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On our June 26th beer trail ride we had two places we wanted to visit. No time was wasted standing in Don and Judy’s driveway trying to decide where to go. Instead we piled into the white van with Don behind the wheel and Marv next to him (so they could talk basketball) and headed downtown to Main Street. Fletch’s was our destination. Marv and I had heard about the new tavern at 566 Main Street from Mayor Steve Cummings way back in March at the League of Women Voters candidates forum. Steve was running for another term as

Judy and Marv at Fletch’s

mayor. “You have to go there,” he urged us, “to see how the building has been remodeled. Cross the street from the Roxy,” he added as a League member led him to his place on the panel.

Marv and I checked it out while shopping at a Saturday farm market. Lots of the taverns and restaurants on Main Street have outdoor seating and special drinks and breakfasts during the farm market. Fletch’s was no exception. They had a Bloody Mary bar. Skewers sticking out of the drink held such items as dill pickles, cheese cubes, tomatoes, sausages and even small burgers. Marvin suspected there might even be some booze in there somewhere.

 

Fletch’s Bar Check the Swordfish

Don parked the white van in a small parking lot on the south side of Fletch’s. We took a bunch of photos of the impressive exterior. Then we entered and gasped “Cool!” The wood panel walls and ceiling were warmed a mellow brown by the late afternoon sun. The bar room is a large square space with tables at the Main Street window. The L-shaped bar is off to the right. As we walked toward it Judy announced, “I’m not having a Spotted Cow!” Well, she had twenty-three taps to choose from. She settled for Honey Blonde Ale from Central

Our friendly bartender, Tony

Waters in Amherst WI. Elaine chose El Wisco from Lakefront Brewery, Milwaukee. Marvin had Alaskan Amber, Juneau, AK. I had a Blu Bobber from Fox River Brewery, Oshkosh; bartender Tony scooped a small handful of blueberries from a carton and added them to my beer. Don had New Glarus’ Spotted Cow and Gary, our designated driver, had nothing. Later Don, ever the adventurer, ordered a sample of a Neapolitan stout. Remember Neapolitan ice cream with its strawberry, vanilla and chocolate flavors. Well, this stout was supposed to have all those flavors also. Let’s just say that we didn’t think so.

Though Fletch’s is in an old building, its interior is very unlike the usual old taverns such as The Copper Mule. For one thing there is very little stuff hanging on the walls. A list of the current twenty-three taps above the bar, three TV sets and

Chevy Chase as Fletch

a stuffed marlin. “The owner, Jeremiah West, said we had to hang that,” bartender Tony told us pointing at the Marlin. Fletch’s opened May 6, but the renovations had been going on for months. Several pictures of Chevy Chase as Fletch, a Lakers basketball player Number 99 or just the jersey itself hang upstairs and downstairs. I think this is from the original Fletch movie released in 1985. There was a second Fletch movie, but no basketball in that one.

We remember the building as the home of Jess and Nick’s pizza. Its last tenant was a tax firm. Stone pillars flank the large hoop window. The name WENRICH is carved in stone above the windows. At a recent farmers market, Randy R. Domer was selling his books about Oshkosh (Yesterday in Oshkosh…My Hometown and Oshkosh: Land of Lakeflies, Bubblers and Squeaky Cheese) at a stand across the street from Fletch’s. I asked if he knew who Wenrich was. “Sure,” he said, “He had his monument store here. Sold mausoleums, gravestones, monuments of all sorts and so forth.” I gave him my email and by early afternoon had received a picture of Wenrich’s from back in the day. Mystery solved. Our son Tom also did some research online so we learned that after the monument store closed, the Town Grill restaurant occupied the site until Jess & Nick’s Pizza arrived in the early 1960s.

Enrich Building from Old Oshkosh Files

Elaine and Judy took my camera and climbed the stairs to the balcony. They snapped a lot of photos of the balcony and also the view of the downstairs from the balcony. Meanwhile I visited with a guy at the bar and Tony. We talked about horseback riding and raccoon hunting. He said he used a Havahart trap. I didn’t ask what he did with the raccoon after it entered the trap. Elaine and Gary see a lot of raccoons on their land out of the city. They once had a cat that frolicked with the raccoons.

Fletch’s doesn’t serve food (except for all the stuff they pile on those Bloody Marys on farm market Saturdays). However, they have a deal with The Varsity Club that is in an

Elaine with Fletch Tee on the Balcony

adjoining building to the north. You can order your food at the Varsity and carry it to a table at Fletch’s. Don’t even have to go outside, as there is a connecting door.

 

Judy and Gary at our table

Fletch’s has tables at the front windows. Gary pulled the necessary number of chairs up to two and we sat down to talk and drink our beer. Elaine told us about the 130-acre prairie and oak savannah at Ripon College. In addition to all the prairie plants and oak trees, it has a newly installed solar system display of the sun and the planets in relationship to each other and to the sun in their proportional distances. These solar bodies are ceramic half shells set on the ground. Some have their moons too. A hiking paths connects them. So you could walk from Mars to Neptune say. The walk to Pluto from earth is quite a hike, however. And, Elaine added, if the nearest star, Alpha Centauri, were added to the display, it would be in Quito, Ecuador. Better to take a plane.

View from the Balcony

Propped up on our table was a card listing the special drinks. Old Fashioned: Honey, Claret, Peach, Raspberry and Blueberry. Or Moscow Mules: Traditional, Orange, Citrus, Cherry, Long Island, and Mexican. My Grandmother Lala would have had a field day with those. She was always one to try the new and unusual. Her husband Butch never drank anything alcoholic. His cigars were enough.

We would have stayed longer, but it was time to move on to our second stop. Out in the parking lot we noticed a bump out on the wall of Fletch’s. Maybe it had been a flue for a fireplace? Or maybe a bay window? We wondered. There was a basement window in it that we peered in. Oh man, a badly broken staircase that led to a basement that looked like something from a horror movie. Best not to go there.

Our second stop was going to be Christine’s, the eggroll heaven. We knew they were remodeling their new location, but were not sure if it was finished. “I’ll check,” said Gary and took off jogging the one block north up Main Street. He came back—not even out of breath—“No, still closed for renovations.” Well, readers, where did we go? You’ll have to wait for our next blog post to know.

Some of the 23 Taps

 

The chatter had started on Facebook in April about a new restaurant, Paloma, good wine, beer and spirits and a taco menu. That’s right booze and tacos. We talked it over. It wasn’t old. And it really wasn’t a tavern. But…we’d heard the chef, Ryan Nolan from Mahoney’s, was the mastermind behind the tacos. We liked his cuisine. And so it was decided.

Home of Tacos and Tequila

Our third stop on May 2 was Paloma. Our designated driver, Gary, zigzagged the white van from Kelly’s parking lot onto Oshkosh Avenue (Highway 21). We drove past the now closed Robbins Supper Club and reminisced about the many meals we had there. The for sale sign is still out front, but we had heard that a brewpub was going to take over the place. Marv and I told how a former waiter there said a tunnel ran from the building to the riverfront. He and a friend walked through it and noted that it was very old. Maybe dated back to the 1920s or 1930s. We wondered if it was used during Prohibition.

We continued west through the four roundabouts on Highway 21 over Interstate 41 to Emmers Road. This is not a neighborhood I’m familiar with, so I was glad Gary was driving. He turned right onto Emmers lane and then right again into the parking lot of a tiny strip mall. There at the end was Paloma. A rumor says before Paloma, the place was a Chinese restaurant; others said it was a Blimpie’s.

Paloma’s has a storefront look with large glass windows. We could see many people at tables and at the bar. The front bar is

Paloma’s Bar

smooth white, and marble like. The back bar is mirrors with glass shelves nicely lighted. Above that are three large screen TVs. The dining room is large and aglow with interesting light fixtures and the now very popular Edison bulbs. A few weeks after our visit, I looked at the photos I’d taken. Lousy exterior shots, so I drove over with son-in-law Michael to take some new photos. One of the three bosses of the place was there. He unlocked the door and let us in for a look. That when we noticed the 80 bottles of tequila—no two alike.

Back on May 3rd we were shown to a table and Casey, the general manager, explained the beer choices. Paloma prides itself on its large variety of craft beers and Margaritas. Marvin, Elaine and I had Zombie Dust from 3 Floyds Brewing Company in Munster, Indiana. Don had Modelo Especial, a Mexican beer−very appropriate since this was a taco place. Gary and Elaine had traveled often to Mexico back in the 80s and 90s and said they had had enough of Mexican beer back then. I’m not too sure what they meant by that. But Gary, our designated driver, went with water. Judy had a margarita; it was served in a tumbler and she felt it should have been in a coupe glass typical of margaritas. Our Zombie Dust was a special at that time. Indeed, when Michael and I stopped in on July 4, the Zombies were no longer available.

We studied the taco menu. Of the ten tacos listed two appeared to be “typical” Latino fare: the carne asada and quinoa bean. Other choices reflected the rest of the world. The menu listed a Wisconsin taco with bratwurst and others that were not your typical taco fillings. Except for Gary who ordered the chicken tortilla soup, the rest of us chose tacos. I had two: quinoa bean and pork carnita with apple. Marv had potato and a fish taco. We kidded Marv about the potato taco. Starchy enough? But he touchily reminded us that like corn, potatoes are a Native American food thanks to the Incas of Peru. Judy and Don were at the opposite end of the table, so I’m not sure what they ordered, but I know it was three tacos. We also had an appetizer of salsa and chips. Very good. The chips were still warm and the salsa was spicy, but not burn-your-tongue hot.

 

Very tasty Chips and Salsa

A week later Marv, son Tom and I flew to Sacramento, California, to spend a week with our daughter Brenda and son-in-law Michael. One night, Michael picked up supper for us at a Latino restaurant in Davis. These tacos were authentic Mexican fare—goat tacos called birria.

The six of us have often commented on how the restaurant fare has changed in the fifty-plus years we have lived here. Thanks to immigrants from Southeast Asia and Central/South America and Africa we now have restaurants that reflect those ethnic groups. And, we can shop for authentic Middle Eastern food at the Mediterrean grocery store on Murdock Avenue. And we can buy fresh foods at our farm market from Asian and Latino farmers. Lovely variety!

 

Back Bar with Tequila on the Left

 

Home of Tacos and Tequila

Gary drove us from The Copper Mule across the Fox River to 219 Wisconsin Avenue on May 21. He pulled the white van into the small parking lot in front of Kelly’s, which sits on the northeast corner of Wisconsin Avenue and High Street. Kelly’s is one of three taverns in

Can’t Miss That Sign

the University area. Since Gary, Marv and Don were in one way or another connected to the University, we have been avoiding these bars mostly frequented mostly by college students. However, the idea that any student would recognize them and ask to have their grade changed is pretty far-fetched since they have been retired for many years. But this was a Tuesday—one day before a student drinking weekend starts—we decided to go to Kelly’s.

We were right. The only student in the place was Madison and she was tending bar. When we commented on the fact that the place was devoid of students, she said “Students love it here” but not on Mondays or Tuesdays. She is a student from Minot, North Dakota and on the UWO women’s gymnastics team; her specialties are “bar and floor.” (Seems right, some how, for a bartender.) But, why come here and pay out of state tuition? Because of the gymnastics program was her answer. She added that many women on the team are out-of-staters. She is majoring in kinesthesiology and really likes UWO and Oshkosh. Could it be the water, we wondered. She spoke very highly of her coach. “So does your coach know you tend bar?” we asked. “Yes, she used to do that too.” That shut us up.

 

Our Gymnast Bartender

It was time to order some beer. Kelly’s has five tap beers: Coors, Bud Light, Miller Lite, Bush Light and LaBatt’s Blue. Marv, Elaine and I went north of the border and ordered LaBlatt from Canada. Don and Judy supported the New Glarus Wisconsin brewery by drinking Spotted Cow. It was the first Canadian beer I had had in a long time. Marvin and I used to live about 20 miles south of the Canadian border when we lived in Potsdam, New York back in the 1960s. Our main source of TV was Canadian. We saw Peter Jennings when he was just starting out as a news broadcaster. Canadian law strongly regulated beer ads on TV. No beer in glass, bottle or can could be shown. So the commercial would show people having a good time playing cards, fishing, eating or whatever but no beer. Lots of singing in the background would name the beer and sometimes a bottle cap or label would be shown.

Kelly’s Taps

Kelly’s is one of only three taverns east of the campus. (There are none near north, south or west of the campus.) When we moved here in the late 1960s, these three did not exist, but seven others did. Two were on High Avenue and were razed when the University expanded east.   One, My Brother’s Place, lasted until 1970. It had opened in 1900. The second one was called Giant Grip; it closed in 1955. The name sounds strange until you know that Oshkosh Trunk factory that made high-class steamer trunks and other luggage for travellers from 1898 to 1962 was located on High Avenue. Apparently it was really classy stuff with stores in New York, Paris and London. When we moved to town, that factory was still standing, but soon fell to the wrecking ball to make way for more college buildings.

The other five of the seven taverns were in a two-block area of Wisconsin Street just north of the Fox River. All of these have been torn down also. This two block area was known as the “strip” when the legal age for drinking in Wisconsin was lower than 21.

But, he was there at night?

Passage of the 26th Amendment in 1971lowered the voting age in the United States to 18. Wisconsin lawmakers made 18 the age of majority, meaning the drinking age dropped from 21 to 18. In 1983, Wisconsin raised the drinking age to 19. However in the summer of 1984 President Reagan signed a law requiring states to conform to a national drinking age of 21 by October 1, 1986 or face losing 5 percent of their highway allocation (10 percent by 1987). On September 1986 Wisconsin raised its minimum drinking age to 21.

In those years when the drinking age was 18 and then 19, the five old bars on “the strip” were crowded with students. Bouncers would permit only a certain number from entering, so it was common to see long lines of students waiting to get into their favorite tavern. We soon learned to avoid driving on Wisconsin Street at night in order to avoid running over a student inattentively crossing the street to get to a tavern.

Here is a list of those five bars, and if you were a UWO student in the 1970s to the mid 1980s you may have been one of those in line, ID card in hand to gain entrance. I’m only listing the taverns’ names during the “strip” era.

100 Wisconsin Street, My Brother’s Place (yes, it picked up the name of the one that had already been demolished.)

117 Wisconsin Street, Titan Tap

120 Wisconsin Street, Andy’s Library

122 Wisconsin Street, Tosh’s

201 Wisconsin Street Butch,’s

Tosh’s was the number one spot on St. Patrick’s Day. Of course the beer was tinted green. Supposedly Johnny Carson said on The Tonight Show, “If you can’t go to Ireland to celebrate St. Patrick Day, you can go to Tosh’s in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.” Or so Larry

Just drinking and chatting

Spanbauer’s book Oshkosh Neighborhood Taverns and the People Who Ran Them says. All of these were razed by 2001. Then, the bridge over the Fox River was rebuilt and what was left of the factories along the river was torn down. Now there is Steiger Park on the northwest side of the river and strip malls with restaurants and a bank on the east side.

It wasn’t the University’s presence that made these taverns popular originally. It was the high number of factories along the river. In addition to Oshkosh Trunk and Oshkosh Diamond Match Company, there was also Cook and Brown, Radford Company (lumber), Universal Foundry and Triangle Manufacturing. When these factories closed or moved and when the University expanded east to Wisconsin Street, so too did these taverns. Now there are only three and Kelly’s is the oldest (1974).

Kelly’s is not only popular with UW Oshkosh students, but also with visitors to the Experimental Aircraft Association that has its headquarters and museum at Whitman Field in Oshkosh and its annual one-week convention in late July. Thousands of visitors come to Oshkosh for this event making Whitman the world’s busiest airport for one week. The University rents out its 10-story Gruenhagan dormitory to EAA visitors. That makes Kelly’s a popular spot. They even put up a beer tent.

But back to our visit to Kelly’s. Except for Madison, the student bartender, and Kelly’s janitor we had the place to ourselves. Kelly’s doesn’t look like the old taverns. It’s only one story and one large room. The bar with about 20 stools is opposite the entrance. It is shaped like a question mark (?). The loop is to the right. The pool table, of course there is one, is to the right of the bar. There are also two dart machines, three “spin to win” machines and three TVs. The back bar is red brick with glass shelves. A big shelf holds the inexpensive booze. And a small shelf holds the “better” booze: Black Label Scotch, Rebel Yell, Maker’s Mark, Wild Turkey, Gray Goose Vodka, Jameson Whiskey and Tanqueray Gin. Well, maybe some student can afford the higher price stuff. After talking gymnastics’ with Madison, we listened to “the Cleaner” tell us about his job. He likes it. (I was tempted to ask him to drop in at my house and do the

Sign in the Women’s Restroom

kitchen floor.) Cleaning up after sloppy winter days is the hardest, he said.

The rest rooms are small, but have at least a sink in each one, rather than the sink standing outside the restrooms. Elaine snapped a picture of a sign in the women’s restroom “Employees have the right to cut in line.” Marv checked the men’s restroom. It had a Health Center on the wall with “Genie Delight” assorted surprises for fifty cents. “Trojan Pleasure Packs” for one dollar. Marv sends this cautionary note: “Remember Troy had its walls breached and lost the war.” Lastly a “Treasure Chest” with mixed adult novelties. Marvin hopes this assortment in an on-site Health Center brings some comfort to parents who might otherwise worry about their kids.

Outdoor on the north side of Kelly’s is a large outdoor drinking patio. This space is very popular with the EAA crowd. It’s also a place for welcome and farewell parties with the University students. But it was time to move on to a place that served more food than popcorn.

Our designated driver is waiting

 

Hugs and handshakes all around as we six got together for our first beer trail ride since November 2016. Don and Judy were back from Florida complaining a bit about the chilly weather on Tuesday May 2. We got into Don and Judy’s white van already knowing what our three stops would be. Don drove us through the four roundabouts on Ninth Avenue and then headed down to Oregon Street.

The Copper Mule with Ivy

Marvin rode shotgun so he and Don could talk UWO Basketball. Marv and I had attended all the home games for the men and women’s teams at Kolf Stadium, but Don had watched most of the games via video streaming from his home in Florida. Their talk was about who had improved, who had not, who was coming back, who quit the team and so forth. And what did Marv know about recruits for next year. Marv told Don how he occasionally sees a possible recruit with his/her parents in the Kolf gym while he and Andy are walking the track. “We know when there will be a recruit visit because the new scoreboard will be lighted,” he said.

A right turn onto Oregon took us to the front door of The Copper Mule, 919 Oregon Street. Don slipped the van into a parking spot in front of the tavern. We had been here before when the tavern was known as South End Zone. Then a Chicago Bears fan owned it. The Bears paraphernalia is gone. Now it’s displaying Packer objects, mainly Brett Favre memorabila. All four Number 4 jerseys from the professional teams he played on are proudly hanging just to the left of the entrance: Atlanta, Green Bay, New York and Minnesota. All but the one from Atlanta is signed. There is also an Aaron Rogers jersey, a Ray Nitzche

Bret Farve “Shrine”

jersey and a big picture of Vince Lombardi.

Seated below them is a life-size statue of a sitting Dan Ackroyd dressed as a Blues Brother: black suit, black fedora, diamond ring, tattooed fingers and a mug of beer in his left hand.

The floor plan here is the same as many other of the old bars in Oshkosh. A deep, narrow room, with a bar running along the long side. Across from the bar are two tiny rest rooms that jut out into the room. A sink is positioned between them. Then there is a back room with a pool table.

Gary and Dan Share a Moment

There has been a tavern at this address since 1910. According to Larry Spanbauer’s book Oshkosh Neighborhood Taverns and the People Who Ran Them, Frank Narkofski opened a tavern at this location and ran it until 1949. Spanbauer doesn’t say what its name was. After that it went through many owners and name changes: 1953-1970 Haberkorn’s Bar; 1970 – 1972 Jabber’s Bar; 1972-1988 Jim’s Bar; 1989-1990 Keith’s Joynt; 1991 Repro’s; 2001-2003 Pinky’s; 2003-2015? South End Zone.

We sat at bar stools at the mid-point of the bar and ordered from Jami. She told us the owners were Ray and Renee, but Jami was the one on duty tonight. There are five taps: Millers, Millers Lite, Bud, Bud Light, and Johnny Blood Red Ale from Title Town Brewery in Green Bay. Don and Elaine ordered the Johnny Blood Red Ale, Judy had a Millers Lite. Marv and I chose bottles of New Glarus’ Moon Man.

Jami, Master Mule Crafter

The Copper Mule is named after a famous drink, The Moscow Mule which is served in a copper mug. Jami wrote down the recipe for us

Moscow Mule

12 oz. copper mug filled with ice cubes

1 large lime wedge

2 shots of vodka

Ginger Beer

Squeeze the lime in the mug, drop it in. Add the vodka and fill the remainder with ginger beer.

Now, why is it called a “mule”? Why Moscow? I can only guess. Moscow because of the vodka? Mule because of “the kick”? Though I didn’t order one here, I’ve had this drink a few times. Marv has been known to mix one up for us on occasion. Never in a copper mug, however. And he squeezes in the juice from half a lime. (Gotta get our Vitamin C!) Would the copper mug make it taste different? If you wish to now more about this drink, you should read pages 130-131 “The Cock ‘N Bull” in the book Of All the Gin Joints by Mark Bailey, or go to Wikipedia. According to Bailey, the drink was invented at The Cock ‘N Bull and the “Moscow” comes from Smirnoff vodka and the “Mule” from the “kick.” But read the book.

The Copper Mule has the colorful clutter one finds in these old Oshkosh taverns. Posters are arranged over the back bar so a drinker at

Bingo, Anyone?

the bar easily knows there’s a meat raffle every Friday and Bingo every Tuesday. This was the first time I saw a notice for Bingo. Lots of Oshkosh bars have dart tournaments, Cribbage nights. Lots of Oshkosh bars sponsor softball teams and volleyball teams, but this was the first time I heard of Bingo. A day or so later I mentioned the bingo night to a friend of mine. He told me that other bars in Oshkosh also have Bingo nights. My memories of bingo go back to grade school birthday parties and church picnics. As a kid I went to the small rural Catholic parish picnics in Sheboygan County with my dad. While he talked to his friends and patients, I played Bingo. The tokens were dried kernels of corn.

We wondered how different would this tavern look if we stepped back in time to, say, 1960. Still the same clutter of signs, but for different beers. Maybe Hamms? But the biggest difference would be the presence of ashtrays on the bar, cigarette smoke in the air and cigarette vending machines. Don’t miss any of that!

This Guy Hung Around Too Long

Time to move on to our next stop. We said good-bye to Jami and thanked her for the Moscow Mule recipe.

“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times…” Dickens wrote as the opening line of his novel about London and Paris during the French Revolution. However, I write a blog on beer and taverns in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, so I’m not dealing with the best and worst. Rather with have and have not and why. My two cities are Oshkosh, Wisconsin and Davis, California. They have some aspects in common and other aspects wildly different. Why Davis? Well, our daughter Brenda and son-in-law Michael are scientists at the

Brenda and Michael sampling an Oshkosh tavern

University of California, Davis. We took them out one night to Jerry’s Bar to see a real Oshkosh tavern. While talking to owner Scotty Engel, Michael told him Davis had only five taverns. Scotty’s jaw dropped. I said that can’t be, but Michael was positive-only 5 taverns.

Here’s what they have in common: First they are approximately the same size: Oshkosh at 66,083 and Davis at 66,205. Second they are both flat. Oshkosh was on the tail end of a glacial lobe which 15,000 to 10,000 years ago covered the area and then retreated and slid back many times, thereby leveling the area into a flat plain. Why Davis is flat I don’t know, since I haven’t read anything about ice age activity there. But, trust me, it’s flat. Both cities are bicycle friendly (I think the flatness leads to that) with Davis claiming to be the “most bicycle friendly town in the world.” Third, they are each the largest cities in their county. Fourth, each is home to a state university. UC Davis has a much larger student body, over 30 thousand. UW Oshkosh has around 14,000 students.

So, other than climate—it doesn’t snow in Davis-how do they differ? Considering that this blog deals with beer, drinking in taverns, I’ll bet that’s where the big difference lies.

Yep. Oshkosh currently has about 134 places that have a Class A liquor license. That includes the Roxy, Mahoney’s, Beckett’s and others that are primarily restaurants with a bar. But even after subtracting them, there are probably 100 places that are taverns. Most of these are located on corners in residential areas. Their primary purpose is serving booze; however, many often serve “bar food,” i.e. pizza, burgers, fish fries.

Now in Davis the actual number of taverns as defined in the previous sentence is only five. What? In a University town? Maybe those 30,000 plus students avoid alcohol. Maybe some do, but there are many drinking options these students have like sorority and fraternity houses, restaurants and wine bars.

My purpose here is to explain why Oshkosh has so many taverns and Davis has so few. To do this I’m going back to the 1800s. For the answer lies in the past.

I’ll start with Davis. It came into being in 1868 when a depot for the Southern Pacific was located there on a ranch owned by Jerome C. Davis, a prominent cattle rancher and farmer. He sold his 7,000 or so acres to the railroad. I’m sure that the location of the railroad there made it much easier for him and his fellow ranchers to ship their cattle. The town grew slowly; it was not incorporated until 1917.

Oshkosh is much older. Its first settlers were fur traders, but its big claim to fame was its lumber industry. The city was incorporated in 1853 and it already had many sawmills. Logs were floated down the Wolf/Fox Rivers to the city. The arrival of a railroad in 1859 not only made it possible for lumber companies to ship their products to growing cities like Chicago, but also made it possible for immigrants, primarily from Germany, to arrive to work in these mills. Given the large number of lumber mills, there was a high demand for these workers. By 1860 Oshkosh had picked up the nickname of “Sawdust Capital of the World.” By 1874 there were 47 sawmills and 15 shingle mills in the city.

Factories of that time were dangerous, noisy and dirty. There were no unions to limit the working hours or to improve working conditions. There was a high demand for workers both skilled and unskilled. Pay was as low as the factory owner could get. Taverns sprang up on street corners between factory and home. They offered a respite to the factory worker on his walk from factory to home or home to factory. Here the men could talk about their home country in their native language. They could share the miseries of their factory work with each other. They could complain about the meanness of their bosses. They could bitch about their wife and kids. They could partake of the free lunch that many taverns offered. They could play schafkopf, i.e. sheepshead, with the boys. They could fill a growler and take it home. Many of the taverns we visit trace their existence back to 1880s. Certainly there were many dozens of taverns earlier than that which have ceased to exist. A major fire in 1875 that destroyed much of the downtown destroyed many taverns also. For we have been told that Main Street from the Fox River to Church Street was lined with taverns on both sides.

Well, that explains why there were such a high number of taverns before Prohibition, but why are so many of them still around today? The last of the lumber companies closed its doors in 2007; most of the others were closed by the 1990s. Well, here’s reason two as to why Oshkosh has so many taverns. Obviously the gemütlichkeit established in the pre-prohibition years still hangs on. Recall also that Oshkosh is not only on a river, but also the shores of Lake Winnebago. This area is popular for fishers—from the sturgeon-spearing season in winter to the bass and walleye fishing the rest of the year. And lots of hunters live here. Where else can you talk about the one that got away or the one you snagged, or the number of points on the antlers of the deer? A tavern, of course. And all those sheephead games that were popular in the early years have still held on. Only now there are also cribbage games and tournaments and, of course, softball teams and dart teams supported by taverns. And the latest Corn Hole (an adult version of bean bags) games. Lastly every tavern except two has a pool table that leads to pool tournaments. And let’s not forget the raffles, special parties on Packer Days and the widely popular meat raffles.

Prohibition did not end the taverns in Oshkosh as it may have in other cities and states. Many of them continued to run as taverns, sometimes hiding behind a soda fountain and ice cream parlor, but still serving liquor. You just had to know whom to ask. We notice now that some of the neighborhood taverns are disappearing. We think the fact that people aren’t walking, but rather driving explains that partly. Most neighborhood taverns don’t have parking lots and many are on streets where parking is prohibited.

But, stop into any of them—especially on the weekend—and you will find a friendly crowd of young and old, men, and women swapping stories and having a good time.

But why is Davis so different? Or is it Oshkosh that’s out of step? I’d like to think that back in the day when Davis was just a railroad depot amid cattle ranches and gold prospectors that there was at least one tavern. You know, something that looked like The Long Branch in the TV show Gunsmoke. A long bar with a heavily made-up Miss Kitty holding court. Maybe a bartender with garters on the sleeves of his white shirt ready to pour you a shot of rotgut. Maybe a gambler playing cards with the locals and trying to strip them of their money. And a couple of cowboys having a fistfight with one of them getting tossed out through the swinging doors.

Well, I will probably never know. But I hope this sheds some light on tavern scenes here and there.

For our third stop Tuesday, November 19, all we had to do was cross the street. We were still at “Rocket Corners.” If we had the time and

Warm Sign on a Cold Night

Warm Sign on a Cold Night

thirst, we could still visit a few more bars on this intersection (Calhoun’s Beach Club, Mabel Murphy, Barley & Hops) without leaving the corners of Irving and Main.

We had been to Twisted Roots before when it was St. Thomas bar right next to Calhoun’s. Now under a new owner, it had changed its name and sign. The exterior (cept for the name) looked the same, but much of the interior had changed. There was a new back bar custom-made for the tavern and its new owner Brenda S. The wood was darker and the shelving changed. There were three TVs all showing college basketball games. One item on the back bar wall remained the same: the large statue of the Clydesdale horses in a Budweiser ad.

 

Elaine, Friends & Clydesdales

Elaine, Friends & Clydesdales

The floor plan of Twisted Roots is similar to dozens of Oshkosh Taverns built in the late 1880s and 1890s: a long narrow room with a bar running along one wall and a smaller back room. In this back room is a pool table and a couple of small tables. Rest rooms were added later to these places and as a result are usually small and cramped. The men’s room here juts out into the barroom and measures about 8 feet by 3 feet. Hard to turn around in a place like that. Some folks might have to back in.

 

Except for a “regular” at the end of the bar, we were the only patrons at that time. But according to the tavern’s Facebook page, this is a popular place with lots of parties including a costumed Halloween party that was held, of course, on Halloween. Evan the bartender poured us a small pitcher of Blue Moon and handed out five glasses. None for Gary, our designated driver. By the way, Gary does drink beer, but not when at a wheel. There are six beers on tap, but the small pitcher special appealed the most to us.

“Why,” I asked Evan, “did the owner name the place Twisted Roots?” His answer was vague. “I think it has to do with family,” he

Our Genial Bartender: Evan

Our Genial Bartender: Evan

said. “You know, family tree, roots…” Suddenly I heard my mother’s voice in my head. “Don’t go there!” she would admonish my sister and me when we asked about my dad’s family. Of course, this made Ann and me all the more curious. Whatever. We decided, “not to go there” and more talk about the name Twisted Roots died.

Just a few years ago we would have found bars like this offering Jell-O or pudding shots. That fad seems to have died out. In its place now are mystery shots. Sitting on the back bar were five liquor bottles in brown paper bags that concealed their labels. The Mystery Shots were one dollar each. Too cheap to resist. To decide which one we would try, we rolled a die. The number on the die matched a number on a bottle. Marvin rolled a one. His Mystery Shot, he said, had a grape flavor. Each of us got something different. Elaine said hers reminded her of root beer. Each

The Mystery Shots Tempting Us

The Mystery Shots Tempting Us

of us had a different bottle. Keep in mind that Gary is our designated driver, so he neither rolled the die nor had a Mystery Shot. We all got kinda silly over the Mystery Shots. Mine, I recall, was just weird and reminded me of my grandma, Lala. She would buy bottle of liqueur just because the bottle was pretty or she liked the color of the booze. Her husband never drank anything alcoholic. As a result Lala would foist some strange colored stuff on us when we came to visit. My dad called it “Rot Gut.”

We decided not talk election returns—not wanting to spoil our evening. Instead we got on “how did you meet?” I started to tell my version of how I met Marv in an American Literature seminar at UW Madison. As usual Marv said I remembered it incorrectly and told his version. He thinks we met on a tour of the prison at Waupun. Whatever. I know

Elaine & Judy Talking weddings

Elaine & Judy Talking weddings

memory is “faulty.”   Elaine and Gary met at Ohio University. Next question was how long did you date before tying the knot. A little less than a year was everyone’s answer. Marv and I have been married the longest; then come Elaine and Gary. Don and Judy are the “newly weds” who will celebrate their 50th this summer. Whew! Marv and I were each 24 when we tied the knot in Madison.

Maybe it was the Mystery Shots or maybe remembrances of things past, but Evan teased us saying we’d have to calm down or we’d have to leave. He was joking, I am sure. Nevertheless it was time for us to walk to Jabroni’s parking lot where the white van had been parked all this time. Designated driver Gary drove us home where we said warm good byes to Don and Judy who were Florida bound in a couple of weeks. We’d be saying farewell to Gary and Elaine in another month. That left Marv and me to enjoy a Wisconsin winter and Titan basketball. And next winter we can add the Bucks farm team to our winter outings!

Twisted Roots's New Back Bar

Twisted Roots’s New Back Bar

Terry’s Bar: Memories

Don turned over the keys to the white van to Gary, but there was no need to drive to our second stop on the beer trail November 19th because Terry’s Bar was just kitty-corner from Jabroni’s. Even so some of us got our signals crossed. While Marv, Elaine, Gary and I crossed Main Street and then Irving Avenue, we saw Don and Judy standing in the doorway of Twisted Roots. “Over here,” we yelled.

On our way to Terry's

On our way to Terry’s

“Let’s have supper at Terry’s first.” And they came over.

The intersection of North Main and Irving was called Rocket Corners “back in the day” because the Oldsmobile dealership, which was on the northeast corner, had a rocket perched atop it. You have to be old enough to know that in the 50s Oldsmobile referred to some of their car models as “Rocket Olds.” The other three corners had taverns that were popular with the UW Oshkosh crowd. UWO is only a few blocks west of this intersection. I guess it was easier and “cooler” to say, “Let’s go to Rocket Corners” rather than rattle off the names of all the bars.

We had been to Terry’s before when the menu listed “wild meat” sandwiches like antelope, Himalayan yak, kangaroo, elk and ostrich burgers plus alligator brats. That was back in May 2010. The menu is much tamer now. The only “wild” choice is buffalo. I ordered a buffalo burger. Marv had a haddock

Old photos of Terry's and Main Street

Old photos of Terry’s and Main Street

sandwich and the rest had gyros.

Not only was the menu changed, so was the ownership. Since 2014 it has been owned by Kevin who had worked here since the 80s.   When former owner Pat Purtell wanted to sell the place, he told Kevin it was his to buy. And Kevin he did.

Larry Spanbauer’s book Oshkosh Neighborhood Taverns and the People Who Ran Them came out in 2012, two years after our first visit. According to him the building became a tavern in 1965. However, the building is much, much older than that. According to Kevin, it came into being as an icehouse. He brought out a poster filled with photographs of the building over the decades. Ice was cut out of Lake Winnebago (about a mile east) and trucked to this building on sleds pulled by horses. The blocks were stacked on sawdust and sold to people for cooling purposes over the spring, summer and fall. The beams in the building’s basement are one-foot square to bear the burden of the ice. This isn’t the only former icehouse in Oshkosh. Another, now converted to upscale offices, is located on the southeast corner of South Main and Fifth. After its life as an icehouse, the current Terry’s Bar building became Nettleman’s Dairy and sometime after that a laundry.

Taps at Terry's

Taps at Terry’s

The name “Terry’s” comes from former owner Terry Rumlow who owned it back in the 1960s. You can read about him in our earlier post on May, 2010. Terry’s Bar occupies two storefronts. The bar portion was a Schwinn bicycle shop before 1965 and the other half, which is a game room and dining room, was a Jiffy Laundry.

The long bar at Terry’s had only one patron seated at it when we arrived. We drank Fat Tire, but not Gary. Our designated driver had a glass of water. The bar has two sets of taps. Most are the “usual:” Bud, Bud Light, Miller Lite, Pabst, Coors, and one hard cider. The other set had ones that interested us: Wisconsin Amber, Upheaval IPA and Fat Tire. The barroom also has a few booths, but we chose to eat our supper at a table in the side room.

While eating, Don shared a couple of stories that he had read on the Internet. One from the Huffington Post was about a guy who had his doctor remove a wedding ring from his penis. We didn’t ask for details. TMI. Another one told of a woman defending her husband from a murder charge. Don paused dramatically in telling this one. “She was wearing an Oshkosh State College T-shirt,” he said. It’s been decades since UW Oshkosh was Wisconsin State College Oshkosh. That’s one old T-shirt!

Marv gave a report on a book on memory that he was reading. He wanted us to know that all our memories are distorted in some way over time. That led us to comment on where we were on September 11th when the planes hit the World Trade Center. Don and Judy were at the Appleton International Airport. Whether they were coming or going I don’t know. Our daughter was driving Marv, son Tom and me to the Sacramento airport. As we were on the overpass leading to the airport, her husband Michael pulled up next to us to announce that planes had crashed into the World Trade Center and that the Sacramento Airport was now closed. I remember seeing roadblocks being put up at the entrance. Or do I? Anyway I do know that it wasn’t until Saturday the 15th that we were able to book a flight to Chicago. I don’t think that Gary and Elaine mentioned where they were, so a few days ago I asked them. Here’s their answer: “Gary was talking with Kennan Timm in Kennan’s office [at UWO] and Kennan said :’Did you hear a plane flew into the World Trade Center.’” I (Elaine) was on my way in the car to duplicate bridge and heard a small plane had hit the World Trade Center. Later a second plane was reported and you had to figure it was no accident.” The point is that yes we do remember the event and even where we were, but all those little details that pop back into our minds are probably mis-remembered. For example, Marv remembers Michael stopping behind us (traffic was at a standstill) in his truck and getting out and walking up to the side of our car.

Terry’s has the usual pool table and gaming machines. There are three TV’s in the barroom; one was showing a Nebraska football game.

Marv Struggles; Elaine Watches

Marv Struggles; Elaine Watches

There was also a “meat wheel” which is probably spun on the night of a meat raffle. Hmmm, is this an “only in Wisconsin” thing? Our dining table backed up to a Hoop Machine that was out of order. There was no pinball machine, but Elaine and Marvin faced off at the Ice Ball machine. The winner with 24,000 points? Wait for it. Elaine. Marv scored 11,000. I know this because I wrote it down. Not trusting my memory. However, Marv remembers winning—Bit Time!—and didn’t have to write it down. I suspect he’s a poor loser            It was time to move on to our third stop of the night. Just out the door and across the street to Twisted Roots. Don and Judy had been there earlier, and they led the way.

 

Terry's at Night

Terry’s at Night

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