Monday, December 5, 2016

Drinking in Bars in Oshkosh – the Post-Prohibition Edition

The pre-Prohibition companion to this post is available here.

On April 7, 1933, legal beer returned to Oshkosh. But its old chum the saloon was gone for good.

The public drinking houses that opened in the wake of Prohibition's repeal were not saloons. They were taverns, bars, or lounges. Wisconsin had banned the use of the word "saloon" in conjunction with any business holding a liquor license. The nomenclature wasn’t mere window dressing. The scene had changed.

Much of the transformation was driven by regulation. Before Prohibition, saloons in Oshkosh were relatively free to operate as they pleased. After Prohibition, everything from tavern ownership to the pretzels on the bar fell under the constraints of lawmakers. Not only were the rules different, so was the culture.

More than 100 speakeasies operated in Oshkosh during the Prohibition era. The old customs in these places were pushed aside with as much enthusiasm as the law was. Where the saloons had generally been the domain of men, speakeasies were often coed affairs. With public drinking legal again, women weren't returning to the parlor. They were at the bar.

Here's an example of what that looked like in Oshkosh. This is inside the Elks Club in the early 1940s when it was located on Jefferson St. If you would have walked out the back door of what is now Oblio's you could have crossed an alley and stepped through the back door of the Elks.

Did you notice the lack of beer there? It's mostly booze on the bar. Among the many ironic failures of Prohibition was that it helped develop a taste for drinks more alcoholic than beer. Most bootleggers considered beer too much of a hassle. It was too heavy to sneak around and too hard to make. So they made booze. As a result, hard-liquor became the drink of choice for many who came of age during Prohibition.

Of course, not everyone had given up on beer. Next, we hit a place that has a more down-home feel than the Elks. This is a 1950s shot of the saloon operated by Kasmier J. Pawlowski at what is now 359 W. 17th Ave. It's known these days as TNT Tap.

Pawlowski served all the brands brewed in Oshkosh: Chief Oshkosh, Peoples and Rahr's. That's Kasmier and his wife Anna behind the bar. Anna was born in Menasha in 1888. Kasmier was born in Poland in 1886. He and Anna are still together in Oshkosh.

Riverside Cemetery

Back to the living, living it up. More of a boy's club atmosphere here. Thankfully, this is a place still with us. Jerry's Bar. No date on the photo, but it looks like the early 1950s. One of the gents is drinking what any respectable Oshkosher was drinking this time of year – Peoples Holiday Beer.

More testosterone on the way. This is what the Magnet looked like in the 1950s when it was a teen bar. If you were 18 you could go there, shoot pool and drink all the beer you could stand. I pity the lone woman in the middle of the crew.

Let's bring some balance here. These ladies from 1953 were celebrating Oshkosh's Centennial by drinking Peoples Beer and dressing as if it were 1853. They're in a tavern that was once a linchpin of the old 6th Ward. This photo was taken inside The Bohmerwald Tavern. It's long gone, but once stood at the northwest corner of 9th and Knapp streets.

Next, we head to one of my favorite places in the world – Repp's Bar.  These guys were also celebrating the Oshkosh Centennial. That's the owner, Al Rep, sitting on a keg in the front row second from left; the guy with the bushy beard and the big goblet full of beer. Not the best picture, but you can still see the signs for Peoples Beer and Rahr's Beer in the windows.

Here's some of the same crew earlier in the day. They're parading down Main Street with a few cases of Rahr's Beer and a big wooden keg with a tap on it. I would like to have been afloat on that float.

Back to the Southside. It's the Acee Deucee, circa 1939. Check out the Old Derby Ale sign hanging from  the back bar. This is right about the time when Peoples Brewing acquired the Old Derby brand from the recently failed Ripon Brewing Company. What I wouldn't do to taste that beer.

Now we travel to the latter half of the 1940s and the northeast corner of 9th and Ohio. It's still Nigl's today. Check out the misspelling painted on the window. That's not how you spell Chieftain. And that's a Peoples Beer in the right hand of the man on the left. Those Southsiders sure loved their Peoples.

Did you notice the other tavern in the background? That's Ohio Street Station today. The big painted sign on it is for Peoples Beer. That's because the guy who started that bar was Joseph Nigl, the first president of Peoples Brewing Company.

I haven't been able to confirm the identity of the next tavern, but I suspect it's the old Tony's de Lux, now Uncle Don's, at the corner of  Bowen and Otter streets. Peoples Beer is winning the day here. That's a sign for Peoples Wurtzer Beer on the register.

Look how pale the beer was. Those old, dark lagers of the saloon days were no longer in vogue.

Here's a tavern built by the Oshkosh Brewing Company in 1902. This is Witzke's in 1941.

Witzke’s is still there, of course. It still looks great. Next time you're on Oregon St. check the place out and notice that the Oshkosh Brewing Company name endures.

One more of the old places. This is inside Steckbauer's Tavern, which stood at the northeast corner of 6th and Idaho. The picture was taken in 1975. That's Jake Steckbauer behind the bar.

Jake was the son of Herman Steckbauer, who opened this bar in 1891. The picture hanging next to the bar is of Herman Steckbauer. Next to the picture of Herman is a photo of Pope John XXIII. The two men were said to look alike so they hung them side by side. Jake took over the bar when his father died in 1947.

Above the bar, you can see old Chief Oshkosh and Peoples Beer cans. The breweries that made those beers were gone when this picture was taken. Jake wasn't around much longer, either.  He died in 1979. The building that housed the old Steckbauer tavern burned down in 2009. Lyon's Den Bar is now there.

That's enough for now.

I love looking at these old pictures. They used to strike me differently. I used to stare at them and think how much things have changed. I don't feel that way anymore. In Oshkosh, we still have a strong tavern culture.

The sense of camaraderie you see in the pictures here is still present in just about every Oshkosh tavern I've been in. Things may not look the same, but what was vital about these places then remains vital today.

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