The Pickwick

A lithographic postcard of the Pickwick, ca. 1930.  (Image: Zenith City Press)

508 E. Superior Street | Architect: Anthony Puck | Built: 1914 | Extant

The original Lake Superior Brewery, built by Mike Fink in 1881, housed a tap room simply called the Brewery Saloon and, sometimes, “rathskeller.” It was likely first ran by John Tischer, who applied for a license to operate a billiard table in the facility shortly after it first opened. August Fitger and Percy Anneke became the brewery’s owners in 1885, and German immigrant Franz Heinrich became the saloon’s keeper the next year.

In 1894 Fitger and Anneke expanded and remodeled its Brewery Saloon. They hired artists Feodor von Luerzer and John Fery to paint murals in the revamped saloon’s large “Dutch Room” with Fery’s landscapes on one side and von Luerzer’s more playful scenes from German legends on the other. Von Luerzer’s paintings depicted, among other things, elves brewing beer, drunken monks, and a depiction of August Fitger’s boyhood home in Delmenhorst, Germany. A “sportsman’s guide” from 1895 referred to the saloon as a Bier-Stube and described it eloquently:

“The walls…are decorated with artistic frescoes representing the manufacture of beer under the direction of grotesque little gnomes, from the growth of grain to the finished product in the keg. There is a mammoth fireplace, the shelf over which is adorned with a valuable collection of mugs of famous design, antlers, ancient armor and other curiosities. The old oaken tabled and spindle leg chairs, leaded windows and paneled wainscot give an air of antiquity to the room, easily convincing one that he has transported across the seas and dropped into the feudal age of the German Empire.”

Heinrich died in 1909, and his assistant, Polish immigrant Joe Wisocki, became the saloon’s keeper. In 1914 Fitger and Anneke built a new saloon designed by Duluth architect Anthony Puck, immediately west of their brewery at 508 East Superior Street. The murals were moved to the new building to adorn the walls of the new Dutch Room, and Fery painted more murals elsewhere. After thirty-years, the original Brewery Saloon closed December 31, 1914. The new saloon opened the next day, and the Duluth Herald covered the transition:

“Many hochs [cheers] and farewells were exchanged late last night at the famous old saloon in the Fitger Brewery addition that for many years has been a unique resort. The hochs were in celebration for the death of 1914 and the advent of 1915, and because it was the last night in the old place, a number of old patrons sang appropriate songs. Today the new saloon nearby was opened. All of the pictures in the old place were removed to the new one and at eleven p.m. the key was turned into the lock.”

Duluth voted to go “dry” beginning July 1, 1917, and the Brewery Saloon was leased to Wisocki, who converted it to a soft drinks parlor. In 1921 Fitger’s brewmaster John Beerhalter introduced a near-beer named “Pickwick.” (During Prohibition, near-beer was limited to .5 percent alcohol.) It was very likely first served publicly by Wisocki, which many Duluthians continued to call “Fitger’s” or simply “Joe’s.”

Shortly after that, the legend goes, patrons began saying they were “going to Joe’s to have a Pickwick,” which was soon shortened to “I’m going to the Pickwick.” It has been long thought that Wisocki changed the name of his soda fountain at this time, but Duluth’s city directories tell a different story. In 1925 Wisocki converted the former saloon and soda fountain into a restaurant and named it the Dutch Room, but from, 1928 to 1935 it was listed in directories simply as “Joe Wisocki’s Restaurant.” (Directories were not published in 1935 and 1936.)

Yet by 1933, it seems, Duluthians were indeed referring to Wisocki’s place as the Pickwick. While the country waited for the ratification of the Twenty-First Amendment overturning Prohibition, another law allowed America’s brewers to sell beer of 3.2 percent alcohol beginning April 6, 1933. The next day the News Tribune included a story about how Wisocki and his patrons acknowledged the event: “Joe Wisocki of the Pickwick tavern drew his last glass of near beer at 11:59 1/2 p.m., and then threw it into the fireplace. Promptly with the first stroke of the clock at midnight, he drew the first glass of legal beer drawn in Duluth since June 30, 1917.”

In 1938 Duluth directories finally list the tavern as “The Pickwick,” and Wisocki purchased the building seven years later. The Wisocki family purchased the building in 1945 but soon retired, handing the reins to his son Joe Junior. Joe Wisocki died in 1954, but the restaurant stayed with his family until 2010. The Pickwick continues to serve Duluth today, and much of it looks the same as it did when it first opened as Fitger’s Brewery Saloon in 1915.