To My Friend Tom Bergs…

Eds Note: I have received one or two comments that we are a bit long winded here on the Wausaublog. Well, let the wind blow on this one. It is possible that 30 years of cultural heritage will be coming to an end soon, and we still have time to determine what kind of end it will be. With his title, Dino implied that it is an open letter to Tom Bergs, but it is not. It is an open letter to all of us. All of us who have been touched by the great musical heritage that exists in our midst. I hope that all of you who have been touched by that heritage will take the advice that Dino offers here. And I have no idea where the pictures in the article come from, rumor has it there is a mural on the second floor of the pub. All of them are on the Flickr site.


Dino CorvinoBy Dino CorvinoI walked into the Scott Street Steak and Pub nearly a decade ago. Between jobs, called by a friend, in need of something to do, and somewhere to be. I found a home. I found a place that I love more than just about any place in the world. I found a secret treasure that deserves acclaim. I also found Tom, and Tom is worthy of my appreciation.

So, as the rumors swirl that McDevco is coming to take the block, that the deep pockets are conspiring to put up another office building, that Super Bowl weekend will be the last weekend, while all of that is going on, I thought I would sit down and talk about Tom and what he has done.

I start this by saying I think the City of Wausau has shown Tom and the Scott Street Pub a bad deal. They have underappreciated what he has offered to the city because of his gruff personality, because of slights from over zealous rumors from police departments, because Tom did not really want to be an insider. Instead Tom just sort of stood there, with his bar, and delivered day in day out.

When bars like Players on Stewart were literally fighting in the newspaper with the city about noise ordinance issues and the neighbors, Scott Street had live music three nights a week. When Players thumbed their nose at the Codes and the City, Tom sought out relationships with the neighbors to ensure he could provide live music downtown.

When bars like Breakaway Lounge would have stabbings on New Years Eve, of their own staff I might add, Scott Street prided itself on being a safe place. A place where behavior of that sort was completely unacceptable. Where the police were rarely called, and when they were called it was to provide a way for an out of control human to get someplace safe.

When restaurants like that café by Popes hobby land were creating private clubs so people could smoke, Scott Street was honoring the law, and being smoke free.

Mural Section 1When other clubs in town were looking for models to bring in live music, and were getting greater coverage from the Wausau Daily Herald for doing live music, Scott Street has had music on its stage for thirty years, three nights a week. When those bar owners gave up, Tom kept going. When those bar owners sought to bring in Karaoke or djs or cover bands, Tom sought out ways to support live and original music.When places like the Martini Bars in town were passing ownership from one person to the next, one man has owned the pub for thirty years. A father of three. A part of this city for as long as we can recall. And in so many ways, ignored for his great accomplishments.

I was there for many years. Now I look back, and I wonder how many weddings were there? How many wedding receptions? I know 4 couples among my friends that their wedding and or reception was held there. These are couples that are forever tied to this place, their happiest day took place there. They will never forget the moments of great joy on that day. I know most places can say that, but not a lot of bars have hosted weddings. Actual weddings.

One of Wausau’s claims to fame is the Big Bull Falls Blues Fest. This was a festival that was created at one of the Pub’s tables. Tom Schlief, Otis McClennon, and Tony Menzer were sitting around and decided to have a festival. At least that is the legend. Three Wisconsin music icons, created an iconic event at the Pub. This is the longest running blues festival in the Midwest, and the most successful. And it was drawn up right there in the Pub.

Mural SectionThe Great Northern Blues Society is one of Central Wisconsin’s most popular organizations. It was founded again by Otis McClennon and Denny Behn. Its first meetings were right there in the Pub with Otis and Denny and Chris O’Keefe. This is a long running organization that has brought in amazing talent to its Blues Café each March for the past however many years. This is an organization that has provided scholarships to area high school seniors at each of the high schools. It has put out amazing compilations every few years supporting local musicians.

Wisconsin has had an unparalleled reputation for blues music. It is because of the great collection of clubs that have supported these musicians. Emmits, The Stones Thrown, and Luthers. Great clubs. You know what they have in common — they’re gone. Or they have left blues behind a long time ago. Not Scott Street. Even when people were saying that the blues is dead, Tom supported musicians both financially and personally. Working with musicians directly, putting money in their pockets. Providing them with a great stage to do what they do best.

So all you fans of Otis and the Alligators, The Petrified Alien Brain Blues Band, Howard Luedtke and Blue Max, Westside Andy and Mel Ford, Jay Stulf and so many more the Pub was one of the first stages that supported each and every one.

There are pretty much no blues musicians who have not played on that stage. Almost 100% of the bands that played at Big Bull Fall Blues Fest have come to the famous jam sessions that the Pub hosted on that weekend. Epic evenings that went way beyond 2 am, because the music was just that good. That weekend was the Superbowl; everyone from that festival, the bands, the people, the volunteers came to the Pub. And most of them got in, those that did not just lingered on the street, being together. Not wanting the evening to end. What other place downtown does that anymore?

I started this and I stopped it may times, so if it is bad writing I don’t care too much. Its unfocused, and so what. The Pub was unfocused. It was a secret world, and everything that you think happened there — well all of that happened. Each and every thing. I know from my point of view, I saw my role in that place as ensuring you who needed a safe place, had one. If you needed to get fall down drunk, and cry, and yell at strangers — so be it. When those strangers got up to punch you in the face, the Pub stepped in, and reminded said stranger that maybe each of us needs to be an ass from time to time — let’s let this guy have his moment.

When I was in trouble, Tom Bergs gave me money. When I need a lawyer, Tom Bergs called Gene Linehan. When I needed fatherly advice about something I could NEVER talk to my Dad about, Tom helped me. When I needed confidence, Tom told me to do something he knew I would be amazing at.

Mural SectionMy story is not unique. Not in any way. The Pub has been the center of life for hundreds of people. The Pub is Wausau’s greatest nightspot, its greatest place to see live music. More than the Grand Theatre. More than every other music place combined.

I say this simple thing: if Tom were more of an agreeable sort, there would be a street named after him. He supported Otis, and Howard, and Westside. It is sad how the blues community has turned its back on him in his time of his deepest need. Just walking away. Watching our friend drown, surrounded by strangers. Kids he does not know, kids who do not love him.

Tom had live music on his stage for 30 years. 52 weeks a year. Four nights or three nights a week. But lets go with 3. Let’s do the math.

3 Nights X 52 Weeks X 30 Years= 4680 nights of music.

Lets say each night of music cost 300 dollars…

$300 X 4680 nights= $1,404,000

So lets just round that down to $1,000,000

I say to you, who else has put One Million Dollars in the pockets of musicians?

How much revenue has been created by Big Bull Falls over the 15-year history? That is in Wausau directly because of Scott Street supporting Blues Music as intensely as it has. Tony Menzer lived in Madison, Otis in Stevens Point. None of those cities had a place like Scott Street, and that was the center of that scene. That is why it is here.

I say none of this in an attempt to get the city leaders to save the Pub. I say this because I love Tom Bergs. It took years apart to get here. But when you look to celebrate this person or that person, you remember where you went for a drink on Thanksgiving after your family function. Probably the Pub.

So I say to you, when it is all said and done, if it is to go for city progress, and I hope it does so Tom can retire and his children can be taken care of, when that happens: you go hug him, and thank him for what he did.

Tom Bergs made as much of a contribution to Wausau as anyone ever has.

Chris Seehafer asked me what I think should be done, and I thought about it a bit, and I offer this. I do not know. I believe that the situation with McDevco is one that will not change. They will buy this block, and they will do whatever they are going to do. I believe that McDevco acts in the best interests of this city, and I think they have been really sensitive to everyone involved.

So I say this: I would like you to go and Hug Tom. I call for a city wide parade of hugs for a man who has done a ton of good. A city wide embracing of a man who really does not want to be embraced, a man who is miserable and crabby, and torn up with anger. I say this: brave the lions den. Stand in front of a man who has given to you, and hug him. Tell him thank you. Tell him a good pub memory. Offer to babysit his kids, or stay with his elderly father, or offer to do dishes, or sweep the floor, or take him to a movie. I know Tom likes the Dells of the Eau Claire, he likes running water, put him in the car and take him out there. Bring him a picture of the pub from days past.

Make Tom Bergs the center of attention. Walk past the bar, and walk to the back of the room and go talk to Tom. He has been in the back of the room for a long time, and people just ignored him, and it made him mad. It made him lonely.

Bring him a pot roast, or a stew. How about the cookie recipe you have been working on?

Stop seeing him as the Pub. As the building. See him as a man in trouble. A man who has put in the work and should have your respect. See Tom beyond the anger, and gruffness. Go give him a hug. Shake his hand, and tell him thank you. Tell him you met your wife in his bar, and saw your favorite band there. Tell him your best friend and you once kissed the prettiest girls you have ever seen in that bar. Tell him you felt safe in his bar.

I challenge you. I lay it out there for you. Hug him. Or better yet, pay your long forgotten bar tab. I paid mine not too long ago.

I challenge you to be openly, emotionally supportive of a man who might just not want it. I challenge you to show us all that you’re a great city, and you care for those who care for you. I challenge you to see beyond your own needs and wants, and see the man there in trouble. Go help him. And if he tells you to go away, tell him no. Tell him you care, and your going to help him, or at least hug him and tell him how much he matters.

I challenge you City Fathers…I challenge you to recognize the objective reality that Tom Bergs gave to the city of Wausau. I say, name a street after him, or a park. Now is the time to show you are leaders, and that you’re not going to wait till someone is dead and gone to celebrate him. He respected you, and played by your rules. He showed other bar owners how to do it, and tried to help you when he could.

Tom Bergs is a good man. I hope you tell him that he matters.

mural stitch sm

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2 responses to “To My Friend Tom Bergs…

  1. So, I lost my Scott Street Pub virginity today, thanks to my nexus. And she even paid! How many guys can say that? We even sat right up front under the stained glass. Heck if you are going to do it, why be shy about it?

    Yes, it was actually my first time in the SSP, what can I say? Of course I got the “buffalo burger.” What else could I have possibly ordered?

    Tom was at a back table talking to Mohawk Matt about what works and doesn’t work in live music. Boy, square old me felt pretty cool that I was able to say to the nexus that I knew that punk rock dude over there.

    Oh yeah, the server was multiply pierced all over her face and was wearing a t-shirt with an obscenity scrawled across the front in magic marker. Try finding that at Red Lobster. 🙂

    I was going to go over say hello to Tom, but first he was talking to Matt and then I got involved in the conversation at my table. Maybe next time, I am sure there will be more.

    Thanks for everything — my first time was perfect. 😉

  2. Omigod! Scott Street Pub is the home of so many stories of my youth!!! It was my very first bartending gig…that would’ve been when I was just 19 or so, back in the late 80s. I’d serve your drinks, flip your steak sandwich, then take my tips over to Innersleeve to get the latest or the classic.

    One day I grew weary of searching for the LP I wanted to play at lunchtime, came in early the next morning and completely alphabetized the bazillion or so albums Tom had behind the bar. He and Bear walked in and saw all those albums stretched out and figured there was no way I’d be organized by lunch…but I pulled it off, and other than a few dorky bartenders re-filing The Pretenders under “T” for “The,” it stayed pretty orderly!

    Often when friends go out and you have to work, you feel left out. But at SSP that was never the case. I might have been working, but that’s where all my friends were anyway, and Tom always released me to the dance floor every now and again when the music overtook me and I had to let go.

    Many times I opened and closed, hanging out and shooting pool during the intermission between my double shifts because there was really no where else I wanted to be.

    I remember playing “Assholes On Parade” when the suits came in after work, putting their ties around their heads Bruce Springsteen style. I’d play The Beatles’ “Loser” whenever Bob Lech walked in the door, and it took him like six or eight times before he went, “This song always is on when I …. HEY!” When girls danced on the bar, I’d fade out whatever was playing and fade in “Fat Bottomed Girls” … and they NEVER caught on!

    Then there was the whiner jar, where you were forced to stick a quarter in if you got too pissy and whiney instead of fun. And one bad day BJ came in with a sullen look on his face, reached in his pocket, pulled out a fiver, shoved it in the jar, and commenced to pissing and moaning about his shit luck! He paid for it, so we listened.

    And the music! Oy.

    SSP was the center of my universe for quite a while, and now at 40 I look back with only good stories and memories of that time, those people. In January I headed north to fish the Turtle Flambeau Flowage, and I looked wistfully at Wausau as we navigated that infernal never-ending construction on 51. We returned north again in February, and I announced that soon we would make a trip strictly to re-visit Scott Street Pub, and maybe pop into Innersleeve.

    And then a few weeks ago I’m bartending in a tavern in Omro, Wisconsin…near Oshkosh….(it’s a way of supplementing my income that was bestowed upon me by SSP)… and there’s this hot blonde looking at me. And she starts looking familiar. And I must be looking familiar to her. Finally I can’t take it, and I go up to her.

    “Are you Ann?”

    She was! She was my supervisor back then. Next thing I know, I’m on a cellphone singing “Loser” to Lech and getting put in touch with my dear sweet buddy BJ!!!

    Life is good! And I’m going to make that damn trip to SSP as soon as it warms up. I worked there year-round, but I was happiest in the summer.

    Hope to see you there! And maybe, just maybe, Tom will remember old “Griz” with her goofy hair and odd wardrobe.

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