An interest in history, along with a penchant for collecting, led Spanbauer down the barroom path. A jar of tokens he picked up while appraising the collection of a local coin shop owner sparked his interest in tavern tokens and he now has more than 1,000 of the plastic, paper and metal tokens that tavern owners passed along to their customers. Some are one-of-a-kind and he is still on the lookout for another 30 that area collectors have yet to find.
The book took Spanbauer about six months to compile, but he admits it is the result of about a decade of “gathering things.” Wading through city directories, advertisements, liquor licenses and other historic documents, he learned a great deal about not only the establishments, but the people who owned them. “It just snowballed into what this is,” he says, pointing to his book.
At its peak, there were 120-130 taverns in Oshkosh. Today there are half that many. Some establishments are no longer operating – or even standing. Others are still in business, though under a different name. In researching the evolution of the tavern community, Spanbauer noticed the correlation between local manufacturing and the fortunes of local watering holes. The Giant Grip Tavern, opened in 1916, took its name – and in all likelihood drew its customer base – from the nearby Giant Grip Manufacturing Company. Even a change in the length of a shift at a local plant could affect the profitability of the nearest bar.
“Lots of taverns went out when some of the big manufacturers left town,” he explains. “They were supported by the working class and the employees weren’t there to come to the tavern anymore.”
Oshkosh Taverns offers a historical perspective that helps to tell the story of life in Oshkosh. Reflecting on one establishment, Spanbauer writes, “The tavern was a gathering spot, in this south side neighborhood, for the men to socialize, talk politics and play cards. It was like the TV show Cheers, where everyone knew your name.”
Spanbauer will have books available for purchase and signing at the event. For more information about this program or other library events and services, call 236-5205 or visit oshkoshpubliclibrary.org. Press release submitted by Oshkosh Public Library.