Molly McGuire’s: Classy College Hangout

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What? The Beer Trail 6 went out on a Friday? Really? We always joke and say Friday is for amateurs. However, it was necessary. We started at Don and Judy’s with a beer, cheese and crackers and a chance to talk. Their 50th Wedding Anniversary was just a few weeks away. Elaine, Gary, Marv and I had a surprise gift for them: a book on how to make Parisian cocktails including some of Hemingway’s favorites, and a set of eight coasters. Each coaster had a photo of one or both of them from our beer trail rides. The coasters were made by Camera Casino in Oshkosh. After hugs and laughter and a bottle of beer (but no beer for Gary our designated driver) we got in the white van and headed for the University neighborhood.

We were going to Molly McGuire’s, a popular UWO hangout east of the campus at 539 Campus Place. Since the fall semester was still a couple weeks down the road, Campus Place was deserted. Gary parked the white van in front of the bar.

Except for the bartender Rick, (not the guy from Casablanca) the place was empty. The interior was not what I expected. A college hangout—let’s see: large empty room, beat up furniture, sticky floor and bar surface, etc. A place my hairdresser calls a “Meat Market.” Nope, not here. The back bar was elegant carved wood from the Athearn Hotel, a high-class hotel in downtown Oshkosh that closed and was torn down in 1964. Gaslights that used to light Oshkosh’s downtown in the Victorian era hung from the tavern’s ceiling. To the left of the forty-foot bar a short staircase led to small balcony with a few tables and chairs, a perfect place for a quiet conversation or whatever. Tiles on the ceiling also come from the Athearn. A second bar down the hall was cobbled out of an antique sideboard. All in all we were impressed with the place and could understand why Molly’s calls itself a nightclub. The dance floor with a stage for a DJ is in an adjacent room visible through glass doors.

Before we toured the place, we gave Rick our card and ordered our beer. There were only five taps and Spotted Cow was not among them. Oh well, New Glarus’ Moon Man was available and we drank that. Though I think Don had Dos Equis. Is Don Oshkosh’s “most interesting man”? Molly’s also calls itself a Grill. Its menu lists typical pub fare: burgers, fish fries, wings, quesadillas, club sandwiches, mac & cheese, etc.   Plus for an additional $2.00 they will deliver any dish from their menu, but no liquor. You can see the complete menu on their website:

Speaking of liquor, Marvin was interested in the top-shelf liquor: Makers Mark, Knob Creek bourbons; Boodles, Sapphire, and Bombay gin, and, somewhat surprisingly, Johnny Walker Blue. Rick said he pours about two bottles a year of JWB at $25.00 per ounce. Well, maybe if I aced a tough course, I’d buy a shot of that.

Since parts of the Athearn Hotel are at Molly’s I looked up some information on it. It was the jewel of the city when it opened in 1892. It was another of William Waters’ architectural designs. At that time Oshkosh was the second largest city in Wisconsin. I think now it is 7th or 8th. The five-story hotel was across the street from The Grand Opera House. Supposedly there is a tunnel underground that ran from the hotel to the Grand so that entertainers could access the theater without being accosted by theatergoers. When I asked Joe Ferlo, the manager of The Grand, if there is a tunnel, he didn’t say yes or no. Hmmm, I think that part of the tunnel must still be there, but Joe doesn’t want nosy folks to look into it. The entrance to the tunnel (if there is one, he said) is bricked off. The Hotel’s main floor had 16-foot ceilings. The second floor rooms were suites. All rooms had bathrooms and fireplaces.

By the 1960s downtown hotels in mid-sized cities were falling out of favor as motel chains sprang up along the highways luring an automobile population to stop there. Downtown hotels in other Wisconsin cities have suffered also. In my hometown, Sheboygan, the Foeste Hotel is long gone. A motel and restaurant have replaced it. In Oshkosh the other downtown hotel, the Raulf, is now low-income housing. The Retlaw in Fond du Lac spent many years as low-income housing, but is now undergoing renovation and will be a “luxury boutique hotel” by 2018. In Green Bay, renovations of the Northland Hotel have stalled over investor and money matters. Yet it promises to be an elegant downtown spot whenever…

But back to Molly’s. Without students, the place was quiet. We talked about Elaine and Gary redoing their kitchen countertop. Marble? Or laminate? We fooled around with one of the few game machines. Elaine had brought along her IPhone and took many pics. Nice additions to the ones I took. And Marv checked out the men’s john and declared it neat and very clean, but lacking in a “health center.” Elaine and I checked out the women. It too was spotless. We liked the magenta counter tops with stainless steel sinks. And the Miller High Life sign with the gal riding on the crescent moon. Wish Miller’s had not done away with that.

As I write this, the semester is underway. I’m sure Molly’s is crowded on weekends. We wonder if the young people who spend their weekend night there dancing, laughing and drinking even glance at the remains of the once elegant Athearn Hotel.

Our beer glasses were empty. We’d looked into every nook and cranny. Time to check out Christine’s–the main reason we were out on a Friday

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Frankie Mengeling

Frankie Mengeling taught English at Oshkosh North High School and Lourdes High School and was co-director of the Fox Valley Writing Project at UWO. She lives on the Oshkosh’s only hill, with her husband Marvin, son Tom and cat Katrina. The blog www.ridingthebeertrail.wordpress.com began in the summer of 2009 after the three couple beer trail began.

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