When I wrote this piece on Walleye’s in March 2011, Larry Spanbauer’s book Oshkosh Neighborhood Taverns and the People Who Ran Them had not been printed yet. For this Oshkosh Independent article, I drove back to 6th and Michigan where Walleye’s Pub sits on the northeast corner. I knew it had closed and several months ago I had seen a For Sale sign on it. But now there’s just the empty building; another old tavern has bitten the dust.
Spanbauer’s article confirmed my thinking that this place, like dozens of other old taverns in town, dates back to 1891. It too was built on the route factory workers would take walking to and from their industrial jobs. It too was a place of respite from the noise, dirt and danger of the factory. A place to air gripes about working conditions, or reminisce about the old days in the old country. For at that time many, if not all, of the factory workers here were immigrants from Germany and its environs.
Spanbauer writes that J. Christian Heise was the original owner. (1891 – 1908) Then Christian Dore until 1912. He’s followed by Gus Wohlt (1914), then Gus Drum (1916-1919) and John Brickham (1919). Gerald Boushele operated the place during Prohibition (I’m assuming still as a tavern) and Joseph Jungwirth (1930-1932) ran it during the last couple of Prohibition years. From 1934 to 1997 the place goes through several owners and name changes. Spanbauer suspects that during the years 1916 to 1950 the building was owned by the Drum family.
Spanbauer’s listing of owners and names ends with Paul Ulrich in 1997 when the name Walleye’s came into being. But in other years it had been known as Hermie’s Tavern, Time Tavern, Gordy’s Bar, 6th Street Blues, Sixth Street Flyer and Diggers Rodeo Bar. Here is my blog piece from March 2011:
On the Ides of March 2011, Gary, Elaine, Marv and I set out on a trail ride without Don and Judy, who are missing the March spring weather to sun in Florida. Imagine that. It was Gary who suggested the Ides (translate: Tuesday, March 15). During eight months of the ancient Roman Empire calendar, the Ides falls on the 13th day of the month. The other two months (yes, the ancient Romans calendar had only ten months) the Ides fell on the 15th. Since the Romans didn’t have the concept of a 7-day week and didn’t name the days, there was no danger of a Friday the 13th. But in March the Ides fall on the 15th and as we all know, marked the day in 44 B.C. when Gaius Julius Caesar should have listened to his wife Calpurnia and stayed home rather than go out with the boys.
Elaine and I had had a few phone conversations about where to go. A name that kept popping up was Walleye’s. It fit our general criterion—old. I’d had this place on my list ever since the B & E people mentioned it months ago. Then on the Monday, Feb. 21 during the blizzard Elaine was watching TV and reading the crawl on the bottom of the screen that announced school, church, and non-profit event cancellations. Among those was this one: “Walleye’s will not open until 4 PM.” We wondered how many patrons stopped in their tracks and settled for a coffee at home instead of a tap at the bar that morning and early afternoon.
That settled it, though. We would begin at Walleye’s. Gary (designated driver) and Elaine picked us up about five. Since Ninth is closed, Gary snaked the car over to Witzel and looped us through two traffic circles. From there it was an easy ride to 458 W. Sixth where Walleye’s sits on the northeast corner of Michigan and Sixth.
It’s another boon town design—two stories, wooden frame construction false front on second floor and entrance on the corner itself. We don’t think it has any outdoor smoking area—unless you call standing on the corner a smoking area. Lots of cigarette butts there. The door was standing open and we entered. Eleven people were lined up at the bar.
The young bartender Mo was outfitted in Brewer attire complete with baseball cap on backwards. “He’s wearing Brewer shorts too,” said one of the patrons in Green Bay Packer duds (even shoes with the “G” logo). We didn’t ask for proof.
“Why’s this place called Walleye’s?” I asked, handing Mo our card. I expected an answer having something to do with fishing tournaments and thought I should see a stuffed walleye or two mounted on the wall. But wrong again. “It’s my dad’s nickname,” said Mo. “His real name is Paul, but his nickname is Walleye.” I let it go at that. I didn’t think it was any of my business to ask how he got the nickname. There were only four taps: Bud, Bud Light, Miller High Life and Miller Lite. We ordered three Miller High Life; Gary explained he was the designated driver.
The highlight of the place that night was the appearance of two Dumb and Dumber look-alikes—complete in orange and baby blue suits. They had come to Walleye’s from Markesan along with a sister and friends. It was the orange guy’s birthday. They were eager to pose for pictures and quick to assume the poses and gestures of Jeff Daniels and Jim Carrey. Music from the movie’s soundtrack played in the background. They were having a great time and were very entertaining. “Why did you come here?” we asked. Orange man said he had played softball for Walleye’s and wanted to make this one of his birthday celebration stops.
Elaine and Gary moved to a table on the west side of the room across from the long bar. Marv went to check out the men’s room and the back room (more about that later) while I talked to a guy at the bar about the place. He told me a suspended ceiling was taken down last summer after the smoking ban passed. I imagine it was loaded with stale tobacco odor. The original pressed tin ceiling shows now. “Should be painted black, dontcha think?” he asked. Well, it should be painted, but not necessarily black I thought. I asked Mo how old the place was. He thought it dated back to the 1930s. But he’s just a kid. I think the building’s much, much older than that. Maybe it wasn’t always a tavern—after all Prohibition raises its head between 1919-1932 forcing many taverns to take on another “business.” But it certainly has the feel of other places we have been to that date back to the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. I’m sure the back bar isn’t original to the place. Some old paneling with small wildlife scenes peeks out from behind the advertising signs.
Marv returned from his tour of the men’s room and the back room and joined us at the table. He described the men’s room as small with dark green walls. No room to swing a cat in there. We think plumbing may have been an after thought as the sink stands outside the door to both rest rooms. We’ve seen this in many of the old bars we have visited.
There’s a back room with a pool table and dart machine. The walls are covered with a Nascar schedule sponsored by a brewery and a Badger basketball schedule and many 8 x 10 inch photos along the top of the wall. Sports: Yogi, Mickey, Maris, Babe Ruth, etc. Also show biz pics, e.g., Clint as the “man with no name.” (Actually his name was Joe in “Fistful of Dollars,” Manco in “Few Dollars More,” and Blondie in “The Good, Bad and Ugly.”), Martin & Lewis, Blues Brothers, etc. On another wall Marilyn, Raquel, Rita and Farrah, and a large framed picture of the Rat Pack playing pool. One photo that caught Marv’s attention was a signed one of the Pro Wrestler Crusher. Marv recalled the story of a sportscaster asking Crusher what his real name was. “Crusher,” the wrestler replied. Frustrated, the reporter tried a new tack. “Well, Mr. Crusher, what’s you’re first name?” “Da.”
We sipped our beers and listened to the music, now playing, T. J. Hall’s “I Love Beer.” We talked sports and Marv told the story of Steve Waudby, a former Titan basketball player from the U.P. He transferred here in his junior year. We thought he was good, though he needed work: big, tall (6’ 10” as we recall), and powerful. He could muscle around in the paint and even sink an occasional 3. But he didn’t play much—don’t know why. Anyway he’s now in two pro leagues—one in Indiana and one in Australia. Way to go!
Elaine tapped her watch. Time to go. Our next stop was an old familiar place—Andy’s Pub and Grub.