This is a Story About an Old Oak Bar
In the craft-beer world, we tend to focus on what’s new and exciting. The latest lagers, stouts, and session beers make us scurry to our favorite tap rooms and bottle shops. New Northeast IPAs compel us to bail on work early so we can get the first fresh sip. But sparkle and shine ain’t everything, Kids, and when you’ve been brewing craft beers for 31 years, you can’t help but collect a little history, a few nicks and scratches. Sometimes you’ve just gotta recognize and appreciate it.
Take this bar. Constructed of quarter-sawn red oak, it’s been with Summit Brewing Company since 1990, when Founder and President Mark Stutrud purchased and had it installed at Summit’s original University Avenue location. At that time, the bar was already at least 100 years old — and rich with history. Trouble is, much of that history is lost for good.
Here’s What We Know
The bar, built by Brunswick-Balke-Collender Co., was made in Chicago sometime between 1884 and 1890. (Yeah, the same Brunswicks as the bowling folks.) From there, it wound up in “some bar in southern Minnesota some place,” according to Stutrud, alongside a matching whiskey cabinet and a back bar complete with a vanity mirror. And there all three sat for who knows how long.
Eventually the three pieces were removed and transported to an antique dealer’s barn in Deer Park, Wisconsin. Stutrud heard about the antique dealer, whose name he no longer recalls, from his friend Don Riggott, founder of Architectural Antiques.
“I’d been pestering Don for years about finding a front and back bar for the brewery,” Mark says, “and he called me up one day and said he’d found something. So, he sends me to this dude in Wisconsin, tells me the price and his finder’s fee, and I drove out there.”
The antique dude’s barn was “just chockfull of shit,” Stutrud remembers. “It would’ve been heaven for those guys from American Pickers. There was an old Studebaker in there, just stuff to the rafters.”
“Anyway,” Stutrud says, “the dude didn’t know anything about the bar, and it would have just rotted in there. So, I bought it and had it transported to St. Paul.”
A Promising Lead Before the Trail Goes Cold
Shortly after bringing the bar home, Stutrud found an original serial number etched into the wood beneath the bar top. He wrote it down and stuck the piece of paper in a drawer, thinking one day he’d find someone who could provide a little history.
Years later, on a sales trip to Chicago, Stutrud sat down at a bar and happened to meet a former employee of the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Co. Over a beer, Stutrud got to talking about the old oak bar back at his brewery and asked the man what he might know about it.
Unfortunately, the man couldn’t provide much information or backstory — even with the help of a serial number. Back in the 1970s, as many as 20 years before Mark ever found and purchased the bar, a fire destroyed Brunswick’s Chicago headquarters — along with all of its records. In his words, Stutrud says, “It all went up in flames.”
Here’s What We Don’t Know
- When exactly the set was built.
- The names of all those who’ve owned it.
- All the places it’s lived.
- All the stories it’s heard.
- All the cigarettes that have hung over the bar.
- All the beers it’s helped serve.
- Why anyone would ever let it go.
Today, the front bar and back bars sit silently near each other in the Summit Beer Hall, keeping all their history to themselves. The matching whiskey cabinet displays awards, old beer mugs, and other items of sentimental value in the Beer Hall’s foyer. And because years tend to takes their toll, the front bar has been resurfaced with a beautiful reclaimed wood bar top made by our local pals at Wood From the Hood. Stutrud had the original bar top installed as a drink rail just outside the brew house’s control room.
“We’ve saved every piece,” Stutrud says, and soon enough, after a now-underway modest renovation of our Beer Hall, all three will be reunited and displayed side by side — just as they were always intended to be.