The beer trail riders began in August of 2009 with the idea of visiting these old places and have a beer or two. It was never our intention to delve into a tavern’s history, but if the owner was in the bar, we were going to ask. So it was that first night that Jerry’s owner Steve said Jerry’s was the oldest tavern in Oshkosh. Some months later, Acee Duecee said that was nonsense, though Herbie didn’t say it quite so nicely.
The guys at Oblio’s have pictures that show their bar in much earlier times, but most of the information we gathered back then was from present day owners and more hearsay than fact.
Then along in 2012 Larry Spanbauer published his book Oshkosh Neighborhood Taverns and the People Who Ran them. If you’ve been reading our blog over the years, you know we refer to Larry’s book frequently. That’s because he provides a detailed list of dates and owners of the 70 or so taverns that were in existence when he wrote the book.
Larry’s original intent was to write a book about the tokens taverns handed out to customers. He does that very well. But it so happened his book and our trail rides occurred at the same time. Seeing our struggle to find the background of a tavern inspired him, so he told us, to expand his book to include the dates and owners of the tavern as well as the name changes. We did not know this until he gifted us with one of his books.
We found his information very helpful in determining the history of a tavern: when it came into existence, who owned and operated it over the decades, what changes were made to the tavern’s name, etc. We found of particular interest what happened to the tavern during Prohibition (1920-1933). Some ceased to exist, some became restaurants, (rumor says Oblio’s became a Chinese chop suey place). Some bars sold near beer and soft drinks. Supposedly Jerry’s became an ice cream parlor, yet beer and hard liquor were available in a back room. Wink. Wink. We were once shown where the “secret” door was that led to the booze.
Larry’s book also contains pictures and articles on taverns that had closed their doors, been torn down, etc. before 2012 when his book was published. A number of these were in the college area on Wisconsin Street. Some had already been demolished by the time the six of us moved to Oshkosh (late 1960s). A few like Tosh’s, Andy’s Library, and the Titan Tap were around but long gone by the time our beer trail rides began.
Larry’s book provides an historical account of the tavern business in Oshkosh. He answers questions of when and where and why taverns flourished in the city.
His book is on the table beside my notebook every time I write my first draft of a tavern visit. But it’s more than just a list of taverns, their owners and pictures of bar tokens. For in it you can see how the city echoed the national worldwide events: World War I, Prohibition, Depression era, World War II, the loss of factories along the Fox River and so on. Although his book is out of print, we know he gave a copy to the Oshkosh Public Library. Check it out.