A few days ago I emailed our beer trail buddies Don, Judy, Elaine and Gary about the sale and imminent destruction of Repp’s Bar. That info had been in the news lately. We had been there in November of 2009 on a “trail ride”. I decided that our February post here in the Oshkosh Independent should contain that original post. Let’s just say this is our “in memoriam.”
Also, Larry Spanbauer’s book Oshkosh Neighborhood Taverns and the People Who Ran Them, had not been printed by the time of that first visit to Repp’s. So today I opened Larry’s book to Repp’s pages. According to him, the tavern opened in 1905 as a sample room by Louis W. Tyriver. John M. Webster was listed as proprietor in 1908; then John and Stanley Hintski in 1910; Gus Ringhand from 1916 to 1919 and Fred Brunner in 1919. Unlike other taverns that remained taverns during Prohibition, this one became a hardware store. Then in 1937 it opened as a tavern named the Bass after its owners Mr. & Mrs. Bass.
In mid-November we set out in the van for the last trail ride of 2009. Only Marv and I tough out the long Wisconsin winter here. As you read this, Don and Judy are looking for shells on Florida beaches and Elaine and Gary are in Mexico. Well, actually, I’ve taken so long in getting this posted that Elaine and Gary are back.
We picked three spots for our final 2009 trek: Repp’s, Andy’s Pub & Grub, and Peabody’s Ale House. Since I have to spread these out. I’ll be putting up a new post every other week—or so.
That said, let’s go to Repp’s. Getting there from the west side isn’t easy. Repp’s is at the intersection of Oshkosh Avenue and Sawyer Street. It’s adjacent to the fishing piers of Rainbow Park on the Fox River and across Oshkosh Avenue from Abe Rochlin Park where the chimney from the Pluswood factory still stands. We were heading east on Oshkosh Avenue when Gary directed Don to turn left onto Fox Street one block west of the three-way, multiple-lane intersection. Then a right on Graham Avenue and another right on Rainbow Drive brought us to the small parking lot of Repp’s. We entered the side door and found Al Repp himself behind the bar. It was going to be a time to talk about what used to be, and how it used to be better.
Repp’s has preserved its past in large framed photographs on a back room wall. One picture shows a side view of the Bass Tavern, the name of this place before Al Repp senior took it over in 1943. “Before the Bass,” said the current Al Repp, “This building was a hardware store.” Al didn’t know when the switch from hardware to hard liquor and suds took place, but the Bass looked pretty old. In the photo we could see his and her outhouses attached to the back of the building. There was also an ice house that was still in use in ’43.
We climbed onto barstools at mid-bar in front of the taps. There were four tap beer choices: Bud, Bud Lite, Miller High Life and Miller Lite. Marv and I had the High Life, Don, Judy and Elaine chose Bud Lite. And Gary—remember, he’s the designated driver—nothing.
The Repps themselves had lived in a “little house in the back.” Al told how occasionally he and his wife would look out the kitchen window at the nearby butcher shop and see someone wringing the neck of a chicken or a cow getting the coup d’grâce.
We don’t run into a lot of bartenders with college degrees, but Al has a degree in music and journalism from Wartburg College in Ohio. He told of his fondness for the Big Band era music and Dixieland jazz, then he sang a few bars of a Glenn Miller tune.
But, after those years, he added, he returned to Oshkosh and took over the bar. His father died in 1968. He posed for his photo before the picture of his dad.
A few hours before this trail ride, our son Tom and I were talking to Brent our financial advisor. We strayed off the subject and onto bars and Brent told us he often had lunch at Repp’s when Chuck was his mentor. He thinks the sausage sandwiches at Repp’s are better than the hot dogs at Trail’s End. He went on to say how he and Chuck often had lunch in the local bars. “Really good food,” he said. Now that Chuck has retired and moved to Arizona, Brent misses those lunches. I suggested to Marv that maybe we should make Repp’s our supper stop. But we didn’t. Instead we sampled the herring which Al buys from Olson’s in Minnesota. Elaine and Gary said it tasted as good as that which they’d had in Copenhagen.
Friends had warned us that Repp’s isn’t always open, that Al closes early. Well, the last is true. He usually closes at 7 PM. I guess the place is busy during the day as three afternoons a week cribbage players drop in for a few hours of their favorite game. The tables are equipped with cup holders to keep the beer bottles off the tables and to keep the cards dry. During our stay there were no other customers.
Don recalled regularly dropping into Repp’s in the late 60s. Don didn’t have Cable TV at home, but Repp’s did. So being an avid sports fan, he’d have a beer after work and check out the sports scene via the ESPN channel at Repp’s. Or he’d drop by to watch an evening game.
Al, a former president of the Oshkosh Tavern League, says the state League is the “most powerful pressure group” in the Legislature. He wouldn’t answer my question on raising the beer tax; instead he wanted to tell us that the cigarette tax was too high. Not being smokers, we ignored that.
A couple of things make Repp’s unique—other than the early closing time. For one thing, it has no pool table. Also, no dice playing is allowed because Al doesn’t like the sound of the banging dice cups on the bar. Finally there are no pitchers of beer available.
It was after six, the ABC Nightly News with Charles Gibson had ended and the local news with Bill Jartz was underway on the only TV set in the place. I, who had been here once or twice with some Lourdes teachers, and Don remembered cracking open salted-in-the-shell peanuts and dropping the shells on the floor. They were so deep that they crunched underfoot.
We left by that same side door we had entered, leaving Al Repp all alone with the ABC local news at 6:00 and the framed photos of the past. We headed across town to Andy’s Pub & Grub.