If a bar’s walls could talk, you could imagine the stories it would tell. The secrets, truths, tales, and a mix of all three from patrons, bartenders, cooks, and other staff remain trapped under layers of paint, trying to escape unsuccessfully through the cracks. But every now and then, there’s a special bar with a classic design, heft, and durability that embarks on an epic journey. It’s the kind of bar you see once in 125 years, about to celebrate its Quasquicentennial. It doesn’t need to rely on walls to tell stories because the bar is the story.
This bar’s story is told in four acts, beginning in the big city of Chicago in the late 19th Century and continuing down-state to this very day.
Act 1: The Origin
When you consider the bar’s roots, it makes sense that it was destined for longevity. Anheuser Busch Co. commissioned the bar in 1882, which was designed and built by Brunswick Balke-Collender. The TIMES-PRESS of Streator, IL, described it as, “…a splendid oak and brass structure with intricately carved detailing that measured 14 feet high by 30 feet long and featured 13 electrified gas lights with three sections of mirror and colonnades. The front bar had a copper foot rail and a marble base.”
Anheuser Busch was impressed enough to display the bar at The World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 where it resided in the company’s pavilion for the Fair’s year-long run. When the Fair concluded, sponsors of the exhibits sold displays and showpieces. A barkeep by the name of John Trapp purchased the bar and had it transported by Anheuser Busch’s famed Clydesdale horses some 100 miles away to the small industrial town of Streator and placed in his saloon, Trapp’s Tavern.
It’s the kind of bar you see once in 125 years, about to celebrate its Quasquicentennial. It doesn’t need to rely on walls to tell stories because the bar is the story.
Act 2: Trapped
At the time, Streator had a prolific coal and manufacturing industry and was known as a midwestern railroad hub. Business was good at Trapp’s Tavern, located on Main Street, and the new bar, fresh off it’s run at The World’s Fair, attracted many patrons. According to the TIME-PRESS, the one beer served was Anheuser Busch, and one story reports the kitchen cooked only roast beef sandwiches, while another adds navy bean and chicken noodle soups, and ham sandwiches. Every account, though, notes, “One of the pieces Trapp purchased with the bar was a ‘women’s room’, which was a 15-foot by 15-foot oak and glass walled cubicle where women sat waiting until their men had their fill in the saloon.”
Act 3: Moving Inn
After an 82-year run, the legendary Trapp’s Tavern went out of business, but the allure of the bar grew stronger. Much like the previous century all those decades ago, a new face purchased the bar and gave it a new home. On June 27, 1976, Victor Anderes of Peru, Illinois bought the bar at auction for $26,000. Trapp’s Tavern and the renowned bar went out in style, as an estimated crowd of 200 people from as far as California, Colorado, and Florida gathered for the event. Anderes, a restaurateur, moved the bar to his new business, the Rockwell Inn in Morris, Illinois, 38 miles to the north east.
Recognized more than ever as a marvel of craftsmanship and utility, the bar was installed as the focal point of the new space. Anderes paid homage to its history, naming the room it resided in “The Columbian Exposition Lounge”, while defiantly renaming the former “Women’s Room” the “Not for Women Only” room. The bar even survived a major fire in 1985 because it was somehow shielded from the flames by the tin ceiling that collapsed on it.
Act 4: Greener Pastures
In 2013, the Rockwell Inn shuttered its doors, presumably ending the bar’s intrastate historical journey. This time there were no post-World’s Fair buyers or auctioneers, bidders, or Clydesdales to move the bar to its new home. Finally, the bar had succumbed to its final chapter.
Or so the city of Morris thought.
The forces of change, innovation, entrepreneurship, and nostalgia are powerful enough to revitalize a relic. On August 1, 2013, Illinois enacted the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act. In 2014, Chicagoland-based Grassroots Cannabis launched and soon engaged Cannabis Facility Construction to design-build its new Greenhouse dispensary in Morris, using an existing space once called the Rockwell Inn. Converting an old restaurant into a medical cannabis dispensary would present many challenges, but one thing was crystal clear: that sleeping, history-weary bar would make its greatest comeback yet.
McCullough, D. (1987) ‘World’s Fair flavor found in old bar furniture’, TIMES-PRESS, Streator, 29 July
(1983) ‘Main Street Trapp’s has long history in Streator’, TIMES-PRESS, Streator, 12 May
(1976) ‘Purchases Trapp’s Bar For $26,000’, TIMES-PRESS, Streator, 28 June