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Look Up North: Wisconsin-themed Will’s Northwoods Inn crowns a queen

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The question arises. “Why Musky Fest?” Then Kevin Kruse, Will’s Northwoods Inn manager and event organizer, straightforwardly responds, “Why not?”

Will’s Northwoods Inn owner Jon Bunge opened his North Side tavern as a unique replica of the familiar bars and taverns found near his birthplace in northern Wisconsin. Its seventeenth annual Musky Fest is the reproduction of the ongoing, 59-year-old Hayward, Wisconsin tradition “celebrating Wisconsin’s Northwoods and its great fishing tradition.” Following in Hayward fashion, the event rocks a block-party-esque set-up with a large stage entertaining live music, give-aways (including a Leinenkugel-sponsored canoe) and the infamous crowning of the Musky Queen.

“The Musky Queen represents the bar, good times and must-have outdoor and Wisconsin experience,” Kruse says. Once candidates are chosen, the queen must guest-bartend throughout the event and is selected by the complicated electoral process of “one drink, one vote.” The dame with the most votes marches away with a tiara, sash, stuffed Musky, keg party and a choice of cash or a week at Aunt Hannah’s cottage in Wisconsin (which lacks outdoor plumbing and heat—a Musky Queen fantasy).

Though Chicago-raised seven-time fest-goer Frank Vanbezanbe has “never lasted long enough” to catch the crowning, he and fellow-Chicagoan Kyle Speer agree that the best part of the festival is “listening to the Musky Queens’ sales spiels,” he says, as they sip beer out of plastic cups. “We like Wisconsin.” (Andrea Giampoli)

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