The malaise would linger for several more years, but at the close of 1936 Oshkosh was slowly beginning to emerge from the depths of its slump. That year a Greek immigrant operating a pool hall on Main Street saw opportunity in the vacancy one door to his south. John Konstantine Kuchubas was born in Greece in 1884, the year the Dichmann Block was constructed, and had served in the Grecian Army before coming to America at the age of 18. Eventually settling in Oshkosh, Kuchubas married a local woman named Elsie Zwickey in 1916. Just prior to his marriage, Kuchubas had opened the Pastime Billiard Parlor at 440 N. Main Street, but when the bowling alley next door went under, Kuchubas moved his business to 436 N. Main Street, changed the hall’s name and took his brother-in-law, John Zwickey as a business partner. The Grand Billiard Parlor would become a fixture on Main Street, operating for more than 25 years and though Kuchubas would maintain his stake in the business he wanted something more. The pool hall didn’t hold a liquor license and now that Prohibition had been repealed there was money to be made from the revived saloon culture of Oshkosh. When the appliance shop at 434 N. Main moved out, Kuchubas saw his opening.
|John K. Kuchubas|
Kuchubas was obviously proud of his new place and within a year of its opening he was running ads in the Daily Northwestern identifying it as “Oshkosh’s Finest Bar and Taproom”. If anybody in Oshkosh objected to the boast they were uniformly quiet in their disagreement. Though Kuchubas was known as a friendly man, running a respectable saloon, he had a volatile side, demonstrated by an incident that occurred in late 1939. On a Tuesday morning at 1 a.m., after a night working at the bar, Kuchubas returned to his home at 131 Church Ave. where he was jumped by a young man and told to “stick ‘em up.” The 55-year-old Kuchubas did no such thing. Instead, he produced an automatic revolver. As his would-be assailant fled, Kuchubas chased after him, firing two wild shots before abandoning pursuit and calling police. Kuchubas had come by his the hard way. He wasn’t going to let it go easily.
Over the course of the next 16 years, Kuchubas would establish a profitable niche within the center of Oshkosh’s thriving downtown business district. His approach remained consistent over the years; always stressing the quality of the beer and liquor he served and the clean, friendly environment of his room looking out on Main Street. And towards the end of his career his success seemed to have confirmed his sense of belonging to his adopted home. In the last years of the 1940s the tavern was being referred to less often as John Brown’s Bar. Kuchubas had begun using his own name to identify the saloon. Though he would never entirely abandon the original moniker, by the time of his retirement in 1955 the comfortable saloon at 434 N. Main had come to be known by all its patrons as John Kuchubas’ Bar.
The Overflow may have seemed like a hold-out from a bygone era, but its obstinacy was no match for the changes that were afoot. In 1972 Schlitz Brewing, owner of the building at 432-434 N. Main for the past 85 years, sold the property to Charles Lukas, who had been running his Lukas Auto Supply in the south half of the space since 1957. Lukas became just the third owner of the property and within a year the Overflow was gone, to be replaced briefly by a bar named Alfi’s Lounge. In a span of just 14 years, the tavern had run through seven different owners and the upheaval wasn’t over yet.
In 1974 the bar was taken over by Mike Hottinger and Jon Voss who christened their tavern with the name that would stick longer than any that had come before it. Oblio was a round-headed boy living in Pointed Village and was first introduced by Harry Nilsson in his 1971 album The Point! Nilsson said the fable was inspired by an acid trip and the counter-culture reference would not be lost on the new breed of patrons who were increasingly finding their way to Oblio’s. Hottinger and Voss remained just long enough to remodel the game room at the rear of the bar before turning the tavern over to Mark D. Madison, a hard-partying Oshkosher who liked the idea of mixing business with pleasure.
|Mooka “J” Today|
|Mark Schultz and Todd Cummings|
Mark Schultz and Todd Cummings were no strangers to Oblio’s. “We used to hang out here,” Cummings says. “This was a college haunt for us.” Looking back on it Schultz says, “We turned a drinking hobby into a profession.” When they began, though, they were both rank amateurs. Schultz was 23, Cummings 22 and neither of them had worked in a bar before. But the college roommates living at 1308 Reed Avenue made up for their lack of experience by hiring bartenders from the B & B and the Calhoun Beach Club and it quickly became evident that they were onto something good. “We saw the potential of what this could be,” Cummings said. “We were college students and we had a lot of connections to the University and that gave us a good base to start with.” The first change they made was to install a sound system followed soon after by a change in the beer line-up. “There were four tap lines when we came in,” Schultz says, “Two were Stroh’s and two were Heineken.” Not for long. Cummings was dating a woman who worked for a Manitowoc beer distributor and after she introduced him to Hacker-Pschorr’s Oktoberfest it became a mission for Cummings and Schultz to bring the beer to Oblio’s. “It became my new favorite beer,” Schultz says. “You had to order it in Spring to get it in fall. The first year we ordered 25 barrels and the next we ordered 50 and the year after that 75. Our distributor would have to go through other distributors to get the beer.”
With that, they were off and running. “We could see a certain niche,” Cummings says. “There was a crowd here that liked these beers and that was the beginning of us expanding our beer line-up.” In the 1980s, no other bar in Oshkosh was doing anything like it and Schultz and Cummings had the benefit of an adventurous group of regulars who were interested trying something new. “We had the luxury of trying different beers to see what would sell,” Cummings says. By the late 1980s Cummings and Schultz were looking into installing a micro-brewery in the bar, but shelved the idea due to a lack of availability of good equipment at the time. “We don’t like doing things half-assed,” Schultz said, so they settled on bringing in a rotating selection of American craft beers. “At the time there were a lot of microbrewers making one or two good beers,” Cummings said, “so we thought, what if we bring in the best of these micros instead.” They had hit upon their model for the future. The original four-handle tap box was converted to accomdate 13 beer lines and would later expand to 24 and then again to the current 27 taps. Cummings and Schultz complemented their growing selection with a remodel of the bar wherein they ripped out the drop ceiling to reveal the engraved tin that had been a striking feature of the original Dichmann Block. The legendary tavern at 434 N. Main had returned to and surpassed its former glory.
That’s a lot of history, but it weighs lightly on Cummings and Schultz who day in, day out usher their bar into the future. As Todd says “It’s happening, it’s just going to get better and better.“