Return of The Tomato Wars
The East Side’s Tomato Romp returns this Saturday for its biggest, messiest year yet.
Eating, drinking, and throwing tomatoes: that’s what’s in store for this Saturday, September 7th.
The East Side’s Tomato Romp is back for its 13th year, but this celebration is unlike years past. In fact, this celebration is much, much bigger. And whether you love them or hate them, the much debated fruit-or-vegetable will be difficult to escape in certain parts of the East Side on Saturday.
North Ave. couldn’t have made for a better home for the Tomato Romp these last 13 years. Lisa Liligren, a former marketing contractor with the East Side BID, came up the idea of bringing a tomato fight to Milwaukee after inspiration from Spain’s La Tomatina Fight. It was also a spin-off of the harvest time festival when the Green Market was held in the Beans and Barley parking lot. Under the direction of the East Side BID’s original Executive Director, Jim Plaisted, the Tomato Romp became the first iteration of Spain’s tomato festival in North America, and today is replicated in cities across the country. The purpose behind the Milwaukee romp isn’t just to throw tomatoes at each other, but to help the fight against hunger.
Eight thousand pounds of rotten tomatoes will be donated by Maglio Companies, the major sustaining sponsor of this event. The Tomato Romp simply wouldn’t happen without Maglio’s involvement and partnership. These tomatoes will be used in the fun, and seriously messy Tomato Fight for about 15 minutes. The fight proceeds are donated to the Riverwest Food Panty to help bring healthy, sustainable food to the needy in Riverwest and Harambee neighborhoods.
“I’m looking forward to participating for the first time, both as an individual and a business,” says Zierath. “We’re really looking forward to this expanded format and to of course romp those tomatoes!”
The event has always taken place around E. North Ave. It’s moved streets a few times in its 13-year history, but it’s been held on N. Murray Ave. in the past handful of years. It will be returning to Murray Ave on Saturday.
“We’ll have specials all day but we’re really excited for the whole area,” says Zierath. “The BID continues bringing exciting events to the East Side and furthers the resurgence of that entire iconic intersection. With Von Trier, Hacienda, Hooligans, Izzy Hops; there’s a renewed sense of pride and it’s once again a premier spot.”
There are multiple pieces that make up the Tomato Romp puzzle. The day begins with a Bloody Mary Challenge from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Participants can drink and vote for the best Bloody Mary on the East Side. Participating bars compete for your vote, and celebrity judges award a Critics’ Choice award at the festival. After all the votes have been counted, the Peoples’ Choice award will be announced. The winner of the People’s Choice award will host the next Cocktails & Conversation event on September 18th from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
Von Trier will be participating with their from-scratch mix.
“We have a few tricks up our sleeves for our 5-ounce Bloody Marys,” says Zierath. “We have a Bloody Mary mix from scratch and some special surprises for garnishes. Everything will be mini.”
Then after everyone has voted for their favorite Bloody Mary, the parade, which takes participants to the Tomato Fight, will begin. Led by the energetic and fun Pardigm Drum Line, the parade is known for its costume contest which includes even more chances to win prizes. The food fight to end all food fights starts when the parade concludes, around 3:45 p.m. and goes until about 4:15 p.m. This is the perfect opportunity to enter a cage and hurl rotten tomatoes at hundreds of your newest and messiest friends. And after it’s over, the Milwaukee Fire Department will, for the first time ever, hosing off all participants.
If playing the tomatoey version of dodgeball isn’t necessary your cup of tea, there will be a ton of new activities for all tastes. Smirnoff and Ace Hardware are hosting a backyard lounge area, which will serve as the perfect spot to break between Bloodies. There will be yard Jenga, lawn Connect Four, and bags. Educators Credit Union is bringing a trailer filled with a photo booth, cash tornado and more. The owners of Nine Below, Axe, Splash, and North South Club are hosting an outdoor shuffleboard court. Maryland Avenue Montessori will have carnival games, and the East Side BID is bringing in a caricature artist, local artist doing live art, and DJ Nikki LaBomba from No Stress Collective to keep the fun going all day.
Pardigm Drum Line will stick around after the fight and march everyone over to Hacienda for a brand new after-party titled “The Beer Chaser.” Hacienda will offer specials on Michaeladas and participants are welcome to stay through the night when ‘Cullah and the Comrades’ take the stage for a 10 p.m. show.
“I’m just hoping to be prepared for the weather if isn’t the best, that is, for the cold hose-down from the Fire Department,” says Zierath. “I have thrown a tomato before, so everyone should watch out.”
Throw tomatoes with Milwaukeeans, visitors, and business owners alike. The 13th Annual Tomato Romp will take place on Saturday, September 7th from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets are still available for both the Bloody Mary Challenge and the Tomato Fight. To learn more, or to purchase your tickets, visit its Eventbrite page. To learn more about the Hacienda’s “The Beer Chaser” after party, visit its Facebook page. And, as always, viewing the Tomato Fight is free for all spectators, and is guaranteed to be very fun to watch.