Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Getting Cozy on Main Street, 1902

Fancy beer bars are hardly a new phenomenon on Main Street in Oshkosh. Here's one that was pouring the good stuff back in 1902. Enter the Little Cozy Sample Room…

The Little Cozy was located at what is now 216 N. Main Street. The building still stands. City records show it was constructed in 1900. I suspect it's actually a little older than that. It's now home to Screwballs Sports Pub.  The red arrow points the way in.

As you walked in you'd see the bar. In back was a sitting area where you could enjoy a drink, act civilized, and hawk loogies into spittoons.

Flying spit aside, this was a class joint. "A Specialty of High Grade Goods only..." This ad is from 1902.

The property's inner space was split down the middle. The sample room occupied the south half. The north half held a dining room. The picture below was taken in the dining area. Apparently, the mucus didn't flow as freely on this side of the wall.

Bert Gough and George Miller opened The Little Cozy in 1901. Both were the offspring of German immigrants. Bert Gough was 33 and born in LaCrosse. He'd been in the saloon business in Oshkosh for years. When The Little Cozy opened, Gough took up residence in a room above the bar.

George Miller was 25 and born in Fond du Lac. He was still a boy when his father died. After that, the family moved up here. He was living with his widowed mother. Maggie, over on Broad Street and working in a hotel when he and Gough launched The Little Cozy. This was his first stint managing a bar.

The Miller-Gough partnership didn't last. Gough was a transient saloonist moving from place to place. A couple years was all he lasted at The Little Cozy. Miller took on a new partner, John Larie; another veteran Oshkosh saloon man. Miller and Larie beefed things up, saying in 1905 that "They have entirely transformed The Little Cozy and have gone to much expense and spared no effort... The Little Cozy is new from one end to the other."

This was a fascinating period for Oshkosh gastronomy. Below we have the full Little Cozy menu.  This was published in the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern on October 28, 1905.  Click the image to enlarge it or do a right-click download for an even better view.

Digging down into the wine list, we find beer. On the restaurant side, there was no beer on tap, only bottled beer. This was typical of restaurants trying to project an upscale image. Bottled beer was comparatively rare. Draft beer was the norm. Bottled beer was a luxury item and presented in a haze of folderal about it being purer than the kegged stuff.

Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, July 21, 1906.

Customers paid dearly for that bit of bullshit. Here's The Little Cozy's bottle list.

Budweiser, Pabst, and Schlitz may not impress you today, but in 1905 this was premium beer. And at 15 cents a pint, it was three times what you'd pay for that same beer on draught. Oshkosh Select was brewed by the Oshkosh Brewing Company. It was one of five beers the brewery produced during this period. Select was OBC’s premium bottled beer.

Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, August 7, 1907
The beer that grabs me on that list is White Label Bass Ale served up in pints and 7-ounce nips. This was a beer with little resemblance to the Bass Ale available these days. White Label Bass was brewed in  Burton on Trent, England and bottled in the U.S. by Thomas McMullen & Co. of New York. The White Label Bass Ale served in Oshkosh was pale amber, 7.25% ABV, and, in comparison to other beers on that list, hopped to the gills.

The Little Cozy did quite well. Nonetheless, Miller and Larie parted company in 1908. Miller then partnered with Byron Luther, the brother of his wife Enda. In 1910, they expanded into the property one door north, the former Greenwood Inn. Now with rooms to let alongside the restaurant and sample room, the operation was no longer little or cozy. In 1910, Miller and Luther rechristened the business as the Brunswick Hotel and Cafe. It was styled as a European Hotel specializing in German cuisine.

The sample-room days were coming to an end. In 1913, Miller closed the saloon and put the Brunswick Barbershop in its place. With Prohibition a looming threat, it probably seemed like the sensible thing to do. It would be 90 years before there was another tavern at 216 N. Main.

Miller left Oshkosh in 1919. He moved to Los Angeles where he continued in the hotel business. He died there in 1957 at the age of 81.

Meanwhile back in Oshkosh, the old Little Cozy was all but forgotten. The space was inhabited by a series of meat markets, dress, and dry-goods stores. The building was purchased by the Oshkosh Brewing Company in 1927 which held it until 1963. For much of that time, the property was leased to the Montgomery Wards Catalog Store. Ho Hum.

North Main Street, 1950
Finally, in 2003 there was a bar there again when Screwballs Sports Club opened. The Chief Oshkosh Saloon was there for a brief time in 2010, which gave way to the Old Oshkosh Saloon for a couple years, before it became Screwballs once again. And so it remains. You can still get Budweiser at Screwballs, but that good Bass Ale and Oshkosh Select are long gone.  It’s a whole different world.


  1. Love the pull out stools at the restaurant counter. I think I saw the same guy going into Screwballs the other day.

    1. I do like those stools, but after a few beers...?

  2. The menu from Little Cozy is impressive. I was born too late, as I think a sub sandwich from Eaton's is a real treat. Anyway, nice work as usual Lee, you are the Oshkosh beer Shaman.