Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Upping the Ante on the Downtown Beer Scene

A slightly different version of this story appears in today's Oshkosh Herald.

Adam Carlson likes what he's seeing downtown. “For years, there was so much attention given to what was happening west of 41, but now you’re seeing the focus come back to downtown. And you have business owners who want to support that. There are resources being focused down here. People are beginning to realize that there's a lot of untapped potential in downtown Oshkosh.”

Carlson is among those tapping in. Along with his father, John Carlson, and his aunt Julie Wolk, Adam Carlson owns and operates Gardina's Kitchen & Bar at 448 N. Main, and The Ruby Owl Tap Room at 421 N. Main. In November the Carlson group, which does business as Carlson's Fine Foods, purchased two additional downtown establishments: The Varsity Club, a pub and pool hall; and Fletch's Local Tap House. Both are in the 500 block of N. Main Street.

The acquisitions have led to an unusual consolidation that last occurred in the 1940s, when the Oshkosh Brewing Company owned six downtown taverns. The brewery's influence extended to the approximately 24 draft lines serving beer in those establishments. That figure is dwarfed by what Adam Carlson now has under his control.

"We have 92 draft lines between the four places," Carlson says. "It's a lot of beer on tap, which is great. What I want is a well-curated selection that has diverse tastes and price points. It's easy to fall into the trap of letting a beer distributor guide you. We've tried to stay away from that. We want to keep the customer in mind, not the distributor."

Adam Carlson

Having that sort of buying power is something Carlson has been anticipating. "We've been looking to expand like this on and off for the last couple of years," he says. "We looked at a fair number of places, but they just weren't the right fit. When the opportunity with Jeremy came along it had everything we were looking for."

Jeremy West owned and operated the Varsity Club and Fletch's before selling both businesses to the Carlson family. "It just started as a conversation and it was immediately apparent that we were so aligned," Carlson says. "I can't sing his praises highly enough. Truly, I can see why there was such a great outpouring when he announced that he was selling, because he's done such a fabulous job and had a great vision."

The Varsity Club billiards parlor.

Carlson intends to honor that vision. "We're not making any changes to either the Varsity Club or Fletch's. Jeremy and his staff have done a phenomenal job building those businesses to where they are today. We're coming in looking to continue that level of service. And Jeremy is going to stay on to help with the pool side of things. He wants to continue doing that. He's a big name in the pool industry in Northeastern Wisconsin. He's done so much for pool in this area."

Carlson believes the commitment to downtown will pay off in the years to come. "I think we have four distinct businesses now and the key is that they're all on Main Street," he says. "If I'm looking at the long view of things and the plans for the Sawdust District and South Main Street, if they can bring that vision to fruition, then I think that will be significant for the success that downtown as a whole can enjoy. Oshkosh's downtown is a fairly small area. Expanding that to South Main Street helps everybody's cause for sure. Especially for our industry, downtown is a great place to be."


  1. I think that’s great! Years ago downtown was always so lively, especially on Friday nights. Looks like a comeback!

  2. Greattttttt idea. Glad you are leaving everything the same! Love the Varsity Club for food/beverages!๐Ÿ˜‰