Springfield's Oldest Tavern Lives On

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Article Tags:

Nightclubs / Dance Halls , live music , music , Music / Entertainment Venue
Lindberg's Bar
Author: Juliana Goodwin & MDT Staff

VisitMO editor's note: This article is based upon an original article by Juliana Goodwin, which appeared in the Springfield News-Leader — used with permission. To see the original article, please click here. For other interesting insights into Springfield, follow the News-Leader’s Springfield Revealed website.

   Lindberg's Bar

There’s history and there’s mystery—Lindberg’s encompasses both. Ryan Dock, current co-owner of the venue, thinks that’s part of its charm. Lindberg’s, on the corner of West Commercial Street and Campbell Avenue, is Springfield’s oldest tavern.

At one time, it catered to Frisco Railway workers (and included a brothel upstairs). It survived Prohibition as a pool hall and in the 1970s became known as a great live music venue – a reputation that continues.

The building has been home to a variety of businesses, under numerous owners and names; it was even shuttered for years. The tin walls and ornate ceiling are original. Its long wood bar is a masterpiece – therein lies some of the mystery.

The monstrous piece (22 feet long and 22 inches thick), carved from a single piece of maple, is a throwback to another time. The rest of the bar and the bar-back are oak. Altogether it’s solid and heavy and features intricate carving. It was built by Brunswick, a company that traditionally builds billiards tables.

“The detail work is amazing. There’s a bar like this at Booche’s, a bar and pool hall in Columbia, Missouri, that is almost identical, but much smaller,” Dock said. There are many stories about the Lindberg's bar.

Dock heard it was a gift from Anheuser-Busch because of outstanding beer sales; but when he contacted the beer maker in St. Louis to track down more history, there was nothing about it in the company’s archives, so he doesn’t think that’s true. Dock believes the bar is from the late 1800s.

Bob McCroskey, a Realtor who co-owned Lindberg’s with Bruce Rader in the late 1970s, knows a lot of the building’s history; he thinks the bar is from 1903, built in St. Louis. John Sellars, executive director of the History Museum on the Square, said the story he’s heard is the bar debuted at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904 and then was moved to Springfield. Dock says that’s another common story.

The bar was brought in by railroad (most people agree on that, although there have been rumors it transported by covered wagon; that’s unlikely, given the size of the piece). “You talk to 10 people and you get 10 stories,” Dock said. Regardless of its history, the bar is a talker, particularly for older customers. “We get a lot of customers who say ‘I remember my father or grandfather bringing me in here,’” said Dock. “We hear so many stories and just embrace it all.”

   Commercial Street

Lindberg's, on the corner of West Commercial Street and Campbell Avenue (318 W. Commercial Street; 417:868-8900; Facebook: LindbergsBar) is Springfield's oldest tavern. It opened when the railroad came through in 1870.

Commercial Street is important to Springfield’s history. When the Frisco came to town in 1870, there were two cities: Springfield and North Springfield. Commercial Street was the business district of North Springfield. “It was the business district of the railroad town,” Sellars said. “The two cities merged in 1887 and became one: Springfield.”

“It made sense to merge. They had grown together as it was, so it made little sense to have two sets of infrastructure. They were always competing. Each had its own railroad depot, everything about them was in competition or conflict,” Sellars said.

But Commercial Street was split between the east side and west side. The east side was “the nice end,” offering upscale hotels; well-to-do business executives lived nearby. The west side of Commercial was “the rougher end of the community,” with freight depots and warehouses. There were more bars on the west side, attracting more laborers.

   Lindberg’s History

In the late 1800s, the building now known as Lindberg’s operated a brothel upstairs – the second floor is still divided into several little rooms. It changed hands and businesses several times in the late 1800s, at one point serving as a grocery.

“They had an iron safe in there and they would cash railroad workers’ checks. They’d cash $30,000 a month,” Sellars said.  “They sold beer at the bar and hard liquor in the back of the house, because drinking laws were different at that time,” he added.

“It was a popular place among railroad workers for decades, and at one time they had six bartenders working,” McCroskey said. “It was that busy. It got awards from Anheuser-Busch for selling so much beer,” he said.

Dock told us, the name Lindberg’s comes from J. Carl Lindberg, who owned it for decades. In the 1930 city directory, the business is listed as “Lindberg’s Billiards,” which is what Lindberg converted into during Prohibition (1920-1933). In ‘46, the business was known as the “Commercial Tap Room,” still owned by Carl Lindberg and his wife, Hazel, according to city directory records.

By 1974, it had become “The Joint.” For decades, Lindberg’s (or whatever it was called at any given time) has been popular for its live music, where the owners attracted big-name, local and regional bands.

When McCroskey and Rader took over the business in 1979, they wanted to retain the reputation for good, live music, bringing back the name, Lindberg’s. They were open for lunch, and former customers who frequented the restaurant during the Frisco days and World War II would come in often.

McCroskey remembers some of those guys saying: “We’ll come back if you got Falstaff in a can.” At the end of World War II, Falstaff was the most popular beer and beer in a can was new. “That wasn’t our preference, but we kept it for them. These were guys who come in four, five times a week,” McCroskey said. (Production of Falstaff stopped in April 2005).

Rader and McCroskey continued the tradition of attracting big-name bands. The music was so popular they would often have to turn customers away, even though fire and occupancy codes were less strict at that time. After one year, McCroskey sold out to Rader, who continued operation into the 1990s.

The building was shuttered for years. In 2007, it reopened under as Lindberg’s, with new owners. Since then, the building has changed ownership a few times. Ryan Dock and Eric Weiler have operated the business since 2009. Dock said when they took over, they wanted to keep the Lindberg’s name and continue to build on its history and reputation.

“Lindberg’s has such an identity. We didn’t want to mess with that. We wanted to embrace the historical aspect and the live music was our love,” Dock said. Go here for a music schedule. (Sorry, no one younger than 21 is admitted.)