Chicken Chew: 

One year, the chicken was undercooked, and nearly the entire town came down with food poisoning—this gave me nightmarish flashbacks of Milwaukee’s Crypto Outbreak of 1993. Another year, an ATV flipped during the Chew parade and pinned a woman to a wall, leading to the amputation of her leg and the ban of ATVs during the parade. Mud volleyball was also banned after a failure to check the mud pit leading to someone impaling their foot with a rusty nail. 

I can feel the danger in the air—it is electrifying.

Water is Life, and We Filled the Lake with Feces: The Crypto Outbreak of 1993

Water is Life, and We Filled the Lake with Feces: The Crypto Outbreak of 1993

This story is nothing new. Milwaukee’s sewage dumping habits reached a peculiar climax with the Cryptosporidiosis outbreak of 1993.

12:30 p.m.

We witness the strange spectacle that is the “Chicken Drop.” The Chicken Drop is an event in which attendees purchase numbered paddles. A chicken is then dropped into a cage with a bingo board-like floor. The winner of the drop is determined by whose number the chicken shits on. 

We overhear several people exclaim their surprise that they are able to use a real chicken again. I can only imagine what caused the ban on the use of chickens for the drop, but its mandate has come to an end.

1:30 p.m.

We head to Klinger’s Real Barbecue for an intermission in the Chew for some peach old-fashioneds and ribs. If anyone finds themselves near Wautoma, Wisconsin, I highly recommend it; it’s some of the best barbecue in the Midwest.

We also are joined by Stephanie’s Maid of Honor, Hayley, and Hayley’s sister, Casey. Stephanie’s family declares that Drake and Hayley are officially “twins.”

3:00 p.m.

The group heads to a bar called the Rough Cut Saloon. The Rough Cut Saloon has long captivated Drake and I as it is located in the heart of the Coloma Trailer Park. Having a long-held belief that grimy places are more fun than affluent ones, this is our mecca. However, we had avoided it previously due to the danger of COVID-19. Our wait has come to an end. 

We enter, and I sidle up to the bar. Recognizing that this bar was not the place for anything “fancy” like a mojito or margarita, I order a whiskey ginger.

Time completely stopped.

The bartender, who looks like a short, grumpy cat, growls, “What the hell is a whiskey ginger?” I respond that it is whiskey and ginger beer. He grunts that he can’t do it, as a can of ginger beer sits mere feet from him. As other patrons also exclaim their shock to hear some sort of fancy boy ordering a drink so foreign, I cave and order a rum and coke. The bartender obliges.

4:00 p.m.

Charlie, Drake, and I head to a towny bar called The Cabin. This time, Drake orders the fabled whisky ginger.

Yet, again. Time completely stops, and the bartender and patrons exclaim their shock. 

Having already learned my lesson, I order a Miller Lite. Drake, still shook, asks if he can simply have a water.

And again, the bar erupts with shock over someone ordering a water.

In fairness, I believe these people evolved past the need for water and developed the evolutionary traits needed to survive solely off of beer and liquor.

5:00 p.m.

We head back to Stephanie’s parents' home and play with Charlie's dog, Fenway. Hayley disappears into the garage and emerges with a large hunting bow, and launches an arrow off the deck haphazardly into a field. She announces that it’s time for the twins to start doing birthday shots together—Drake is officially summoned.

5:30 p.m.

We consume Pizza Hut; Stephanie’s parents bring gifts for the “twins” (despite having only met Drake hours earlier) and the married couple-to-be. Drake dons a Golden Birthday Girl Sash and a birthday balloon around his wrist. 

6:30 p.m.

Exhibiting handmade v-necks indicating our role in the upcoming wedding, we walk with Stephanie’s family to the Chew. Hayley moons oncoming traffic. Drake receives angry stares from passersby cars and trucks. Stephanie cuts the balloon off Drake’s wrist because “she doesn’t want anyone to kill him.” The sash remains.

8:00 p.m.

Charlie, Drake, and I walk from softball to go watch the Blooze Brothers perform. A tall, intoxicated man yells, “Are you the best man?!” As my shirt displays my role in the upcoming nuptials, I affirm. He proceeds to unsolicitedly yell—inches from my face— “the best advice he’d ever been given” for my best man’s speech. The first piece of which is to keep it short—wise indeed. The second piece is to avoid talking about all the times “we’ve sniffed cocaine off the ass of strippers.” Advice I will take to my grave. 

Though I have avoided catching COVID-19 up until this point, I recognize that the man probably just blasted me with enough viral particles to kill a small village.

The “Chicken Drop,” pre-shit The “Chicken Drop,” pre-shit
The birthday boy, in his “golden birthday girl” sash The birthday boy, in his “golden birthday girl” sash
Blooze Brother mobile Blooze Brother mobile
Chicken Chew softball championship trophy to Busch Light Chicken Chew softball championship trophy to Busch Light

8:30 p.m. 

While grabbing another beer from the concession stand, I see a softball trophy constructed of beer cans. I don’t know what it means, but I do know it is art.

9:20 p.m.

The Blooze Brothers pause their performance for the fireworks show. I can’t say I feel overly patriotic, but there is a certain simple grandeur to it all.

10:00 p.m.

We venture to the carnival area of the festival. The rides shriek like tortured banshees. I value my life too much to test any of them. But not quite enough to prevent me from ordering a ginormous corn dog. 

A gruff middle-aged man approaches us with what I assume is his tweaker son. After small talk about corn dogs, they solemnly confer to us that there’s a lot of “great tail here, but we need to watch out for jailbait,” as a group of what look to be 14-year-olds walk by. We scramble away from the derelicts out of fear.

10:30 p.m.

We watch as the Port-A-Potties are zipped-tied off one by one due to overflowing. It feels like this is a feature rather than a bug. It was beautiful, it was terrible.

10:45 p.m.

We return to the Blooze Brothers for dancing, and Hayley gifts me a penis straw. The band continues to rock on. Some young twenty-year-old boys parade a “Fuck Biden” flag. I couldn’t help thinking that Joe Biden is a seemingly monogamous married man, but alas. Hayley punches away the flag multiple times. I am proud.

O'er the cow-themed ice-cream trucks we watched… O'er the cow-themed ice-cream trucks we watched…
Hellishly shrieking carnival ride Hellishly shrieking carnival ride
A man who wants to “Fuck Joe Biden” A man who wants to “Fuck Joe Biden”
Me drinking out of a penis straw. Drake, channeling Coloma energy, crushing a beer Me drinking out of a penis straw. Drake, channeling Coloma energy, crushing a beer


12:00 a.m.

Stephanie’s mom drives us to a biker bar called Johann’s. A bottle of what is called “Killer Kool-Aid” appears on the table for shots. I can only guess that its saccharine contents are made from the blood of the Kool-Aid man himself.

The wedding party dances around the bar as I use the penis straw, dictating traffic like an airport runway worker.

Hayley convinces the bartender to give her a free Punisher shirt for her “twin brother.” She wrestles it onto Drake, and he obliges to wear it for the remainder of the night despite our usual mockery of sad, aspirational Punisher men.

We finally head back around bar close, and go to bed.

7:00 a.m.

I discover that the toilet appears to have been mysteriously clogged in the middle of the night. As I test the toilet to see if this is, in fact, the case, water spills out all over the floor—a perfect end to a perfect weekend.

Drake, aka “The Punisher,” shows his approval of his first Chicken Chew
Drake, aka “The Punisher,” shows his approval of his first Chicken Chew

Recanting the remarkable experience that just unfolded, Drake says it best:

“I’m still in disbelief; I’m not sure how that experience can ever be topped.”

Until next time, Coloma Chicken Chew

About the author

Alexander Nikolai

Making Milwaukee weirder one day at a time.