Monkey Bars: A Swinging Place

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On Monday, May 6 we six riders of the Beer Trail bunchhad found a night we were free to visit a couple of bars.  We had been talking about this for days, but something always came up.  We even knew where we were going—Monkey Bars, 1013 Oregon Street.

            Like most bars in town, this one has been around for decades, but now it had a new owner and a new name.  The new owner likes monkeys, hence the name.  She assured us the name had nothing to do with her cliental. And the back bar is loaded with stuffed monkeys.  Denise, bartender and owner, purchased the bar,formerly known as the Oregon Club,on November 30. She knew she wanted the word “monkeys”in the bar’s name. She considered Monkey Business, but dropped that and went with Bars.  Though laid out like most old Oshkosh taverns, this one sits in the middle of the block, not on a corner.  And its first floor is cream city brick not wood siding.  By the way, Cream City brick is the name given to a pale yellow/cream colored brick, which  supposedly came from brick yards in Milwaukee.

            Just past the front door is the main room of the tavern with a long bar running along the north wall.  On the south side are tables and chairs and farther back a fireplace. We think it is the only bar in town with a working fireplace.  Then there is a back room with a pool table. 

            We weren’t the only people there at 5 p.m.  Gary and Alanda were there throwing darts.  Alanda was very good.  She told Don that she’d been in some dart tournaments.  They were playing against another couple “remotely.” She also told Don that she’s Mormon and her husband is Lutheran.  That got us talking about marriage preparations when there’s a mixed marriage. She and her husband went through one with the Mormon church.  Marv did sowith the Roman Catholic Church. 

            That led us to talk about when and where we three couples got married.  For Marv and me it was the Newman Center, St. Paul’s, in Madison on State Street.  Back then (1962) it was a small church at the bottom of Bascom Hill across from the University Library.  Our reception was at Troia’s also on State Street.  Since then St. Paul’s has rebuilt into a much larger church, and Troia’s was replaced by a MacDonald’s and now that has been torn down. But we are still married, leading Marv to believe there’s something to this miracle stuff.    Like us, Gary and Elaine were married in their college town, Athens, Ohio, home of Ohio University, when they were students.  The wedding took place at the church that they attended there.  Don and Judy were married in Chilton, Wisconsin – no college or university there. 

            Back to Monkey Bars: on our first round of beers we all drank Spotted Cow from New Glarus, Wisconsin.  All except Gary,our designated driver.  On a second round Don switched to Blue Moon complete with an orange slice.

            Monkey Bars also serves food; the choice for Monday was hot beef sandwiches.  And though that sounded tasty, we had picked a different spot for dinner.  Choices for the rest of the week were Tuesday, Sloppy Joe; Wednesday, Turkey or chicken; Thursday, Tacos; Friday, Italian Beef. What?! No Friday night fish fry? Saturday, BBQ pork, chicken or beef; and Sunday, Hot Ham and Cheese. 

            Also, like many Oshkosh taverns, there are meat raffles. The last one was June 23. Supposedly 166 people participated. 

            We asked Denise if she had ever heard of Larry Spanbauer’s book on Oshkosh taverns.  Yes, she had,and produced her copy from the back bar. The book wasn’t in print when we had been here before and Monkey Bars was known as the Oregon Club. 

            We looked up the tavern.  According to Oshkosh Neighborhood Taverns and the People Who Ran Them (Larry’s book), Charles Nenn opened up a tavern at this location in 1898.  From 1905 to 1920 the owner of the Sample Room was Jacob Embs. Larry writes that Frank Steinert owned it during Prohibition, but Larry didn’t say if it was a tavern during that time. It re-opened as the Oregon Street Tavern in 1936 by the owner Oscar “Happy” Marquardt.  It kept that name for 40 years even though the ownership changed to John and Elmer Muza.  In 1973 the name changed to Oregon Bar and in 1974, under Garylord Weitz ownership, to the House of Gaylord.  Then in 1978 to the Ball Park owned by Dan Baerwald and in 1979 to Tuffy’s Tavern owned by Albert Likes and in 1983-1991 by Darwin Kisnert.  Later, 1994, the name changed to Rusch’s Bar.  Finally in 1997 it became Oregon Bison and Elk.  At this point 2012, Larry’s book came out.  But we know it then became the Oregon Club and now Monkey Bars.  I wish I knew if the fireplace was in the original bar.

            Just a couple of weeks ago I learned the Park and Print at 150 Jackson Street had reprinted Larry’s book.  On their Facebook page, they announce that they had “more books available after being sold out.”  Price is $25.00.  Guess a lot of people want to know about Oshkosh taverns!

            We had looked at all the monkeys (and there are dozens of them) and finished our beers.  We all scratched ourselves under our arms and then moved on to someplace for supper, our knuckles dragging on the sidewalk as we shuffled along. 

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About Author

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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