Wisconsin Public Radio

Photographer Documents Vintage Bar Signs

Wisconsin native captures vanishing way of life, vintage beer signs across this state and Midwest

By , Wisconsin Public Radio - Jan 21st, 2019 11:11 am
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Homestead Motel in Fifield, taken September 2018. Photo courtesy of Kip Praslowicz.

Homestead Motel in Fifield, taken September 2018. Photo courtesy of Kip Praslowicz.

Kip Praslowicz calls them “Wisconsin state flags” — the worn-out, white signs fixed to rural taverns and bowling alleys across the Midwest that welcome visitors with advertisements for Pabst Blue Ribbon, Old Style or Blatz.

Kip Praslowicz. Photo courtesy of Kip Praslowicz.

Kip Praslowicz. Photo courtesy of Kip Praslowicz.

These sun-soaked remnants of the 1960s and ’70s have become the latest photography project, “Vintage Beer Signs of the Midwest,” for Praslowicz, a software engineer and photographer based in Duluth, Minnesota.

Praslowicz landed on the idea of photographing vintage beer signs in the fall of 2017 with a high-resolution panoramic film camera.

Although similar projects from other photographers have captured the signs up close, Praslowicz wanted to frame the signs in their environments — a dangling Pabst Blue Ribbon logo jutting out above a sidewalk along a downtown Antigo street or the forested backdrop of Doorn’s Inn in Barnes.

“I like to take a subject, get a wide lens, back off a little bit and present it among its environment to get a whole picture of where this thing exists at the moment,” he said in a video explaining the project.

Praslowicz grew up in a bar that his grandfather opened in the 1940s, Chet & Emil’s in Birnamwood, known for their chicken and bowling, he added.

Outside of his bedroom window were signs for Pabst Blue Ribbon and later Old Style.

But those signs aren’t there anymore, having been taken down after the fluorescent lights wore out.

2-D's On The Avenue in Antigo was photographed in September 2018. Photo courtesy of Kip Proslowicz

2-D’s On The Avenue in Antigo was photographed in September 2018. Photo courtesy of Kip Proslowicz

Cop Shoppe Pub in Wausau, photographed in December 2017. Photo courtesy of Kip Proslowicz

Cop Shoppe Pub in Wausau, photographed in December 2017. Photo courtesy of Kip Proslowicz

Doorn's Inn taken in Barnes in September 2018. Photo courtesy of Kip Proslowicz

Doorn’s Inn taken in Barnes in September 2018. Photo courtesy of Kip Proslowicz

It’s not rare for Praslowicz to stumble upon locations he found on Google Maps, only to find the vintage signs have been replaced or removed altogether.

Such was the case at Higgins Lakeview Lodge Bar & Grille in Solon Springs, where Praslowicz drove up to find Pabst Blue Ribbon vintage sign replaced with a modern advertisement for the bar and grill.

He happened to catch a glance of the other side of the sign through his rear-view mirror as he drove off, and noticed it still carried the vintage logo.

“I was like, ‘Oh, dang, I’ve got to turn around and get that one,'” he said.

It’s even tougher to find signs in urban areas, as building upgrades and renovations have taken over and relegated vintage signs to old photographs and memories.

Praslowicz relies on a Google map he created of areas where vintage signs are still eking out a presence. He uses the search engine’s street view option to catch a glimpse of whether there’s a sign on that tavern building or bowling alley entrance.

He has help from friends, too, who keep their eyes peeled, and he gets submissions.

So far, he’s identified 400 locations throughout the Midwest, mostly in Wisconsin. He’s not done, he said, noting he has more canvassing to do in southern Wisconsin or Northern Illinois.

“Although I market the project as being about these signs, it’s actually about the towns, the roads, the rural areas where these signs exist, and there just there to give it some unity,” he said.

Vintage Bar Signs Become Subject Of Photographer’s Project was originally published by Wisconsin Public Radio.

4 thoughts on “Photographer Documents Vintage Bar Signs”

  1. frank a schneiger says:

    These are cool photos. We should also remember the most famous urban bar sign in the history of the world, including West Allis and the years before the Trump administration. That would be the National Liquor Bar’s pouring bottle sign on 26th and National, a treasure that is now marooned somewhere out in Mukwonago or Muskego. The bulbs on the gigantic sign pouring beer into a shot glass were a beacon of hope and welcome to the bar’s high class clientele, who often traveled from distances as far as 16th Street or Greenfield Avenue to soak up NLB’s upscale ambience. Several years ago, there was an effort by certified historic preservationists to have this icon relocated to the Art Museum on the lakefront. It would have been a signature event for Milwaukee. But, according to reports, an unholy coalition of East Side elitists and liberal anti-gluten vegans stabbed this initiative in the back. Anyway, Kip should check it out.

  2. Patricia Jursik says:

    On those East side elitists: they are also fake east siders: Cudahy and the South Shore is east of the east side thanks to the bay (as in Bayview) that extends well east of the “east side”.

  3. frank a schneiger says:

    Patricia: this just shows how insidious the plot to keep the sign in Mukwonago was. According to reports, although big majorities in Cudahy supported putting the sign in front of the Art Museum, sleeper cells sent from the East Side by the elites and the gluten free crowd were dispatched and undermined the communities wishes. And, to be honest, it wasn’t just the East Side elites. The Fine Arts faculty at the University of Lawsonomy also opposed the lakefront location, supposedly on aesthetic grounds.

  4. Daniel Adams says:

    Get this guy and his camera to West Allis now. Tons of unique tavern signs that need to be documented before they’re gone.

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