Monday, November 14, 2016

People Drinking Beer at Saloons in Oshkosh – Pre-Prohibition Edition

In the year 1900, Oshkosh’s population was 28,294. Those Oshkoshers were kept lubricated by 123 saloons. That’s one watering hole for every 230 souls. Sounds like a lot of saloons for a city that size. It wasn’t. The ratio was right on par with that of other Wisconsin cities (more about that at the bottom of the post).

But numbers add up to nothing without a visceral sense of what they represent. And that's the point of today's post. Here we have a few photos that give a glimpse into our city’s early and infamous saloon culture. The photos you see here can be enlarged by clicking on them.

I want to start with my favorite picture of this bunch. This was taken in the early 1900s at a saloon built and owned by the Oshkosh Brewing Company. It was operated by “Happy” John Wawrzinski. You’ll see him at the extreme right wearing a white apron.

Notice the dark beer and the spittoons. We’ll see plenty of each on this tour. Happy John’s was located at what is now the southwest corner of Oshkosh Ave. and N. Sawyer St. (think kitty corner from Repp’s). Unfortunately, the building no longer stands.

Next we head downtown. This shows the interior of Tom Ryan’s Clipper Club. This was a “sporting man’s” joint. Check out the pictures of race horses on the walls.

That picture may seem familiar. They have a copy of it hanging on the wall in Oblio’s. Tom Ryan’s place was just a couple blocks south of what is now Oblio’s. Ryan's was located on the east side of Main St. between Waugoo and Washington. If you want to dig deeper, there’s more on Ryan and his saloon here.

Next we’re off to the heart of the old Bloody Sixth Ward. We’re going to the northeast corner of Knapp and W. 6th streets. This is another saloon tied to the Oshkosh Brewing Company. We’re looking into the saloon operated by Joseph Koeck, seen behind the bar. This photo was taken about 1910.

Notice at the right edge of the picture you can see the horn of a gramophone. I’d love to hear what was coming out of that. Happily, Koeck’s old place still stands. It's now The Uptown. And you can still get a beer there.

We now stumble into the realm of the unknown. Maybe someone can enlighten me on this one. Believe me, I’d appreciate the help. I’m guessing this place may have been the saloon operated by Eber Simpson and Joseph Koplitz on N. Main St. Their bar was located on the east side of the street two doors north of the corner of Main and Otter.

Quit drooling over all that dark, foamy beer for a moment. Take a look at the man behind the bar. Here’s a better view of him.

Do you think he resembles the Joseph Koplitz shown in this ad from 1908?

I see a similarity, but I can't confirm he's our man. I'll see if I can turn up more.

I know where this next place is. We’re in the middle of the Highholder community. This is an undated photo of Joseph J. Nigl’s Gemütlichkeit Saloon. It stood at the northwest corner of 9th and Ohio. The building remains and it's still home to a bar. Today you know it as Ohio Street Station.

I think that's Joseph Nigl in the back row on the left with the mug of dark beer held high. There’s more on the old Nigl stand here.

Another mystery photo. I believe this may have been taken on the east side of town at the corner of Ceape and Rosalia – where Mick & Sue’s Tavern currently stands. The photo appears to have been taken in the early 1890s. The saloon at that corner was operated by Andrew Kuenzl. He was the brother of Lorenz Kuenzl, who owned the Gambrinus Brewery. First the picture, then a few more words about it...

What's not to love? A cop with a stogy... A dude rolling in another barrel of beer... The shield on the corner of the saloon reads “Oshkosh Gambrinus Lager Beer L. Kuenzl.” The man standing in the doorway with the beer raised to his mouth looks very much like Lorenz Kuenzl of the Gambrinus Brewery. I suspect it’s him. This is the only picture I have from the pre-prohibition era showing women with beer in their hands. Look to the right side. The woman in the white frock has three beers, two on a tray, one in her hand. The woman next to her in the dark dress has a foam-topped dark beer in her left hand. Wonderful!

On more. This is a picture you may have already seen if you ever been to Jeff’s on Rugby. That’s because this is now the home of Jeff’s on Rugby. It was Josef Fenzl’s saloon back when this picture was taken in the early 1890s.

That’s a delivery team for Horn and Schwalm’s Brooklyn Brewery coming into the picture. As usual, there’s dark beer galore.

Not to end on a down note, but I think it’s worth mentioning that every lively, happy, beer-drinking person in these photo’s is now dead. When their time came, I’ll bet the moments captured here were not regretted. This is the stuff that makes life worth living.

Finally, I mentioned earlier that Oshkosh was pretty much in-line with other Wisconsin cities when it came to saloons. Here’s proof of that. This is a chart from 1900 showing per-capita saloon ratios for Wisconsin cities with populations of 5,000 or more. And the winner is…. Manitowoc!

The Municipality, Published by League of Wisconsin Municipalities, 1901.

If you like this stuff, a couple more Oshkosh saloons photos from the era can be seen here. And the post-Prohibition companion to this post is available here. Prost!


  1. What a great group of historical photos. Nothing like the German beer culture. Oshkosh starting in decline once the breweries started shutting down! Glad to see new ones opening up these days.
    There is lots of heritage in Oshkosh: Carry ON!

    1. Thanks, Tom! I'm also glad to see the revival taking place.

  2. Very cool and quite interesting! -Diamond Jim

  3. Great pictures Lee. I'm now of the opinion that those of us with German heritage are truly drawn to social drinking establishments. My 103 year old maternal grandmother (Amber Stratz) still lives in oshkosh. Her maiden name is Koeck. As she tells it, practically all of the Koeck males in her family were involved in the Oshkosh tavern business.

    On a different subject. Are those live turkeys on the floor in the 1st picture? It almost looks like the child sitting on the floor is playing with them.

    1. Looks like a St Bernard laying on the floor

    2. Thanks, Dave. I've come across the Koeck name again and again while doing research into this stuff. In that first picture, the kid is sitting next to a dog. I think you're absolutely correct about the Germans and social drinking. It's a theme that never seems to go on and on. Thanks for reading!

    3. these are great!! the joseph fenzl was my great great grandpa and my grandma is in the upstairs window.. I have this pic and many others some where..

  4. Here's a comment on behalf of Ken Mauritz....

    Nice collection. The Fenzl Tavern on 10th and Rugby was partly Herb Ilk's Keenway grocery store (in the front) when I was a kid in the 50s. In back of it at the time was (Edgar, not Gus) Jeschke's Tavern, close to where I lived. I have the original photograph of the inside of The Stop n Go Tavern across from Sacred Heart. I am related to old Joe Koeck (behind the bar in the picture) and son Eddie through my Father, Andrew Mauritz. Old Joe was Dad's uncle. Happy John's, kitty corner from Al Repps, was called Gordy's Tap in the 60s. When I worked night shift at the Pluswood factory across the road, we used to race across Sawyer Ave over to Gordy's on our break and slam down as many beers that we could in half an hour. I am old enough to have seen the insides of Utecht's and the Boehmerwald (Gus Jeschke, later Clyde Thoma) on 9th and Knapp. Anybody know me? Ken Mauritz (

    1. I don't remember you but I spent a lot of time in Jeschke's/Pucci's in my youth. It was fishing with my dad, Joe Mateyka, and then over to Jeschke's for Sheepshead. We also spent some time at Repp's, where Joe would meet up with his westside buddies. I was also in Utecht's, but not Boehmerwald. My grandmother and father live kitty corner from the Boemerwald. My most lasting memory of the place is that is where they set up the jail for the Oshkosh Centennial. There were a lot of drunken guys throwing men in the hoosegow for not having beards. My dad would also take me in to LeRoy's. He would play the pools there. And I would get one of their shrimp cocktails.