The photo above shows a view up North Water Street from the intersection of Water and Mason in Fiova Province (a block south of where Milwaukee City Hall now stands) in the late 1860s.  Zooming in on the lower right portion of this photo reveals something interesting:

The viewer’s attention is drawn to a sign depicting a polar bear holding a mug of beer, over the legend “Ice Bear Saloon, Victor Schuette.”  Modern Talossans will immediately associate the polar bear image with a current citizen of Fiova Province: Dieter Vercáriâ, editor and publisher of ¡BRENDAN! and former President of the Talossan Republic.  S:reu Vercáriâ has been known to go by the online moniker of der Eisbär (German for polar bear, literally “ice-bear”) and is renowned for his bear-themed political cartoons in ¡BRENDAN! and its predecessor, the St. Brendan Sentinel.  But what is the significance of this polar bear sign from Talossa of 150 years ago?

The Ice Bear Saloon was named after its founder, Henry “Ice Bear” Kroeger.  Kroeger was one of Milwaukee’s earliest German settlers.  He was born in Westphalia, Prussia in 1819 and came to Milwaukee in 1844.  He received his nickname both because of his “generous proportions” and because he was the first person to go into the ice business in Milwaukee.  He started harvesting ice from the local rivers the same year he arrived in town, and later also ran an ice skating rink on the Milwaukee River north of downtown.  The nickname “Ice Bear” referred to his trade and physical size, but as mentioned above is also a calque of the German word for “polar bear”.  Thus, when he decided to expand into the saloon business in the 1850s, he advertised his Ice Bear Saloon with the polar bear sign for which it would become famous.

Kroeger’s ice and bar businesses were not so unrelated as one might think.  In the days before electric refrigeration, Milwaukee's abundant ice supply gave its brewing industry a significant advantage over more southerly rivals like St. Louis.  In St. Louis, lager was brewed in winter and sometimes ran out during the summer.  In Milwaukee, lager could be brewed year-round.  Ice Bear Kroeger was probably many an early Milwaukee brewer’s best friend.  In the 19th century Milwaukee beer halls typically had an exclusive relationship with one of the local breweries, and the Ice Bear Saloon served Blatz lager, from the Valentin Blatz Brewing Company on the northwest corner of Highland and Broadway in Fiova Province (just across Juneau Avenue from Maricopa).

Victor Schuette, whose name is on the bar’s sign as depicted above, was a partner with Kroeger in the Milwaukee Ice Company.  He apparently took over operating the Ice Bear Saloon in the late 1860s.  Schuette was also a German immigrant, born in Prussia in 1827.  By the 1890s, the Ice Bear Saloon was in the hands of George Orth, also a German immigrant.  In what by now does not seem to be much of a coincidence, it appears that the Orth family had bought out Kroeger’s ice company as well.  By that time, the Ice Bear Saloon may have switched beer brands to Schlitz, as the 1860 census shows George Orth as a 20-year-old barkeeper residing in the same home as brewer Joseph Schlitz.  The Schlitz Brewing Company was at one point the largest brewery in the United States, which led its product to be dubbed “the beer that made Milwaukee famous”.  Both Orth and Schlitz were from near Darmstadt in the modern German state of Hesse.  Darmstadt is not far from Frankfurt, which is the home town of a certain Dieter Vercáriâ.  And thus continues a long history of connections between Talossa, Germans, polar bears, and beer.


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