Monday, February 16, 2015

Then and Now: Fenzl’s Saloon & Jeff’s on Rugby

Here’s a composite of two photos taken at the same location in Oshkosh about 120 years apart. For a better view, click on the image.

The picture on the left was taken sometime between 1891 and 1894. The photo on the right was taken a week ago. Both show the property at 1005 Rugby St. in Oshkosh, which is now home to Jeff's On Rugby.

The earlier photo shows the building when it was Joe’s Sample Room, a saloon owned and operated by Josef Fenzl. He was born in Unterzassau, Bohemia in 1858. Fenzl migrated to America while in his late 20s and in 1890 purchased the lot where he launched his saloon in 1891.

There’s a couple of details in this photo, I want to point out. Notice that a sign for Kuenzl’s Lager Beer has been painted on the front window of the saloon. Kuenzl ran the the Gambinrus Brewery in Oshkosh and, like Fenzl, was a Bohemian expat.

On the corner of the building is a sign for Horn & Schwalm’s Stock Lager. The dark beer many of the men in the photo are hoisting looks as if it could be a stock lager. This was an unpasteurized beer served from wooden kegs that was popular in saloons.

The horses you see here are pulling a beer wagon from Horn & Schwalm’s Brooklyn Brewery. At this point in time, the Brooklyn Brewery was the largest brewery in Oshkosh.

Here’s a closer look at a portion of the photo showing more detail. As always, click the image to enlarge it.

Obviously, Fenzl was serving at least a couple of different beers. That would indicate that his wasn’t a tied house. But that would change. In 1906, Fenzl sold this building, where he and his family also lived, along with all of his saloon fixtures to the Oshkosh Brewing Company. Fenzl then leased the property from OBC. The deed/lease, included a couple of major restrictions.

It is provided as a part consideration of said lease that Joseph Fenzl shall at all times handle exclusively the product of said Brewing Company.
        - From a Warranty Deed dated May 29, 1906

The other major stipulation (I’ll spare you the droning legalese) was that for the next five years Fenzl couldn’t operate or be associated with another saloon within five blocks of this one.

That’s about as tied up as a saloon keeper could get. In exchange for the agreement, Fenzl was paid $1,000 and was obliged to pay OBC $300 a year rent.

That means that for $25 a month Fenzl had both his home and business provided for. That $25 would be worth about $700 today. How many tavern owners doing business now might take that offer were it made to them? More than a few, I’d guess.

The arrangement appears to have suited Fenzl well enough. He stayed put for the next 10 years operating what was now a tied house and selling no other beer than that of the Oshkosh Brewing Company.

OBC held onto the property until 1922 when the brewery sold it to Gustave Jeschke. By then Prohibition had been the law of the land for two years. In need of cash, the struggling brewery was looking to deal off some of its former saloon properties. But even though OBC couldn’t make beer at this point, they couldn’t resist adding a restriction to the transaction. The stipulation bound Jeschke “to use and sell the products manufactured by the Oshkosh Brewing Company when same can be legally sold.” Kind of sad, actually.

One more picture. This one is from 1977 when it was Sonny’s Tavern.

Did you notice the Old Style sign? How’s that for irony? It gets better. The Old Style sign was put up by Lee Beverage. The owners of Lee Beverage had once been part owners of the Oshkosh Brewing Company. It goes 'round and 'round...

For more on the tied houses of Oshkosh, check out last Monday’s post.

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