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The Many Lives of J.B. Meinberg

This July we have brought back the Castle Cocktail Lounge for another round of drinks—this time, with our friends in Old Town, Saginaw. So enjoy our weekly history of some of your favorite Old Town haunts along with a beverage or two made by today’s finest bartenders in the neighborhood. Cheers!

J.B. Meinberg today.

“Opening tomorrow; Gentlemen are cordially invited to attend the formal opening of my saloon at 116 South Hamilton street, tomorrow. Music and souvenirs. John B. Muilenberg.”

-The Saginaw Evening News, June 2, 1902.

 

Entering J.B. Meinberg feels like walking back in time - a space frozen in amber. It is a building with a complex layering of history – a space connecting us with numerous chapters of the building’s past.

 

Present day interior photos of J.B. Meinberg.


James B. Meienberg—while this spelling was used in his obituary, he was frequently identified as “Meinberg”—was born in Switzerland in 1856. He immigrated to the United States in 1872 and settled in Saginaw.  By the late 1880s, after a variety of jobs, he was working as a bartender. In the early 1890s he opened a saloon in the 400 block of South Hamilton, and finally in 1900, he purchased 116 S. Hamilton from H. H. Harvey. H.H. Harvey sold oysters and game and previously ran a restaurant from the c. 1870 building. Although faced with numerous challenges, this new location was to be an enduring Saginaw landmark.


Detail of 1888 Birdseye view. The building housing J.B. Meinberg's is the one with the arch in the center of the block. Although the upper portion was reworked after the fire, much of c. 1870 storefront remains.

On January 1, 1908, the newspaper, reported on a devastating fire that swept through the southern part of the 100 block of South Hamilton Street. The following day the paper reported:

 

John Meienberg has already begun to clean out and the full force of the calamity is being uncovered. Everything the interior seems to be ruined. The walls, ceiling and floor are soaked and buckled, the plaster must be removed or it will fall, the furniture and hangings are c[h]arred, checked and swollen, water and ice covers everything and though the fire did not reach them to any material extent the damage is as complete as though it had swept through the place. And the interior of the other stores presents the same general appearance. (The Saginaw Evening News, January 2, 1908.)

 

However, within three months, Meienberg was completing the restoration of his establishment:

 

The two buildings owned by John B. Meienberg, portions of which were destroyed by fire New Year’s day, have been remodeled and rebuilt, both stores receiving an ornamental front that places them among the handsomest on the west side. The fronts are finished in paving brick and Bedford stone, worked into an artistic pattern that greatly enhances the appearance of the buildings. (The Saginaw Evening News, March 13, 1908, page 11.)

 

Careful study of the exterior of 116 S. Hamilton reveals portions of the pre-fire street level façade that were retained and still survive.  Soon after remodeling his structure, Meienberg acquired the lots due south of his saloon where two buildings gutted by the fire stood.  He was a leader of the Wolverine Amusement Company, developers of the Wolverine Theater that opened there in 1911.

Wolverine with border.

Prohibition would pause the serving of alcohol at J. B. Meinberg—at least the legal serving of alcohol (one newspaper account notes the seizure of several barrels of hard cider in 1922.) Serving as a restaurant, a gathering place serving soft drinks and a retail store, the venue survived. After prohibition, Francis Cherry reopened the bar as Ye Olde Tavern in 1934. It would be operated under variations of this name for three decades.

 

On March 12, 1967, The Saginaw News announced the opening of the “Ginger Blue” at 116 S. Hamilton– a coffeehouse owned by Mary Ellen Cady. Advertising “Good music, good art, and conversation,” the rechristened bar, thrived for a number of years. Performers included none other than Joni Mitchell (As you know, the venue survives, so we – fortunately – cannot refer to Mitchell’s lyrics about “paving over paradise.”)


The Saginaw News. April 21, 1967.

After the Ginger Blue, there were other chapters...one of the more inventive included a waterbed showroom. However, by 1982 it was again a saloon carrying Meinberg’s name.

 

And as you enjoy your recreation of the white sangria made by the lovely Alexis at Woody O’Brien’s (the other half of J.B. Meinberg today—the side more frequently open to customers) you may be reminded of the overused, but perceptive quote from Winston Churchill, “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.”   However carefully and accurately you make your sangria, it will not taste the same at home – without being surrounded by layers of history and reminders of those who have sat at the bar or sang on the stage.


The Recipe: White Sangria


Ingredients:


3 oz. white wine (of your choice—The Castle Cocktail Lounge recommends something crisp and fruity, but not too sweet).

2 oz. triple sec

Orange Juice to taste (4-8 oz.)

Sliced oranges and limes for garnish

Ice

 


Alexis will show you how to combine these ingredients into a delicious and refreshing summer drink. Perhaps you’ll stop by J.B. Meinberg and enjoy a glass along Hamilton this afternoon.



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