Anyone remember the Tap Room at Fitger’s?

Before the Rex Bar existed, Fitger’s had the Tap Room. It was a party room that you rented out for 10 dollars and got unlimited beer and kegs. I’m doing an article on the history of the Rex and if anyone went to the Tap Room when it was called the Tap Room, you should let me know your memories!

21 Comments

Paul Lundgren

about 11 years ago

I don't know anything about renting out a room and getting unlimited beer, but the Tap Room occupied the basement of Fitger's up until about 2007. The Tap Room was replaced briefly by a bar called Lido, which failed immediately, and then the Rex opened in late 2008.

The Tap Room continued on after leaving the Fitger's complex, but its life at 21 N. Fourth Ave. W. was brief. Andy Gamache was the owner in the place's final years. In the late 1990s, John Bonneville (R.I.P.) ran the Tap Room.

My first memory of the Tap Room was going to see the Hoopsnakes there in roughly 1990. I was in high school and didn't really realize I was going to a bar and would be unlikely to get in. I actually wore my letter-jacket, with the year '91 on the shoulder, but they still let me and my underage friends in. We drank soda and enjoyed the show.

Dorkus

about 11 years ago

The Tap Room was simply a bar, just like Paul stated. There was no special room they had that you could rent for any amount, especially not for 10 dollars with "unlimited beer and kegs.

Though, it was a decent bar if you were into the whole college, elbow-to-elbow, can't move kinda scene.

They did host some good bands though.

Barrett Chase

about 11 years ago

One question: What publication is this article for?

bully

about 11 years ago

When I went to the Tap Room at Fitger's 2002-2007 they had free beer from 8-9 and we would get as many beers as we could and strategically hide them throughout the bar so we wouldn't have to buy beer for the next 3 hours.  The other thing I remember well from the Tap Room was the long lines for the bathroom and its multiple places guys were peeing (toilet, urinal, sink, garbage can).  When the Tap Room moved into the spot above the Duluth Athletic Club it had a $10 all-you-can-drink night on Friday nights.  It got ugly in there.

Jake

about 11 years ago

Wait, it's not The Tap Room anymore?  Huh...

adam

about 11 years ago

...and it smelled like someone dumped an ashtray into an over chlorinated pool.

z_man

about 11 years ago

Best Tap Room experience: Post "Crazy Train" party with Trampled by Turtles playing, probably 2004-2005 or so.

Worst Tap Room experience: Tied between every other time I was in there.

Mr. Nied

about 11 years ago

I miss Lido. Went every Tuesday to watch music videos and get free drinks. Good times. No one was ever there.

adam

about 11 years ago



You're welcome.

Crazy Train #2. I can't place the date, or locate the file, but here's a picture.

Paul Lundgren

about 11 years ago

Adam/Z_Man, that was the 2004 Crazy Train.

z_man

about 11 years ago

Nice!  I was trying really hard to remember what year that was.

Tony D.

about 11 years ago

The Pope is right: Fitger's Brewery operated a Tap Room for a long time before the Fitger's Brewery Complex housed the "modern" Tap Room described by Paul above.

The following is from Fitger's: The Brewery & its People, available at the Bookstore @ Fitger's. Material is copyrighted; images belong to Scott Vesterstein

Fitger's Tap Room Fitger's had leased the Pickwick at Prohibition's start, leaving Fitger's without a traditional in-house saloon upon the return of beer. When Prohibition was repealed, the bottom level of the office building (one floor below the current lobby of Fitger's Inn) was therefore converted into the "Tap Room." It was fairly modest in décor when compared to bars at other breweries (and the old mural-filled Brewery Saloons in Fitger's past). The tables were plain and it had a piano, pool table, and a fireplace. New beer tokens were made, the same shape but slightly larger than pre-Prohibition tokens. (Tokens during World War II would be made of cardboard or wood because of the scarcity of metals.) The Tap Room also was used for sales meetings, employee holiday parties, recreation club meetings, and as a meeting place for the summer tours. (Following World War II, many returning veterans would hold their stag parties at the Tap Room.) The brewery also rented out the facilities, including the bartender and an unlimited supply of beer, for $10 a night. This fee lasted into the 1960s. The room had chairs for forty to fifty people, but on many occasions, up to eighty would be in the Tap Room at one time. The End of a Tap Room Tradition The Tap Room had been available to rent for private parties for over twenty years for a mere $10 a night, including the bartender and an unlimited supply of beer. In late 1960s, however, some enterprising students from UMD brought an end to that tradition. Students would rent the room under the guise of a club, pay the $10 fee, and then sell tickets to their friends for $1 per person. The sale of forty tickets would net them $30 in addition to having a beer party for free. Brewery officials learned of such violations, and thus ended the $10 Tap Room bargain. The Tap Room was revived in the late 1980s as a bar and dance club with live music, but it is located in a different part of the complex (the original Tap Room was in the same space now occupied by the Snow Goose). It is once again popular among the college crowd.
The caption for the image showing the two gentleman reads: "John Beerhalter Jr. (center) meets with a KDAL-TV representative in the Tap Room to introduce a new advertising plan."

The Big E

about 11 years ago

Those conniving students' actions constitute one instance where I think we can all agree that torches and pitchforks would have been entirely the proper town vs. gown response.

woodtick

about 11 years ago

You could buy a .5 liter Heineken stoneware stein there for a few extra dollars and have it filled with your favorite marcobrew for less every visit.  But since the steins all had to stay there - and all looked identical it was interesting trying to find your own specific stein; above the bar where all the glasses were kept, with easily wiped off names writ in black Sharpie on the bottom.

Tomasz

about 11 years ago

Sheesh.

Some enterprising college students simply work within the system to make everyone happy and they kill the room?  Sad.

spy1

about 11 years ago

Yet another "tap room":

Storeroom murals tap into the past
Wall-to-wall paintings once adorned People's Brewing Co. tap room, which now houses brick samples for West Duluth business
By Chuck Frederick
Duluth News Tribune, August 11, 1999

The north woods murals have been around for more than six decades, dating to the end of Prohibition and a time when People's Brewing Co. produced the Twin Ports' only malt liquor.

But they've been largely forgotten inside the once-pub-like tap room since People's left West Duluth in 1957.

Brock White, a building materials supplier and brick distributor, owns the building now and uses the old tap room as a storeroom for brick samples. But that doesn't mean its owners haven't puzzled over the murals they inherited.

"I'm concerned that they're aging and that someday they'll be lost," Brock White owner Dave Whitney said recently inside the stuffy, second-story room. "They seem significant enough that they should at least be noted. Maybe they could be photographed and recorded somewhere.

"And I'd love to know who the artist was. Did he do any other mural work," Whitney asked. "Just how significant is this?"
    
Good questions. But with few easy answers.
    
Local art experts say the paintings are amateurish and more commercial than academic. Artistically, they simply aren't very significant.

"They're just generic north woods scenes," said Martin DeWitt, director of the Tweed Museum of Art at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. "They were done primarily for decoration by someone who was less-than-professional, probably someone who went around doing commission jobs."

"The artist was probably hired simply to create an atmosphere. He or she did do that," said John Steffl, the artistic director for the Duluth Art Institute. "But the landscape isn't from around here. It's an imagined scenery. I don't think we're looking at any sort of a masterpiece of American art."

But that doesn't mean they aren't valuable, said local history buffs.

"We don't have another space like this in the city of Duluth," said Chad Perkins, a local preservationist and staff member of the Heritage Preservation Commission.

"This room is part of Duluth's history," Perkins said. "It's important to the history of this business and the role it played in West Duluth. And it's a remnant of Duluth's lost era of brewing. This is one of the last pieces of evidence of that heyday."

Duluth was once home to three breweries: People's, Fitger's and Duluth Brewing and Malting. There also was Northern Brewing in Superior.
    
People's was among the smallest with a capacity to produce only about 40,000 to 50,000 barrels a year. That compares to Fitger's, which had a capacity of 150,000 barrels.

People's started production in 1907.

"They never made much money," said Coopen Johnson, a longtime Fitger's employee and an expert on local brewing history. "They called it the People's Brewery because the idea was that this was for individual saloonkeepers who weren't already tied to the other local breweries or even to brewers in Milwaukee."

People's produced the Twin Ports' only stout beer and its only malt liquor, which was popular for its higher alcohol content. The company's products included People's Choice, People's Stag, Olde English 600 malt liquor, Ruff's Olde English Stout and Regal Supreme.

During Prohibition, People's filed for bankruptcy, but remained open, bottling soda pop, said Pete Clure, who has been collecting local beer memorabilia and researching local brewing for more than two decades.
    
The brewery closed in 1957.

"People's was squeezed out," Clure said. "They just couldn't compete. A brewery that size just couldn't make it. There were a lot of local brews to choose from back then and after (World War II), that's when the national labels really started coming in."

The local breweries all had tap rooms. During work hours, employees took their beer breaks there. In the evenings, owners entertained clients and other guests. And on weekends, bachelor parties and other gatherings filled the pub-like spaces.

"You could rent Fitger's for $10 a night, I remember," Johnson said. "And that included a bartender and all the beer you could drink."

Fitger's tap room was gutted years ago and is now a gift shop. The others are all gone, too -- with the lone exception of People's. Though it's just a storeroom now, the old bar is still there, as are the taps and even a turn-of-the-century piano.

"It's the last existing tap room we have," Clure said. "And it's all still there, too, right down to the beer coolers and old bar. It's significant. It's important because it's intact. I hope it's never lost."

The murals cover every wall inside the tap room. At one time, they even covered the windows. They depict winter hunting scenes, logging camps and a fishing cabin. An old wooden inboard boat slices across a glass-still lake. A hunting dog hurries to catch up to its master. And a moose searches for food.

Scrawled near the bottom of one of the murals is "R. MacG -- Galloway" and "1933." Neither DeWitt nor Steffl recognized the name of the apparent artist or artists. But the year jumped out at them.

Nineteen-thirty-three was when Prohibition was lifted, ending 14 years of bootlegging and illegal alcohol trading. America also was struggling through the Great Depression then, and artists, many of them literally starving, wandered the country, looking for work.

They helped fuel America's grand era of murals, which lasted from the 1890s through the 1930s. The federal government even hired artists then to beautify Works Progress Administration, or WPA, projects.

In the Northland, memorable pieces, many of them still around, were painted during this era. They include murals in the Kom-On-Inn bar in West Duluth, NorShor Theatre in old downtown, the old Salter School on London Road, Hibbing City Hall, the Lake County Courthouse, Ely High School and elsewhere.

"A tap room in a brewery is a perfect spot for this sort of art," said Tom O'Sullivan, a curator of art for the Minnesota Historical Society who has traveled the state studying these murals.

"Artists would go far and wide back then to find someone who would pay them to decorate the walls. These murals aren't common in the dime-a-dozen sense, but they were popular. They aren't unusual."

The murals in the old People's Brewery would be more significant had they been produced by WPA-hired artists. They weren't, O'Sullivan said. WPA-sanctioned murals were always in public places, and the program was so image-conscious, there's almost no way it would have ever associated with a brewery or with the production of alcohol.

The owner of the old People's tap room has no immediate plans for the murals or the space. Dick Whitney said he needs the storage room. But that doesn't mean he wouldn't listen to ideas.

"If someone is willing to build us a storage shed out back, then...," he said, his eyebrows rising as if willing to accept ideas.

"It would be great if this space could be brought back to a usable state," said Perkins of the Heritage Preservation Commission. "It's not too far from that now. And we need to preserve the history of Duluth in all forms -- including murals on the walls of an old brewery."

Makoons

about 11 years ago

The Tap Room was the first bar I ever went to once I became legal and became a college haunt for me every Wednesday until it closed. I remember waiting alongside the dance floor until at least 11 when everyone was getting buzzed enough to actually dance. I never felt like that space was very conducive to dancing even though it had amazing DJs. I never went to Lido but have been to the Rex and love the live music.

I met a guy there I almost married a couple of years later. Luckily that didn't happen.

in.dog.neato

about 11 years ago

I remember the place reeking of stale tobacco smoke. Poorly lit and not so well laid out. The concrete walls made the acoustics almost unbearable.

popex074

about 11 years ago

Makoons, Woodtick, and Bully are any of you available to talk about your experience further? This is for a Jouralism class I am taking, so it wouldn't be published in a magazine or newspaper. If you could that would be fantastic, just e-mail me [email protected] Thanks everyone for your feedback I really appreciate it!

bfinstad

about 11 years ago

Man, now I feel like I've been gone awhile.  I read this and thought, "What?  The Tap Room is gone?"  and "What is Rex?"

popex074

about 11 years ago

Hey everyone I actually made an error I am writing an article but it does have the possiblity of being published, sorry for the mistake of not being upfront right away. for any of you have questions let me know. Again aorry for the confusion.

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