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Unveiling Marquette’s Rich Bar History: The Boozy Backstory

by | Sep 19, 2023 | Beer, History | 0 comments

As we counted down the days to the Michigan UP Fall Beer Festival, we stumbled upon a talk about Marquette’s Rich Bar History — a fundraising event at the Marquette Regional History Center

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Unveiling Marquette’s Rich Bar History

Originally planned as a walking tour, the evening’s drizzle transformed it into an intimate slideshow presentation inside the museum. Jim Koski, our guide for the night, likened the switch to “learning a song on a guitar and then being told you have two hours to learn it on a piano.” Despite the change in format, the essence of Marquette‘s rich bar history remained the same, told through Koski’s vivid anecdotes and colorful characters.

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Bar History Snippets

Koski, our guide, shared stories of Marquette’s bars and nightlife. To research the talk, he joined groups on Facebook and asked what the bar scene was like in the ’50s, ’60s, and the ’70s. He said, “Because some of these stories were really, really bad. And because of that, I can’t guarantee that these are 100 percent historically accurate. Because I’m guessing the people to whom they happen don’t even remember all the details. But we’ll start the stories, and we’ll talk about how things happen.” 

No Women Allowed! 

Joe Fine’s bar, now the location of Baby Cakes, was a men-only establishment. Koski explained that the bar was designed for serious drinkers—no pool tables, no jukeboxes, and not even bar stools. “Real men stand and drink,” Joe Fine would say, and if you couldn’t stand, you were cut off. The policy of no women allowed remained in place until the 1960s. 

The reason for the no-women policy remained a mystery until Koski encountered Fine’s son at a presentation and asked him why no women were allowed. Fine’s son explained that his dad enjoyed his time away from his wife, and in order to keep her from visiting him at work, the no women rule was put into place. The audience laughed out loud at this story of marital dysfunction. 

Shenanigans at Flanagan’s

Then there were the shenanigans at Flanagan’s. It was known for nightly fights between local men and airmen from K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base during the late 1950s to mid-1960s. A great story that Koski shared about Flanagan’s concerned a guy who won $10,000 in the Michigan Lottery and took it to Flanagan’s to show off his ticket. If you can believe it, he passed the ticket around to everyone so they could see it. Yep, you guessed it, by the time it got back to him, he no longer had a winning ticket. I wonder if anyone bothered to buy that guy a beer?

Mock Wedding

One of my favorite stories was the Mock Wedding at The Store. “The bride climbed on the groom’s shoulders and removed her halter top. She swung it around like a lasso and then flung it into the crowd in lieu of a bouquet. At the same time, the ladies from the Salvation Army walked in. Because apparently the ladies from the Salvation Army would go around to downtown Marquette bars late on a Saturday night and try to solicit funds from the drunk college students,” Koski shared. 

The Store was where Forsberg Flowers is now. Sorta fitting, given the wedding story. 

Now, I can’t share all of the stories, or even those that got the most laughs, because that wouldn’t be fair to Jim Koski. Check his YouTube channel for more pieces of the past

Beer Options

A few of Marquette Breweries poured beer at the event and took the stage to share more about their breweries.

Ore Dock Brewery

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Blayne, Ore Dock’s Brewery Sales Lead, was first. “Ore Dock right across the street was not a bar back in the day. It seems like every other building in town was. But that was the old Fry Chevy dealership back in the 50s. We started the brewery Memorial Day weekend 2012. We’re just under 1,000 barrels of beer in our first year. This year, we’ll be close to 2,600 barrels. So, if you do the math, that’s just over 80,000 gallons of beer.”

Barell + Beam 

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Representing Barrel + Beam was Kevin. “I do sales and distribution for them. A little bit about our brewery: it actually is a historic building.  Has anyone, or did anyone ever go to the Northwood Supper Club?” he asked. 

The Northwoods Supper Club opened in 1934 on Highway 41 and closed in 2007. The owners, Nick Van Court and Marina Dupler bought the building in 2015. And it took about two years to refurbish it. It is now the Barrel + Beam in the Northwoods. 

They specialize in traditional farmhouse ales; they do fruit and sours, ciders, and meads. 

Kognisjon Bryggeri 

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Justin Boldenow, or Boldy for short, Kognisjon Bryggeri’s Dark Alchemist of Libation, shared, “We’re sort of the new kids on the block, so to speak.” In another life, they were in the historic Mather Inn in Ishpeming. Now, they are in a new location, once an A&P Grocery Store in Marquette.   

Boldenow continued, “Being the sort of new, odd, weird, and also historic brewery, part of our trademark is: drink beer, revere nature, stay curious. We do a lot of traditional and historic beer. We’re offering a Rausch beer here; we’ve also done a Sahti. We’re brewing one [Sahit] this Friday.” 

They do historic beers, but they also get weird, and they get freaky. “We’re doing Cheesecake Sours. If you don’t know what that is…Stay curious, and come try one. We invite you to come to our tap room. We’re very happy to show you what we have; we’ve got 24 taps,” Boldenow said.  

Drifa Brewing

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“Hi there, my name is Spencer; I’m the head brewer at Drifa Brewing Company in South Marquette. Like all the other breweries here, we also renovated an old building. We’re over by the power plant that is no longer. We specialize in a pretty broad-spectrum style of beer,” Spenser said. 

He continued, “I like European style, so I tend to do more of those. I brought a New England IPA that I named after my car, Judy’s Big Booty. And I brought a Mexican lager as well and a Belgian-style Saison.” 

Drifa is Michigan’s first community-owned brewery. Spencer said, “Everybody who is a member can come talk to me and tell me what they like and what they don’t like. And what they would like to see me make. I love hearing the feedback. It’s great. And I think, as of the last time I checked, we were at about 750 members, and we celebrate our fourth anniversary in October.” 

Blackrocks Brewery

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“Hello, my name is Andy. I’m with Blackrocks. I got here a little late, and I missed Jim’s historical spiel, and I’m kind of bummed about that,” Andy Langlois said with a smile.

Since they opened their doors on 3rd Street, Andy shared that it’s been fascinating to witness the evolution of Marquette’s beer scene. Over the past 13 to 14 years, the town has transformed significantly. He remembered pouring beers in 2014 when visitors started coming to explore Marquette’s breweries. While this is common in cities like Grand Rapids, it was a new phenomenon for Marquette.

The growth has been remarkable, with more breweries joining the scene and elevating beer quality. Andy said regarding the growth of beer in Marquette, “It’s no doubt that we have a leg up. Our largest ingredient is water, and we get to take it right out of Lake Superior, which has a pretty damn good profile for brewing beer. It’s been really fun to see that change over the years, and I’m excited to be a part of it.”  

As we wrapped up the evening presentations, it was clear that Marquette’s beer culture is as rich and varied as its history, making it a must-visit destination for any beer enthusiast. 

Music: Arvon Hunting Club

Incredible Bank sponsored the event’s live music from Arvon Hunting Club. Featuring members of the Wayouts (which sadly is not the band from the Flintstones), Arvon Hunting Club played a great set of covers touching on country and a bit of 80’s hits. This intriguing combination of tunes had everyone smiling while enjoying a great beer after Jim Koski’s presentation.

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The Museum’s Exhibit Gallery

Returning to the Marquette’s Regional History Center the next day, we were captivated by a special exhibit that Director Cris Osier had tipped us off about: “Exposing Photographer: Anything but a Small Business.”

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A treasure trove for photography enthusiasts like us, the exhibit showcased riveting stories of the Upper Peninsula’s trailblazing photographers, complemented by a display of vintage cameras that seemed to whisper tales of the past. 

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But the museum’s storytelling prowess didn’t stop there. The main gallery serves as a vivid tapestry of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, with a special focus on the Marquette area. From the region’s geological wonders to the rich tapestry of Native American culture, each display is a window into a different era. The exceptional Native American exhibits offer an intimate look at early life, while additional sections immerse you in the European homesteading, mining, logging, and maritime sagas that shaped the region.

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Located at 145 W. Spring St. in Marquette, the Marquette Regional History Center is not just a museum; it’s a time capsule that deepens your appreciation for this fascinating corner of Michigan. A visit here is more than recommended—it’s essential.

Photos

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There are more pictures from Marquette’s Regional History Center Fundraiser. After you take a look, let us know what you think.

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