|The Cornerstone at |
663 N. Main
The building that is now home to Barley & Hops was built in the summer of 1900 under the direction of Carl Schneider, an Oshkosh architect and mason who had been trained in his native Prussia. Schneider made the most of the $6,000 allotted for the building’s creation. He cast the imposing face of the structure in pressed brick that framed two dormers (which have since been removed), with opposing columns placed just below the roof line. The two-story, 80-foot long building cut an impressive figure along upper Main. That’s probably just how its owner wanted it. The new saloon of William Kienast was going to stand out from the others.
William Gustave Kienast was born in Prussia on April 6, 1846 and came to America with his family at
the age of four. He was raised in the Town of Vinland and spent the early part of his life as a farmer. But as he grew older his interests strayed from the farm fields. He kept racehorses that he ran locally and at the ripe age of 54 decided to dive deeper into the sporting life by becoming a saloon man. Kienast wasn’t blind to what he was getting into. His twin brother, Gustave William Kienast, had previously operated a somewhat notorious saloon and boarding house on Main St. in Oshkosh during the 1880s and early 1890s. And William Kienast wasn’t going it alone. His family lived with him above the saloon and his 28-year-old son Charles was going to act as proprietor. The establishment came to be known as the Turf Exchange. An advertisement from April 1904 gives a sense of what the place might have been like.
WANTED—500 Men at the Turf Exchange
Saturday Night May 14th to Help Eat 150 Pounds of Fine Roast and Fried Fish.
All Come and Have a Good Time.
C.W. Kienast, Prop.
But the good times were short lived. In the summer of 1904, William Kienast decided he’d had enough of the saloon trade. In July, he placed an ad in the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern stating, “I Want to Go Out Business on Account of My Health Not Being Good. Will Sell Cheap if Taken Soon.” Within a year the place was closed. Kienast unloaded the furniture and fittings of his barroom, (including five card-playing tables, a pool table, 18 cuspidors and a full set of saloon fixtures) and in 1906 sold the building. He moved to South Dakota, returned to farming and eventually stumbled upon a fortune. In 1920, Kienast discovered a large vein of anthracite coal on his farm while drilling a well. The 74-year-old Prussian had struck it rich.
After the departure of the Kienast family, things grew somewhat less exciting at the big building on North Main Street. It housed a dress shop in 1906 and the Nichol’s Bakery in 1909. Each of the businesses floundered. Then in 1915, the building became home to the enterprise that would hold it longer than any occupant to date. That fall, the Butternut Baking Company refurbished the former saloon and moved in. An early promotion for the Butternut describes what had become of the place: “The walls and ceilings are white enamel and everything is up-to-the-minute to the smallest detail. The state inspector informed us that our bakery is one of the best equipped and arranged plants in the state.”
|Outside the Butternut Baking Co.; Circa 1916|
But the orderly atmosphere held its own kind of danger. On a Friday afternoon in May 1916, the building and a life within were nearly lost. The Oshkosh Daily Northwestern reported on the near disaster:
BURNED BY HOT LARD - Employee at Local Bakery Falls with Kettle and is Severely Injured – Julius Kinner, a colored man employed at the Butternut Baking company’s new plant on upper Main street sustained severe and serious burns yesterday in a fire which for a time threatened the existence of the plant. A kettle of lard in which doughnuts were frying took fire. Kinner attempted to carry the burning lard out of doors and fell, the hot grease splashing upon his face, neck and arms. He was taken to St. Mary’s hospital and today his condition is said to be favorable. The damage to the bakery was comparatively small.
– Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, May 20, 1916
After the bakery’s demise, the guts of the building were transformed again. In 1967, it was converted into Vern’s Cycle Shop. It would remain a bicycle shop for the next dozen years before becoming a spectacularly poor fit for the New Faith Fellowship Church in 1981. But this is a building that seems to want to be a tavern. In 1983, it was returned to its original intent with the launch of the Patti K. Lounge. That didn’t last, either.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s the taverns housed within this building would change names almost yearly. In 1984, it was Pappa Bear’s Public Pizzeria Tavern; In 1985, it was re-christened Ted E. Bear’s Pub & Pizzeria; and in 1986 it became Shoe’s Pub. Shoe’s would hold forth until 1990 when the flux began anew. It was called Ted’s Place in 1991 and the Tijuana Country Club from 1992 through 1994. In 1995 it became Godfather’s and so it would stay until 2001. The constant turnover is telling. For the most part, these were run-of-the-mill Oshkosh watering holes serving up a nondescript cocktail of rail booze and pale beer. They blended into the Oshkosh tavern scene of the period, which was bland, big and lacking in variety. That began to change for the better with the arrival of the 2000s.
|Barley & Hops; 2013|