Catalog Number: 2018.024.01-04
These small watercolors were created by local artist Paul Stollenwerk as studies for a commission from Walt’s Restaurant for murals destined to hang above the restaurant’s historic bar.
He subsequently made a gift of them to Sam Fellows, owner of Doerflinger’s Department Store, in 1956.
The squat, white building that used to be Walt’s Restaurant sits across from the World’s Largest Six-Pack on Mississippi Street. You would be hard-pressed to find a longtime La Crosse resident who hasn’t heard of, or eaten at, Walt’s Restaurant.
The story goes that the building was converted from three houses into a saloon and grocery store combination in 1875, making it one of the county’s oldest restaurants. It was bought by Walter Niggli in 1924, and he turned it into Walt’s Restaurant. It quickly became a local hotspot, drawing crowds and praise for their food.
Niggli sold the business in 1946, and it changed hands twice more, but owners kept the name and changed very little. There was a brief name change in 1982 when the building was purchased by the G. Heileman Brewing Co. The name was changed to Gottlieb’s Restaurant in homage to its the brewery’s founder. But it reverted to Walt’s in 1985.
Sadly, Walt’s closed in 1989.
Walt’s Restaurant was known for good food, good people and a good atmosphere. The hand-crafted cherry and mahogany bar was one of the finest in the city.
Besides the unique bar, the restaurant was decorated with large paintings based on these small watercolors. Since Walt’s decor was predominately Germanic, the artist embraced his German heritage.
Stollenwerk Studios at 120 Main St. was another local landmark. It was started by Paul Stollenwerk and his friend, Mrs. Argyle Scott, in 1927, and was advertised as a place “where you can obtain anything from imported brushes to books on art to wall-sized paintings.”
Stollenwerk was commissioned throughout the city for projects ranging from murals for the La Crosse County Historical Society to private commissions such as the ones done for Walt’s Restaurant.
The studies, and the murals, depict scenes with monks.
One scene shows a single monk-brewer. A second scene illustrates two monks eating and drinking, while the last depicts three monks making a toast.
Stollenwerk sketched a fourth watercolor where “Auf Wiedersehen,” German for “until we meet again,” is written on a banner. All four sketches invoke feelings of Germany and were well-received in Walt’s Restaurant.
Unfortunately, the old building has been slowly falling apart. While many people have fond memories of Walt’s Restaurant, the building is considered beyond repair.
Instead, City Brewery, which owns the building, did the next best thing. In 2015, the company moved and restored the old bar in its new corporate offices. Tagging along with the bar were Stollenwerk’s final oil on canvas paintings, which now hang safely in the City Brewery offices.
This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on June 30, 2018.