Tales from the Library

By Emily Riippa and Allison Neely | University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections

library_sign_mids_legacyWhat parent wouldn’t be impressed with a Tech child’s newfound studiousness after yet another story of long hours spent at the Library? How often did a distant girlfriend call Wadsworth Hall or Douglass Houghton Hall in the 1970s, only to hear that her boyfriend was at the Library yet again? To graduates of other schools, it was a place one went for books. For Tech alums, it was a hot spot for good food and better brews. The Library Restaurant and Brew Pub holds a storied place in university lore and culture.

You might be surprised to learn that space that The Library now occupies has a long history as a place to dine. In November 1899, the adjacent Shelden-Dee Block first played host to a restaurant named “Board of Trade,” which largely catered to rail passengers at the nearby depot. The Board of Trade offered two private dining rooms and a spacious “Palm Garden Room.” Imagine Venetian marble, gold trimmings, green velvet, and rich red wainscoting–the works. With its reputation for opulence and a wine cellar that would please the most discriminating of sommeliers, it quickly became known as one of “the most exclusive eating establishments of the area.” Over time, however, the splendor of the Board of Trade faded.

The first iteration of the Library, soon to be beloved of Michigan Tech students, opened in 1967 under the ownership of Jon Davis. The little pub on Isle Royale Street in downtown Houghton began as a place to hang out and enjoy favorite beverages. The Daily Mining Gazette in 1972 went so far as to say that the Library boasted the largest selection of fresh cold draft beer in the Copper Country at that time. A Sunday pizza buffet also proved a smashing success. By 1978, Davis had added a spiral staircase of barnwood that led to an upstairs dining room with red carpeting and drapes that subtly hearkened back to the Board of Trade’s bold style. Custom stained glass windows added another elegant touch. At roofed tables and a circular bar in the upstairs room, dubbed “the Homonym,” diners enjoyed a wide range of dishes, including escargot, beef tartare, and Jon’s own famous chili.

The business evolved over the decades that followed but remained popular with the student body. In 1989, James (“Jim”) Cortwright, Linda Beeckman, and Jerry Mostek assumed ownership of the business; in 1995, they secured a loan to purchase new brewing equipment and transform the cozy bar into a thriving brew pub. On September 5, 1995, however, disaster struck. The operator of the Portage Lake Lift Bridge spotted smoke billowing from the Library shortly before 5am and quickly called the fire department. The fire, which is believed to have ignited in the kitchen area, quickly spread throughout the cherished building, collapsing ceilings and threatening the adjacent block. Through more than twelve hours of concerted effort, firefighters managed to spare nearby businesses and apartments from the worst of the fire, although smoke and water damage proved extensive. The Library, on the other hand, was a total loss.

In some places, this might have been the end, but this is the Copper Country, where sisu abounds. A little over two years later, the Library reopened, and it has remained as much a staple in the community as ever. The old brick walls and famous sign continue to greet patrons daily.

What memory does the Library bring back for you? What was the best item on the menu? Did your friends and family fall for the old “I’m at the Library” line?

25 responses to “Tales from the Library

  1. CC and 7 and a custom chef’s salad were a weekly dinner at the bar upstairs. Since my family dined at the Library when they were in town, the line usually meant I was having dinner.

    The original bar was my favorite, was it was secluded and generally quite upstairs.

  2. My sister Carol used to work there in the late 70’s to mid 80’s and when my buddies and I were in need of good pizza we would wander down from Wadsworth and Carol would get us a good deal on a big pizza. The big thing I remember was back then they used to cut it in rectangles and we would always ask for radian cuts. It was a nice break from Wads food.

  3. Library? It was the Board of Trade for us in the ’50s. There wasn’t much of a library on campus at the time, so “being at the library” would have been suspect. But we started graduation day, 1956, with a “board meeting”. Jim Bailey

  4. I loved going there to hear Gary Tunstall play in the late 90s/early 2000s. He always got the whole place singing along and enjoying themselves. Does anyone know if he still plays?

  5. During the big snow of 78-79, my friend and I (Hideki Yumoto) used go to the Library for shrimp-covered pizzas and Tom Collins’. He would always order for the two of us without asking me what I wanted, which opened me up to all sorts or crazy pizza combinations!

  6. It would have been in 1967 or 8. I was having a beer and the ever present FREE peanuts in the down stairs bar when a scuffle broke out between 2 toots. At the first shout the lights came up and at that time a very big Jon Davis came out from behind the bar with the baseball bat in hand. It got very quiet. The combatants were gently asked to leave. There was no discussion. And everything went back to normal. Nobody messed with Jon Davis in those years. For those that do not know in those days he looked a little like a slightly smaller version of “Paul Bunion”. All this was done under the watchful eye of the W C Fields picture that hung over the back of the bar.

    Loved the pizza it was the best and priced for a toot’s budget.

    Later on a second go round at Tech in 1970 I became a member of the Library “mug club” I still have mine and the membership card. Does anyone else still have theirs?

  7. In 1956, what is now the Library was a street level (on Isle Royale St.?) working man’s bar called the “Board of Trade” The bar’s favored culinary delight were pickled eggs in a large bottle on the bar. It’s patrons were retired miners, working men and tech students (the non-student patron seldom drank in moderation). The attraction to the tech students was they didn’t check ID. How many times in the dorm we’d be tired of studying and say “let’s go to the board for a beer”. It wasn’t the ambiance that attracted us; all that was in it were a bar and some tables.
    I knew Jon Davis at that time but don’t remember ever being in there while he was there.

  8. The Library opened in my senior year at Tech. It was also my first year that I could legal consume alcohol as the legal age for drinking was 21 then. So it became one of our weekend stops. I remember there were picnic tables inside and we were told that you could carve your name into the wood planks of the table and that one day they were going to take the planks and put them on the walls. Don’t know if that ever happened.

  9. My off campus roomies and I were hockey season ticket holders. Home games started and ended at The Library. My favorite memories were the “Sneaky Pete’s” between periods – dash up the hill – shot of cheap red wine in a pilsner glass – fill with Bosch draft and drink – dash back to the Dee. To this day, I still think that it was the only way to make Bosch beer palatable.

  10. Jon Davis and I were freshmen at the same time. Jon probably has the noteriety of being the longest attending student at MTU. I got out in 60 1/2 and he was still there when I came back as a recruiter for Kennecott in the early 70’s. Jon was a born entrepreneur and along with the board had a club in Lake Linden I think. I don’t know if he ever graduated or not.

    When Tech’s hockey games were played at Dee Stadium, the tradition held that the period breaks involved running up the street to the “Board” for a quick beer and then back down to the stadium for the next period. There were a lot of patrons who couldn’t figure out how all the student body came to the game relatively sober and stumbled out after the third period – legless.

    When my wife and I visited in 2012 or 2013 the library was in full swing. Jon had passed away and the place was almost too legitimate. The food and drink were still good, but hockey games at the new rink (McGinnes Arena) didn’t have the same cachet. If you can find a year book for 1956 or 1957 you will find a picture of the Sons of Italy. They are the ones with the black bags over their heads celebrating their victory over the kitchen staff who were bootlegging the better cuts of meat to the local grocery stores. The food improved but the beef remained “Redwing” boot quality until I left, and probably still is.

    The main hangouts, if you had any money; and most of us didn’t were the Isle Royal, Tony’s, The Board, The Doghouse in Houghton, and the Venice, Brass Duck, Gino’s and No Pay’s in Hancock. Advanced ROTC checks of about $70 per quarter went a long way with dime beers two bit shots of Old Crow.

  11. I actually would study there. Buy a draft, order some food and spend the next few hours in one of the booths studying the night away. I had two friends that worked in the kitchen. Always made for exceptionally large portions. My favorite was always the beef tar-tare or James Beard Ruben. Your call.

    Mom never questioned that I had been at the Library. Until she came for Winter Carnival and we went to dinner there.

  12. $2 large pizza on Sundays. I lived across the street in an apartment in the old newspaper building. Needless to say my 3 roommates and I ate a lot of pizza back then.

  13. The Board of Trade was a thriving establishment with “ladies” up stairs in the early 60s when I sold copper to the tourists from the South American excursion boat. My Father was part of group from Little Theater who helped John clean up the second floor in exchange for the use as a rehearsal hall.

  14. Best Sandwich was the Babushka Brothers Delight. With a bowl of house soup and Gary Tunstall for entertainment, many a Friday/Saturday night are still good and fresh memories.

  15. Before the upstairs bar was built (with the high-back bar stools and Dark Strohs on tap!) there was a platform where my brother’s band played….and other entertainment.

  16. Living here in Houghton and haven’t heard of Gary Tunstall playing anywhere for quite a long time. Always a good time seeing him at JD’s in the late 90s, downstate shows, etc. Last saw him on the DT deck I believe several years ago.

  17. Jon put in booths that were the same but larger than the booths at the “real” library, third floor Fisher Bldg. His beer was the best that the Joe Bosch Brewery could put out, called Sportsman Paradise. One of the best enema beers you could possibly find. He did charge two bits, which was cheaper than the Ambassador Bar at 35 cents, but much more than you could find at bars in Lake Linden, Laurium, and others, not withstanding that Bradyfinger would not charge anything at the brewery tap room. But Jon was the best at being a Tech supporter, which, I’m sure, didn’t die off until his passing.

  18. ” The Board ” was in it’s decline period when I frequented it in 1962-63. Who can recall the name of the Mother who ran it with her daughter, Sharon ? My memory says the Mom was Lucy ! The current day- bartender at the “Doghouse” up the hill disagrees. Had a lot of good times at The Board of Trade. No upstairs etc. was operating then, just a bar and booths along the wall and beer cases in the rear but still a refuge from academic stress ! GO HUSKIES.

  19. Not sure of the year, but a friend and I went to upstairs to have some beers. One of his good friends was tending bar that evening. The bar had numbered personalized mugs at that time that patrons could purchase. My friend had a personalized mug and, somehow, persuaded his bartender friend to let me drink from Jon’s personal mug, mug Number 1, of course. We were probably on our third beer when Jon’s son, Greg, took over the bar tending duties. For the rest of the time we were there, I got quite a few dirty glances my way from Greg.

  20. I tended bar for a few years in the Homonym Lounge. So many wonderful memories. Jon provided the relaxing music on reel-to-reel tapes that really set the ambiance. Dennis Kitchen ran the kitchen and answered the phone “Library Bar Kitchen, Kitchen” which often made people pause. Smoking was still allowed then and occasionally you would accidentally set your garbage bin on fire by emptying a lit cigarette into it. One day I smelled garbage burning and after checking my waste I was standing at the end of the bar calling the kitchen and asking them to check the building from the basement up. A girl near me said “oh, those are my cabbage cigarettes”!
    Jon was incredibly nice to the employees. One of the highlights of the year was when he chartered the Isle Royal Queen in Copper Harbor and we had the Summer Sunday Booze Cruise. He was a personal friend as well and we occasionally had trips to Minneapolis for shopping. I was his navigator one year in the POR (Press on Regardless) road rally. He was just heartbroken after his wife Marcia passed.
    I vividly remember going home many times with sore shins after the air hockey table was installed. We had to empty the quarter bin several times during the day it was such a popular game.
    After closing it was common for the “gang” to see the sunrise over the Library Bar sign. Some of the former employees are Facebook friends to this day. So many wonderful memories.
    B.T.W. the opening date of ’78 is incorrect in the article. That would have been ’68.

  21. lIn the Summer of 1968 I started going to Michigan Tech. I had been out of high school 5 years, 4 in the Air Force and one working. One of my first classes was English 101 with Dr. Goldstein. In that class was another older guy named John Davis who had in the spring purchased the Board and Trade, a bar downtown. I got to know John during our smoke brakes, yes in those days you could smoke in the hallway of Fisher Hall. Anyway he had the idea of naming his new bar The Library. He wanted to have a place that would draw in students, even though the drinking age was 21 at that time. Apparently the idea was that, being a student, you could always get away with telling somebody that you were going the the library.

    That fall I joined the Vets Club, a social club for ex-military people. There were quite a few Vets going to school at that time because of the war in Vietnam. John Davis liked the idea of the Vets Club and he soon became strongly affiliated with it. I don’t remember if John was in the military or not.

    The Library Bar at that time had just one floor, I don’t think the kitchen, which was on the basement floor, was started yet. There was a second floor that was used for storage and was a big open area. The story was that at one time it had been part of a house of ill repute. John allowed the Vets to have their weekly meetings up there and of coarse we bought all our beer from the Library . We had our meetings there until the second floor was reworked into an upstairs bar. Before that bar was put in the upstairs was used as a dance floor with the band up above the dance floor on what kind of looked like a loft on the end opposite the street. There was a steep stair case up to that area, more like a ladder. Sometimes they would have GO-GO girls up there. With all the drinking going on I am surprised that nobody fell and got hurt. Anyway we (the Vets) helped decorate the first floor bar when it first opened. If you had been in it at the time you would have noticed what looked like egg cartons on the walls. This was John’s version of sound deadening. It was all painted flat black. The Library was the major hangout for the Vets and, it seemed, most of the Tech students (who were called Toots by the locals).

    One of the major things John and the Vets club were involved with was the Guts Frisbee Torunament and Frisbee football. John also was a keen Sabb driver and established the a rally called Push On Regardless.

    I believe after 21 years John sold the Library. That summer he had a big party down at the Dee Stadium for all the people who had worked at the bar over the years and the Vets Club alumni. That was the last time I saw John, I know he passed but i don’t know when. John Davis was a good guy and he wanted the Houghton/Hancock area to grow and be able keep some to the talent that was graduating from Tech.

    These are the recollections of an old man so there might be some discrepancies or embellishments but what i do remember was a good time at the Library Bar.

  22. I remember having a library card and a mug on the wall. It was the only way to make sure you would have a glass when the bar was full. Yes, I still have mine.

  23. Dan Croteau, class of 82.
    Worked as part of the kitchen crew with Boris, kitchen chef, Bosses Kid(bk), and bosses baby (bb). Jimmy C. and Linda B. we’re both employees/coworkers for big Jon D.

    Favorite food – BTO

    Most favorite memory-rocking to the music while putting out the best food!

    1. Hi, Dan, (and all you other esteemed fellow Library patrons)
      I’m Kragh, also class of 82 (Comp Sci). I would love to pick your brain on a menu item from the Library that i loved, and I haven’t found on an old menu scan (yet). I seem to recall a ‘vegetarian’ sandwich, on dark rye bread, grilled, and I can recall mushrooms, cheese, onions, and I’m just not sure what else. Do you recall this sandwich, and maybe know what it consisted of? I now have a taste for it thanks to all this searching, and I think I need to try and recreate it. Thanks for any help!

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