#2 Edwardsville Route 66 History - Stolz Building's Taverns Have "Staggered" into History

Here's #2 in my series of blog posts on Edwardsville's (Illinois) Route 66 history. This story originally ran in my "Along Route 66" column in The Prairie Land Buzz in the August 2013 issue. Make a note that when you visit Edwardsville, you can still patronize this historic tavern!

Stolz Building's Taverns Have “Staggered” into History

On Historic Route 66/E. Vandalia Street in Edwardsville stands a building that houses Stagger Inn...Again, a long-time watering hole and gathering spot. It's well known for its eclectic group of patrons – locals, St. Louisans, artists and lovers of the arts, attorneys, and an occasional Hollywood star. But the tavern's history at 104 E. Vandalia on Route 66 predates the long run of the Stagger Inn.

Known in Edwardsville history as the “Stolze block,” two brick two-story business buildings were built by lumberman John Stolze between 1890 and 1892. The second building was larger and contained two storefronts, numbered 104 and 106. Early inhabitants of this second building included the Probst Brothers Bakery, saloon keeper John Stich, and Robert Leuschke's liquor store.

In the 1920s, Prohibition laws caused liquor to flow differently throughout the nation. Saloons became confectioneries and liquor was sold for “medicinal purposes” in pharmacies. There were no taverns on the “Stolze block,” or any other block for that matter, during the 1920s. During that decade, the G. F. Pierce Battery Service Company and then the Colbert Auto Company occupied Number 104. Number 106 housed George A. Gent, plumber, and Edward Rohrkaste, sheet metal worker.

In the 1930s, the Great Depression reached into every community, causing jobs to disappear and businesses to shutter their doors. The building at Number 104 sat vacant for a number of years during that decade as did its neighbor Number 106. Although once again it was legal to sell and buy liquor, many didn't have the money to buy. Robert Lueschke did open a liquor store in the building for a couple years, and Eddie Closterman soon added a second establishment there.

Around 1934, Eddie Closterman opened Eddie's Cafe and Tavern at Number 104 and operated there until the mid-1940s. Eddie's mother, May Closterman, was the cook and Eddie was in charge of the bar. Central and Highland beers were offered which were highly recommended to accompany the fresh fried fish featured on Friday and Saturday nights. Closterman also ran another location with the same name just north of Edwardsville, also on Route 66. One of his tavern operations was named “Eddie and Jean's,” after his wife. He had been in the tavern and restaurant business for nearly two decades when he died in 1950.

In the late 1940s the Rainbow Inn took over for a few years with proprietor Otto Metz. In 1949 a burglar broke out the glass near the front door to reach in and unlock the door; the thief got away with about $125. Metz became an Edwardsville patrolman in 1951 for about a year before resigning to take a position with the Army Engineers depot in Granite City.

Edwardsville locals Peg and Elda Crook pose in front of the Rainbow Inn in the late 1940s. Photo courtesy of the City of Edwardsville Historic Preservation Commission.
By the mid-1950s the El Del Uptown Tavern was in business at Number 104. The owners during this establishment's tenure included Elmer and Della Gueldner and Walter and Elsie Sievers and later Russell Pryor. Two name changes – to Elsie's Uptown Tavern and to El's Uptown Tavern – reflected Della leaving the business. The El Del was also the scene of a robbery – this one in 1968. The tavern owner at the time, Russell Pryor, was beaten and kicked and left unconscious. The robbers made off with about $150.

Stagger Inn opened on May 8, 1974, the successor to El Del/Elsie's approximately two-decade run. In 1976, the bar was expanded and renovated. Three archways between the building sections were cut into the wall joining the two rooms of Numbers 104 and 106. The arched doorways mirror the arches in the building's backbar. Many layers of paint were removed from the backbar, revealing its beautiful architectural detail and the etched words “Old Heidelberg” on the mirror. Local legend says that the mirror with its etched words was painted over during World War II because of anti-German sentiment. True story or not, the restoration of the piece was said to have revealed its value at the time to be about $20,000 and to place it as one of the finest in the St. Louis area.

In 1983, the establishment closed and a sports bar, Bill's Dugout, opened briefly. But in February of 1985, the Stagger Inn got its name back and reportedly, its old crowd of customers. Randy Willimann, a financial analyst who remembered visiting the tavern during his student days at SIUE, purchased the business. The tavern was renamed the “Stagger Inn...Again” and old patrons returned. So did musicians who supported Open Mike Night and artists who lent their creative skills to signs, the front door, and other art work. The tavern and restaurant became known as a place where lawyers, downtown merchants, students, musicians, artists, locals, and travelers could all mingle. After Willimann's untimely death in 1998, his wife, Christy Wells, took over the business. It has remained a popular stop of many who enjoy a good meal with a cold beer and live music. As of 2013, 104 E. Vandalia has been home to beverage and food establishments for three-quarters of a century – right on historic Route 66.

The Stagger Inn...Again occupies two storefronts in the Stolz Building at 104 E. Vandalia/Route 66. Photo by Cheryl Eichar Jett.