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“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

We met at Don and Judy’s on November 15 knowing it would be our last beer ride with all six of us until spring as Don and Judy are heading south soon. Judy had a gift for one of us. It was a book; I could tell that even though it was in an orange plastic bag.

She said she had bought it for fifty cents at a neighborhood yard sale. And with a big grin on her face she handed it to Marv, the former English professor, to read and prepare a book report. The book? Well, it’s not on the level of Moby Dick or Milton’s Paradise img_2062Lost. The title is I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell by Tucker Max who describes himself on the back cover as “an asshole.” I had to look it up on Amazon. It’s there with four stars and 1,221 reviews. It was on The New York Times best seller list for five years says Amazon. Marv tossed the book on the back seat of our car and then joined us in the white van. We headed downtown for our first stop−Jabroni.

It was just a few minutes past 5:00 PM when Don steered the white van into Jabroni parking lot at 14 W. Irving. For a Tuesday night this place was jumpin’. The owner, and former student of mine at Oshkosh North, Tom Bollom was seated at the far end of the 27-foot bar talking to a group of friends, including a bartender who had just turned over his shift to the next bartender. It was a happy crowd of loyal patrons. I introduced myself to Tom (and, yes, reminded him he was in one of my sophomore English classes at ONHS).

 

Jabroni's bar: Note the nice woodwork

Jabroni’s bar: Note the nice woodwork

Jabroni has no beer on tap so Marv bought us New Glarus Spotted Cow. My bottle came with a glass on top. Elaine had a Leinenkugel’s Wisconsin Red Pale Ale. Don had a New Glarus Moon Man. Judy had the “Tuesday Rail Pint” which was a Vodka Press. I had never heard of it. So here are the ingredients: vodka, club soda, sprite, and squeezings of lemon and lime. Later she had a Spotted Cow.

Years ago the city had a railroad track that ran from the river north parallel to Main Street. The track ran through what is now a large parking lot behind such stores as Kitz & Pfeil Hardware, Camera Casino, the Roxy, etc. Just south of New York Avenue it crossed Main Street on a diagonal and continued north parallel to Harrison Street. Those tracks are gone now. Neat apartment buildings line the new Division Street where formerly the tracks ran. I write this as I thought the railroad track ran through what is now the tavern. Not so. The building had been a garage and then an upholstery shop until it was bought by Tom Bollom, Sr. in 1987. His son, Tom Jr., did the remodeling, building the bar, back bar, etc. The interior has a warm look because of the amber stained knotty pine bar and walls. There is an overhang above the bar itself that is highlighted with beer signs.

Leanne's sign in above bar racks

Leanne’s sign in above bar racks

The place is small compared to places like Witzke’s and Captain Jack’s. About fifteen bar stools take up the space along the bar. Also in the front room is a pool table. The back room has a few tables and chairs. I learned later that Jabroni is on the cribbage circuit, so those games must be held in the back.

Tom said his bar’s clientele has “changed over time. The regular crew grows up with me.” I did some quick addition−yep, most folks at the bar looked about Tom’s age. Except for the bartender Jordon who was “just a kid” as people my age would say.

Don and Judy used to live in this neighborhood and remembered the place as Mr. Big’s. Indeed, according to Larry Spanbauer’s book Oshkosh Neighborhood Taverns and the People that Ran Them that was its name. Later it became Bungalow Bills, then the Camaraderie (1997-1998). In 1999 the name was Pat’s Until It Sells. That man “Pat” Neuman gave it the name Jabroni in 1999. Though Tom Bollom, Sr. purchased the building back in 1987, his son’s name doesn’t pop up on the liquor license until 2012.

 

Bartender Jordan

Bartender Jordan

This leads me to a discussion on the name—Jabroni. All the while I was talking to Tom I never thought about asking where the name came from. But the next day while looking over my notes, I realized I had no idea what “Jabroni” means. I typed in “jabroni” on my iPAD’s keyboard and Wikitionary popped up. According to it Jabroni “is a rendition of the wrestling term jobber meaning one who loses to make other wrestler’s look better.” Furthermore it says Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson frequently uses the term. The Urban Dictionary defines jabroni as “a lower, poser, lame-ass, one who talks the talk, but could never walk the walk.” When I asked my fellow beer trail riders what they thought it means, they all said the same: “bad ass” or “loser.” So one question answered another question raised: Why give this name to a tavern?

Jabroni had an honest-to-goodness pinball machine in the back room. Marvin and Elaine renewed their “pinball challenge.” “Who won?” I asked Elaine. She grinned, “I did ‘by a lot.’” Marvin, always the “gentleman,”

Pinball winner Elaine poses with the "machine."

Pinball winner Elaine poses with the “machine.”

didn’t want to talk about it.

Jordon had placed our beers on Florida Gator cocktail napkins. We looked shocked. This is Green Bay Packers country. Why the Gators? “Got them at the Hoffmaster sale,” he said. Hoffmaster is a local company that prints logos and so forth on paper products. Every fall they have a warehouse sale of overstocks that attracts lots of local people.

Without doubt the highlight of our visit was Stu, a cute black and white terrier. He and his owner are well known to the Jabroni crowd. No sooner did the owner sit down at the bar than Stu jumped onto his lap and rested his front paws on the bar. He wagged his tail, licked his lips, and put the whammy on Jordon. Jordon brought out a bag of doggy treats and popped one in Stu’s mouth. Then he poured Stu’s owner a boilermaker and

Star of the Bar: Stu!!

Star of the Bar: Stu!!

helper. Stu, a rescue dog, was eager for attention. He let Elaine and me pet him. He liked that and gave Elaine a doggy “kiss.” Elaine responded by taking a lot of pictures of Stu. He’s named Stu after the Studebaker car. That’s because his owner had six Studebakers over the years. Apparently he really liked those cars. I wonder if there are dogs out there named Cadillac? Or Audi?

Marv, who likes neon, noted that Jabroni has lots of it. Unlike a lot of other taverns, this one had only two TVs. One was showing a college basketball game and the other the local news. No one seemed to be watching either of them.

Speaking of bars that lack the usual accoutrements, we had mentioned to Jabroni patrons that we might have supper at Lara’s Tortilla Flats that is just around the corner. That’s not a real tavern they said. It has no TVs or gambling machines. And all this time I thought if you served booze at a bar, you were a tavern. Never too old to learn.

Elaine and Gary had walked off with my camera to take pictures of the smoker’s chair outside. Judy and I were still talking to Stu and Marv and Don checked out the men’s room. It was long and narrow (about 4” wide). Very large people would need to back in. The walls were painted a dark green with only the necessities: urinal, sink and down at the end a toilet. No signs, no graffiti, they said.

Outdoor Smoking "Lounge" at Jabroni

Outdoor Smoking “Lounge” at Jabroni

It was edging on to suppertime and Jabroni doesn’t serve meals. We had decided against Lara’s. The lack of TVs and gambling machines had nothing to do with our decision. Instead we planned to walk across the intersection to Terry’s. On our way out Judy, Elaine and I got a big hug from one of Jabroni happy patrons.

 

 

 

It was only a short drive from Captain Jack’s to our next stop Karmali’s at 1903 Harrison St. You may not have heard of this tavern by this name, but if I wrote George’s Gaslight, you would recognize it. One sign for George’s Gaslight still sits on the roof top of the building.

New Sign, New Owners, Old Building

New Sign, New Owners, Old Building

Karmali’s is owned by two couples who bought it last winter from the former George’s Gaslight owners, Jake and Jamie Perry last winter, I think. An Oshkosh assistant city clerk who knows about our beer blog, told me about the change in ownership. She’s the one who collects the fees for liquor licenses, so she knows her bars! She and her husband had stopped at Karmali’s for supper a few weeks previous to our City Hall conversation last spring.   “They’re remodeling the place,” she told me and said the dining room was still closed, but that they served “pub food” in the barroom. She assured me that the food was tasty.

 

Old Sign Hangs On

Old Sign Hangs On

That was why I suggested this place for supper. The off-and-on rain had stopped so I took some outside photos. We wondered where the name Karmali came from. Perhaps a name of some exotic place in Asia? Or maybe some place in a science fiction or fantasy novel? No. We learned that the name is a combination of the names of the three children of the two couples. Now, I suppose we could spend hours trying to figure out those names: hmmmm, Karen, Matt and Lily? No, I’m not going there.

There were five people seated at the bar and I knew two of them, Jay and Nancy, who own Camera Casino in downtown Oshkosh. Their kids were students of mine “back in the day.” Their son, who looks like Aaron Rogers and has the same initials, works at the shop also. He’s printed many of our son Tom’s photos for the shows Tom enters.

The signs of remodeling were evident. The walls opposite the bar are paneled with recycled raw blonde wood. The six tables along that wall are also made from this wood, but they are highly polished. After chatting with Jay and Nancy we chose a table. Marvin, Elaine and I ordered Karmali Ale. Judy chose a Stella Artois and Don Wisconsin Amber. There were six taps altogether. Gary, our designated driver drank only water.

Back Bar at Karmali's

Back Bar at Karmali’s

Our waitress Ann Marie was a native of Los Angeles. Not sure why she settled here, but she did. She talked about the importance of having her kids “see the world.” So, she ended up here after touring the States. Gary and Elaine travel more than the rest of us in the USA. So we listened as they dropped of “must visit” places in the US while Ann Marie nodded her head yes, meaning she and her kids had been there.

My parents took my sister and me and our maternal grandmother Lala on long trips when we were grade schoolers. We drove to the Grand Canyon, Carlsbad Caverns, Pikes Peak, east to Quebec City, Montreal and Niagara Falls and south to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. My mom made sure we visited every state capitol building. So I’ve seen the bullet holes on the wall of the Louisiana state capitol building in Baton Rouge where Huey Long was shot and the oil wells on the state capitol grounds in Oklahoma City. Best looking capitol building? The kiva shaped one in Santa Fe. For me all these travels sure beat going to Disney World year after year.

 

Gary, Ann Marie & Elaine Naming National Parks

Gary, Ann Marie & Elaine Naming National Parks

But time to order some supper: Judy had a Rueben; Don a cheeseburger with onion rings. Gary and I ordered California burgers. I also had deep fried cheese curds. Marvin had the “heart attack special”-a burger with cheese and a fried egg. Elaine had a Buffalo Chicken Panini with spinach and blue cheese. We all enjoyed our sandwiches. Judy declared, “OMG this is sooo good.”

Out of the blue Don asked, “Why do we romanticize the South?” We decided Florida didn’t count even though it’s in the south. I let the others talk, as I’m not very familiar with the South. A few business trips to Atlanta hardly makes me a specialist on the South. Somebody thought it might have something to do with Gone With the Wind. Also the popularity of English novelist Sir Walter Scott with all that chivalry stuff was raised as a cause? Then the conversation switched to fishing and Marvin delighted us with stories of fishing in the Boundary Waters with our son Tom and Marv’s colleague Hugo. Hugo wasn’t an easy person to travel or fish with. After criticizing Marvin’s fish filleting technique, Marvin said, “I guess there’s more than one way to fillet a fish.” Marvin had learned from his grandfather, a lifelong fisherman. Hugo agreed: “Yes, there’s my way and the wrong way.”

Mary's Sandwich!

Mary’s Sandwich!

All this talk about the 50 states led me to ask where would you live if you couldn’t live in Wisconsin. I expected answers like Florida or Hawaii, but no. The answers were Ohio, Minnesota, New York and California (the Sacramento and San Francisco areas).

I thought we were going to a third tavern, but it was raining again. Not that we minded, but Gary and Elaine were in the midst of a major landscaping project at their home. They were concerned over the havoc more rain would cause in their basement. Therefore a third stop was eliminated. So we paid our bill, thanked our waitress and prepared to leave. Judy had one final question: “Do you have a quarter machine?” No, Karmali’s doesn’t.

P.S. About a month after this beer trail ride, Marv and I ate supper at Players. It was heavily decorated for Halloween. As we left walking slowly to look at the goblins, skeletons, witches and pumpkins, we saw a quarter machine. Wow! Oops! Lost every quarter I slipped through the slot.

Taps at Karmali's.

Taps at Karmali’s.

We squeezed in a Beer Trail Ride between two vacation trips. Gary and Elaine were just back from a visit to the Maritime Provinces of Canada and Marv and I were about to leave for the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque. The date was Wednesday, August 21. Gary and Elaine were going to “look after our house” while we were gone, so they made a quick stop to see what needed to be done. Our cat was staying at the Cats Cozy Inn north of the city, so they would not have to look after her.

Captain Jack's Advice

Captain Jack’s Advice

We decided to hit the north east side of Oshkosh on this ride. That meant Don drove the white van through so many roundabouts we were dizzy by the time we reached Captain Jack’s Tavern at 2116 Jackson Street. Formerly this was Naughty Girls, a strip club. Marv, Don and Gary claim no knowledge of what it looked like inside when it was Naughty Girls. We liked the sign: “Take My Advice I Don’t Use It Anyway.”

I didn’t think Larry Spanbauer in his book Oshkosh Neighborhood Taverns and the People Who Ran Them would have a page about this place. The day I decided to post this piece on the blog, I saw Larry’s book lying next to the computer. What the hey, I thought, might as well look it up. There it was on page 195 listed as Naughty Girls. Fred W. Ehrenberg opened Fritz’s Tavern on that spot in 1940. In 1950 it became George Losse’s Tavern. Some time after that the building was torn down and the current building constructed. Spanbauer lists a tavern, called Mr. Pete’s, in the new building in 1972. He renamed it Snoopy’s in 1977 and in 1991 it changed to Naughty Girls with Peter Moore still listed as the proprietor.

 

Looking up at Captain Jack's

Looking up at Captain Jack’s

The interior is one very large room with a square bar toward the front and a pool table in the back. The ceiling above the bar has a faux stained glass “window” in gold and amber shades lighted from the back. The framed ends of “this window” are intricately carved. The bartender told us it came from the former Marco’s Italian Restaurant (now Primo).

The surface of the bar was a deep red and the twenty or so bar chairs were black. A couple of patrons were at the bar including an older man who knew about our Riding the Beer Trail blog on Word Press. He brought it up on his device, but quickly returned to the screen he had been watching. There are three big-screen TVs in the room, five game machines and that pool table in the back. Also a quarter machine, but more about that later.

We studied the taps and placed our order with Sharon, our bartender. Elaine chose a Leinekugel Red Lager in a frosted glass. Judy

Elaine with unlucky pull tab

Elaine with unlucky pull tab

ordered a Stella Artois. Don and Marvin had Pabst Blue Ribbon in the 16 oz. can. I asked for my favorite, a New Glarus Spotted Cow. Gary, who would be our designated driver from this point on, had nothing to drink. Elaine had a pull tab, but alas it didn’t do her any good. I had one also, but no luck in getting a reduced price.

Our bartender Sharon didn’t want to be photographed, but she introduced us to the general manager Cindy who allowed us to take her picture. She also told us how this place became Captain Jack’s. Cindy and the owners had Googled the “most popular bar name.” That turned out to be “Captain.” “And the Jack,” we asked, “where did that come from?”

General Manager Cindy

General Manager Cindy

“Jackson Street,” Cindy said. We talked about taverns we had visited and what made one place different from another. Meanwhile Cindy set five shot glasses on the bar and poured us each the “shot of the day.” It turns out Captain Jack has a “shot” for each day of the week and Wednesday’s turned out to be “Sweet Tart.” Remember the candy of that name? Well, this tasted like that sorta. It was tangy at the beginning and sweet at the end. We all tossed ours off and washed them down with the beer (Except for designated driver Gary, of course.) This reminded me of the “Boiler Maker and Helper” combinations that were popular back in the 50s. Of course, I wasn’t “legal”

A Toast to Sweet Tarts

A Toast to Sweet Tarts

then.

Now back to the quarter machine. Judy and Elaine spotted it first and watched the slowly moving river of quarters tumble over the edge and onto a lower shelf—still steadily moving. “How do you play this game?” Judy wondered. “It says ‘insert a quarter,’” said Elaine. She did and lo and behold the river of quarters dropped two out of the machine and into her hand. Cool. We fed it more quarters. Sometimes we were rewarded, other times not. This could become a habit.

Meanwhile Don learned of another Shot of the Day, a Kamikaze that contains vodka, triple sec and lime juice. He ordered one of those and let us each—except for Gary—have a taste. Now that one had some bite to it, but I still preferred the Sweet Tart.

 

The Quarter Machine!

The Quarter Machine!

Though election season was in full swing, we talked about a book Judy and Elaine had heard of called Fast Girl: A Life Spent Running from Madness. Clearly I am out of the loop for I had never heard of it. It’s a memoir by Suzy Favor Hamilton, Olympics runner and her battle with mental health. Sadly mistreatment led her to become the Number Two Call Girl in Las Vegas. What’s that, only a Silver Medal? Marv wondered. Well, that certainly makes the books I read, like novels by Austen and Dickens sound dull.

We pulled ourselves away from the quarter machine long enough to check the restrooms. Clean and neat. One offered free rides home at closing time. That’s nice.  The two urinals in the men’s room had lots of ice. I guess that’s a good thing. We also checked out the T-Shirts for sale that tell one where Captain Jack’s is located.

But it was time for us to find a place for another beer and a supper. So after one last quarter in the quarter machine, we left with Gary behind the wheel of the white van and sped away into a maze of shortcuts.

Aye, Aye Captain Jack!

Aye, Aye Captain Jack!

The Ruby Owl, a Gastropub

We left Big B’s with Gary, our designated driver, behind the wheel of the white van. All six of us told him how to find The Ruby Owl. The 400 block of N. Main Street is one of the large downtown blocks. The easiest parking is in a lot on the west side behind the stores. That’s where Gary parked, but then we couldn’t figure out where, or if, The Ruby Owl had a back entrance. So we fooled around behind the 2 Blondes shop sticking our heads through a display. 2 Blondes is a cool shop owned by two blonde (of course) sisters. According to their Facebook page “they developed a business in which they embellish uniforms, tshirts, sweatshirts or any clothing with bling and fun

We really like that sign!

We really like that sign!

designs.”

Still not finding an entrance to The Ruby Owl, we walked up to Church street, turned the corner onto Main and headed south until we found The Ruby Owl. Marv and I usually get to the farm market each Saturday morning on Main street. We noticed the plywood covering the tavern’s front. But in June the plywood was gone, windows and a door were in place and the cool Ruby Owl sign arched over the front.

The Ruby Owl is not a remake of an existing bar, but a brand new bar in an old building on Main Street. The Ruby Owl, at 421 N. Main Street, occupies a two-story building dating from the late 1800s. It was a ladies dress shop back in the day and most recently Soiree, an upscale shop selling all sorts of cool stuff: jewelry,

Being Silly at 2 Blondes

Being Silly at 2 Blondes

photographs, bric á brac. But alas, it closed. Then the owners of Gardina’s restaurant and wine store at 488N. Main Street bought the building. Their intent was to open a bar specializing in beer and also serving food−a bistro, if you will. They call it a Gastropub, which is a word my Microsoft Word dictionary doesn’t know about.

The Ruby Owl opened for business on June 27, which was several months later than they had planned on opening. But like most old buildings downtown the infrastructure was in bad shape and more serious work then they expected needed to be done. The wait was worth it. The place looks great. We especially liked the entrance sign that arches over the front of the building.

Like Bar 450 across the street, the walls are the original light colored brick (Around here we call that Cream City brick.) The front half of the place is filled with black tables and chairs. The bar runs about 30 feet beyond that along the north wall. The back “bar” has glass shelves holding hard liquor−the best stuff on the top shelf. The 30 taps are arranged in clusters.

Beer taps and the "good stuff"

Beer taps and the “good stuff”

Usually on our visits on Wednesday, the tavern crowd is sparse, but here all the tables were taken. We wedged into an opening at the middle of the bar and placed our order. Marv and I had Bell’s Amber Ale, Elaine chose Revolution Anti-Hero IPA (We think Elaine chooses a beer with the coolest name.) Don’t know what Don chose, but Judy chose Spotted Cow, as she said, “30 beers and I have a Spotted Cow.” Well, it’s a good beer and if you like it, why not? Gary, our designated driver had nothing.

All the tables were full so where we were going to sit to eat a meal was a problem. Judy spied a table for five with four guys sitting at it. They weren’t eating anything, so Don made a deal with them. “Exchange your table for our seats at the bar and we’ll buy you your next beer.” Deal made! Don mentioned later that except for one guy who drank a Gran Belt ($2.50) the rest chose the higher priced beers at $5 and $6 each.

 

Our table, note the brick walls

Our table, note the brick walls

We pulled another chair to the table and made it work for the six of us. This table like others closer to the bar was tall with bar stools type chairs. The tables in the front half are more conventional in height.

A few hours before we set out on this Ride, I had read the Ruby Owl’s menu and pretty much knew what I wanted: the roasted Brussel sprout salad with pears and almonds. I’ve always liked Brussel sprouts; my mom grew them in her victory Gardens during World War II so my sister and I had happily eaten all the vegetables that kids are not supposed to like. There were a few exceptions: Zucchini squash and eggplants. Mom didn’t like growing them. There was one time she breaded and fried zucchini slices that were about 3 inches in diameter. It was a failure. I’m guessing the squash was a gift, maybe from one of my dad’s patients.

Judy and I ordered the salad, Gary a hamburger, Marv and Don had the meatloaf sandwich and Elaine chose grilled chicken gyro. Interesting and pretty good was her comment. Holly was our waitress and she took the time to explain all the different dishes to us. That was nice.

Our kind and patient waitress, Holly

Our kind and patient waitress, Holly

It’s not unusual for us to run into someone we know when we are visiting these taverns. And tonight was no exception. For at the end of the bar sat the pianist from our church having a beer and supper with her son. We visited with her and told her how much we enjoyed her mini-concerts before services began.

We noticed a decoration that seems to be coming more and more popular−Edison lights. They are oblong bulbs with a point on one end. The glass is clear, sometimes amber colored, and the filament is visible. Marv bought a string of red and green ones a couple of years ago to drape over the doorway to our house at Christmas time. We saw these bulbs at Chester V’s as well as The Ruby Owl where they are in chandeliers over the bar.

 

Check out the Edison lights

Check out the Edison lights

We had exhausted talk about college basketball and football, so tonight the subject of voting came up. For just around the corner was the Primary Election on August 9. Marv, Tom and I usually vote early. This stems from the fact that for 15 years I was a poll worker for the City of Oshkosh and never served at my own polling place. Even though I don’t work anymore at the polls, the habit has stuck and we vote early. Don and Judy are often in Florida during election time, so Don wanted to check with us to see if they still used the same polling place. I assured them that they did. I mentioned how easy it is to vote early, but Judy said she thinks it is important to vote on Election Day. She likes the feeling of standing in line and taking part on such an important day. Early or on the day itself, eligible voters should vote. That was our bottom line.

And with that we left The Ruby Owl. This time we found the back door and checked out the rest rooms which we passed on the way out. They were clean and modern, lacking some of the “charm” of restrooms in the old bars.

We slipped out the back door

We slipped out the back door

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