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My recent trip back to the Midwest took me to Columbus, Neb., for a wedding and an unexpected visit to Glur’s Tavern, which the Beverage Analyst in 1972 called the oldest bar west of the Missouri River operating continuously in the same building. Yeah, I know, that’s a ton of qualifications in one sentence, but, hey, you gotta fight for your historical claims in a place like Columbus, Neb.
Now, I say “unexpected visit” because, prior to performing the required Wiki search on Columbus, I had no idea that the town was home to both the Higgins boat (the “Little Boat That Won The War,” the opening scene in Saving Private Ryan notwithstanding) and Glur’s.
Glur’s is located a number of blocks south of what everyone seems to call “downtown” Columbus, which is essentially a long series of strip malls, motels, gas stations, and farm equipment stores. As you can see from the photo above, the tavern is a worn, white clapboard structure that looks untouched by time and remodeling experts. There’s even an old “SALOON” sign hanging over the front-porch entrance.
If you squint your eyes and blur your vision, you can almost imagine hitching posts outside the joint instead of parking stalls.
Glur’s opened, according to the Lincoln Journal Star, in 1876 under the name of Bucher’s Saloon. (No apparent relation to Mark Bucher of BGR: The Burger Joint.) The saloon was the preferred watering hole of Buffalo Bill Cody, who in 1885 used Columbus as the location to rehearse his “Wild West” shows. On their way out of town —- apparently headed to Omaha where the show would open —- Cody and his troupe stopped at Bucher’s.
“The showman with a keen eye for publicity orders a drink for everyone and lays a $1,000 bill on the bar,” wrote the Journal Star. “William Bucher, who opened the saloon in 1876, nearly faints and townspeople flock to see the four-figure note.”
More than a 120 years later, the wife and I are sitting in the bar now called Glur’s, named after Louis Glur who bought the joint in 1914. The wooden floors look older than dirt. There are faded photos on the wall showing a barren bar, circa a Long Time Ago, with a couple of somber (if not sober) hombres standing around it. The interior decor looks like a combination of Old West and Modern Sports Bar. Overhead TVs are showing the Celtics-Bulls playoff game.
As Carrie and I suck down our Fat Tire beers (probably not available in 1876) and nosh on Glur’s signature spuds (thick, greasy, skin-on potato slices sprinkled with Lawry’s seasoned salt; see pic below), I can’t help but watch the people at the nearby tables. They’re not loud drinkers, like the folks back at the cavernous sports bar Maximus in “downtown” Columbus; they’re mostly families, including this party of five directly in front of us. The clan barely says five words to each other.
The scene reminds me of something I witnessed while growing up in the Midwest: the land’s essential silence, as eerie as the open prairie at night. People who should be intimates, as close as humans can be, sit at a table and act as if their words should be parceled out like bread rations during the war. Perhaps this isn’t unique to the Midwest; maybe it’s more about family and the quiet resentments that go unresolved for years, leading to a silence louder than the cries of the damned.
Whatever the reason, the scene isn’t what I expected at the oldest bar west of the Missouri. I wanted a modern-day gunfight. I wanted a brawl over cattle rustlin’ or the Bill Callahan era of the Nebraska Cornhuskers. I wanted someone’s skull cracked with a glass mug because he made a pass at your woman. I didn’t want 125 of Midwestern repression.