The house that temperance built: new book includes Delavan landmark
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B.J. Wentker’s Historic Fine Dining in Burlington graces the cover of “Bottom’s Up: A Toast to Wisconsin’s Historic Bars & Breweries” from Wisconsin Historical Society Press. The book highlights Wisconsin’s brewing history and dozens of watering holes around the state. Photo by Mark Fay, Wisconsin Historical Society Press.
MADISON -- Arguably, it was beer that made not only Milwaukee famous, but Wisconsin as well. In a new Wisconsin Historical Society Press book, “Bottoms Up: A Toast to Wisconsin’s Historic Bars & Breweries,” authors Jim Draeger and Mark Speltz give the amber brew its due.
(Read all of this week's stories from Walworth County Sunday HERE. )
The book, photographed by Mark Fay, offers an engaging timeline of the history of brewing in the state, examining the combination of factors that make beer so popular here. It’s a story of early stagecoach inns becoming local saloons, good conditions for making beer and immigrants with a taste for it, Prohibition and the social changes it brought, production innovations that had an impact on buying habits, big breweries and even a thriving rebirth of microbreweries. Also touched upon is the love-hate relationship with alcohol in the state, including the 19th-century temperance movement -- with a Delavan connection -- and the modern organizations it spawned, such as Mothers Against Drunk Drivers.
The second half of the book highlights 70 Wisconsin taverns or breweries still in existence (though not all operating as originally intended) that physically detail the evolution of brewing history, from ornately carved bars in century-old brick taverns to the former lagering caves of what now is the MillerCoors Co.
Picking and visiting those places sounds like a beer lover’s dream, but
the authors were there to work, not imbibe.
“Because this is not our day job, we had to do research on weekends,” said Speltz, a senior historian at American Girl, a Middleton-based doll company that’s a division of Mattel. “One of my favorite lines is friends and family members who wanted to go with us on these trips were ‘designated drinkers’ since Jim and I were there talking to bartenders and patrons, jotting down notes and doing research.”
“It turns out when you tell people you’re writing a book about taverns, the most common question is ‘How can I help?’” said Draeger, an architectural historian and a deputy state historic preservation officer at the Wisconsin Historical Society. “Wisconsin has 5,000 taverns that are members of the Wisconsin Tavern League alone. With tips and such, we got the number down to 350 taverns and hit the road looking at those.”
One of the tips they received was B.J. Wentker’s Historic Fine Dining, located in Racine County. While in Burlington one day, standing on the street in a pouring rain, Draeger and Speltz found themselves looking for the place in vain, asking directions of two or three passersby, who couldn’t help.
“Then a kid of about 15 comes by and when we asked him, he knew exactly where it was,” Draeger said. “The moral of the story is if you want to know where a tavern is, ask a 15-year-old.”
They discovered their destination worth the trouble.