By Tim “Shoe” Sullivan
In my opinion, the Unique Bar was the best tavern ever in Stevens Point.
And it’s been gone for over 30 years. I discovered that the “U” existed way back in the ’70s. It was located directly across from the front door of the former Stevens Point Journal building. I’m guessing the Unique was founded sometime in the 1920s by Dan Repinski. They had a picture of him on the wall.
The first thing I noticed in my first visit to the Unique was the bartenders. One was Emory Konop, and the other was “Just a minute” Stevie. They were older guys who always wore white aprons and bow ties. It was a shot and beer place, and Stevie was always swamped with thirsty patrons. Every time you ordered a brew, Stevie would say “Just a minute!”
The Unique was a landmark just around the corner from downtown. It had an old-fashioned awning hanging over the sidewalk. You could walk in through the front door or go around in the back by the alley. People lived in apartments above. The Unique also had a small liquor store off to the side next to their kitchen. You could buy beer, booze, and wine in the liquor store, and most of the customers parked on the street.
The Unique had a horseshoe bar which encouraged you to talk or yell to someone sitting across from you. Other than the Dewey on the Southside, the Unique was the only bar in town without a jukebox, but it did have a small television tucked away in the far corner above a flower pot.
I started going to the Unique because they had great homemade barbecues. Actually, “great” doesn’t do them justice–their barbecues were beyond awesome. The meat was in small cubes, and the sauce was out of this world. They stirred it for hours on the little stove in back, and they always used fresh buns from the infamous Point Bakery. They sold at least a hundred barbecues every Saturday and served them daily. To this day, 30 years later, people in Point still wonder how the Unique made its barbecues.
Bob Drengberg owned the place when I started going there. He was called “Rock Bottom Robert” due to his low prices, and he married Mary Repinski. Bob was a terrific fun-loving guy who bartended at Pete’s Silver Coach while attending UW-Stevens Point. His boss, Charles “Pete” Redfield, could be found sipping on orange juice every Monday afternoon at the Unique.
One night, Ma Pesch and I were in there eating barbecues and sipping the suds when Bob hired me as a bartender. I said, “But Rock Bottom, I never bartended before.” Drengberg said, “Good. Be here at 8 tomorrow morning.”
Man, was I in for an awakening. I showed up at 8 AM; by 8:05, there already were 10 guys in there ordering shots of Early Times and beer chasers. I never knew people went to bars that early.
Here’s how dumb I was: someone down at the far end of the bar would order a shot of brandy. So I’d go to the shelf, grab the bottle, pour some into the shot-glass, and carry it over to the customer while hoping to not spill any. This lasted for about a week until someone said, “You know, it might be easier if you’d leave the glass by the customer and just take the bottle over.” Hello.
Had a rough start working the little liquor store, too. It got steady business. My first day, a college kid came in and bought a six-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon. I never handled a cash register before. I rang it up. The receipt read $1,170.79. The college kid complained, and I didn’t blame him a bit.
The Unique was very much a “townie” bar. You would find Journal employees scattered among the gals from the bank. An architect would be sitting next to an insurance agent and across from a doctor or dentist. Railroad employees, millworkers, shampoo salesmen, guys from Osco, and a few college students or professors would tip a few at the U-nee-Q.
Norm Merkle from Merkle’s Sewing Center normally sat next to the Entsmingers from Jean’s Beauty Salon.
You could usually find Bunsie Mozuch, Lenny Yulga, George Pfiffner, George Clayton, and Jim Schlice in there talking about the news of the day. The Kolinski family from Quality Beverage were regulars. And Packer pools were big in the fall.
My fellow bartenders were all terrific. Charlie Spaar, Blaine “Goose” Reichelt, Mae Nachman, Kasha Jelich, Steve Shuster, Tom Lundgren, and Chris Lewis. Goose went on to referee in the NBA for 25 years. Both Reichelt and Shuster each devoured 10 barbecues in one afternoon.
By far, the two most memorable “regulars” were Elanor and Smiley. Elanor was a middle-aged waitress from Woolworth’s who liked to have her say. About anything. And she was loud. Funny and loud. You could always tell when Elanor was there. You could hear her from Shippy Shoes down the block. Everyone loved Elanor.
“Smiley” was Ed Smiley. Ed was about 80 and retired from the railroad. He was usually in the Unique with his pal Ernie, who never said anything, which you can’t say about Smiley. Ed yelled all the time. The only way to quiet him was to give him a puzzle to work on. Then you wouldn’t hear a peep from him. But otherwise…oh brother.
One night Bill Karner from the Journal was in his favorite spot watching the TV when a documentary about Al Capone came on. Chicago gangsters shooting everybody. Smiley yelled, “That guy was great! He ran them soup kitchens in Chicago! I ate in a few!” Smiley was a legend and so was Elanor.
My God, that bar was fun. Bill Nuck and Chuck Nason were always telling jokes. Jeff Weir loved to imitate Dave Roman. They were usually playing blackjack with Norm Merkle and a bunch of other guys. Roman was always hilarious. At night, the bar was kinda taken over by the sports teams.
The Unique had two softball teams. Their first one won a few league games but was mainly out for a good time. In 1977, Mike Metcalf, Roman, Nason, Jim Menzel, Pat Cashin, and Drengberg actually made their own softball cards, which got national attention. The guys on cards included Metcalf, Roman, Nason, Menzel, Rock Bottom, Pat Cashin, Tom Cashin, Jim Burquest, Andy Risberg, Mike Kochinski, Don Mansavage, Darrell Christie, Don Ceplina, Gary Olson, Gary Stoltenberg, Don Wiczek and Shoe.
The Associated Press picked up a story about the cards written by Bonnie Bressers of the SPJ. Tom Kujawski took the photo and the story and photo went nationwide. Television stations also interviewed some of the Unique players. Some think the Unique cards were the first softball cards in the country.
The second Unique softball team was a league powerhouse. The team went 20-0 over two seasons at Goerke and included Pete Sipple, Steve Carr, Spike Shulfer, Pat Hedquist, Denny Peterson, Tim Kedrowski, Bill Stoltz, Bob Klosno, Duck Shannon, and a few other ringers.
The Unique came out with great-looking jerseys which were black with gold lettering and featured menu items and prices on the back and “Unique” on the front. An example was “Point Tap 15 cents”.
One of the great things about the Unique was that you never knew who would drop in next. One afternoon I was bartending and the usual ten or so patrons were enjoying their shots and beer.
Then out of the blue, the great Green Bay Packer middle linebacker Ray Nitschke walked through the front door.
Ray sat there at the bar and drank a can of tomato juice. People did double-takes and raced for the phone. Within an hour, there were suddenly over a hundred people jamming into the Unique. Ray signed autographs for everyone (free of charge) and posed for countless pictures. Mr. Nitschke was awesome, and everyone had a great time.
And speaking of celebrities, the late Hall of Fame White Sox owner Bill Veeck knew about the Unique back in the day.
John Anderson of the UWSP News Service was sitting in the Unique one night just minding his own business. He was definitely NOT a regular. The softball team was celebrating a victory. I was bartending when John called me over.
He said, “I like that potted fern in the corner over there. I’m gonna try for an indoor record. I’m gonna try to balance that pot on my head for ten minutes without using my hands.” God, was that funny.
A couple of ladies came in and looked around and said, “What a strange place! My dentist is over there with my doctor celebrating a softball game, and that guy in the middle has a flower pot on his head.”
Everyone started betting on that pot lasting or not lasting 10 minutes. Dave Roman bet Jim Shuda $5 that John would make it; with a minute to go, Roman put a pepper shaker under John’s nose and the pot went flying. Mr. Anderson got a standing ovation and Roman lost the five bucks.
The Unique Bar & Liquor building and all of the surrounding buildings came down in the mid-’80s when the mall went up. A big piece of downtown history became a victim of the bulldozers Stevens Point hasn’t been the same since. Many of the cast of characters are no longer with us, and all that remains are fond memories.
Like my first week of bartending when two girls came in and ordered a Bloody Mary. I said, “What? A bloody Mary? Is that a beer?” They laughed and said “No. It’s a mixed drink.” I pointed to the back bar and said, “Well, go over there and make them yourselves. I don’t even know what to charge. It’s on me.”
They gave me a dime tip…the only tip I got in five years.
But it was all I could drink when I wasn’t bartending.
I loved that place, and so did many others.
It’s a parking lot now.