The women in the Maurer family did not choose to become saloon keepers. It was forced upon them when their husbands committed suicide or were sent to prison.
Elizabeth Maurer’s husband, Louis, was a German immigrant like her. In 1909, his saloon was a Gluek’s-connected establishment on Washington Avenue North in Minneapolis, a commercial stretch packed with factories, railroad warehouses, and the thousands of workers that staffed them. When the steam whistles blew at the end of the shifts, men streamed out into the streets, and then into the bars.
Maurer’s Saloon was one of 86 bars in Minneapolis affiliated with Gluek’s at the time. Louis managed the place well, with the help of his sons, Frederic August “Fritz” and Charles, and his wife, Elizabeth. The saloon business made him a moderately wealthy man and, in addition to the bar, he owned a home in South Minneapolis and a vacation cottage in Medicine Lake. It was at that lakeside cottage on June 25, 1909, that Louis placed a shotgun to his head and pulled the trigger. Elizabeth, Fritz, and Charles were in the next room.
June 25 marked exactly two years since Louis had suffered a severe stroke. His doctor had assured him in the days following that in two years he’d be completely recovered. While Louis had come a long way in the two years since, he was still severely weakened and didn’t feel like he had much chance of recovering further. He was reported to be “partially demented” and “temporarily insane” at the time of death.
Shortly after Louis’ death, Elizabeth went down to city hall to apply for a liquor license. There were few women saloon keepers in the city, and all of them worked alongside their husbands. For whatever reason, the city councilmen, split between wets and drys, made an exception for Elizabeth. Their decision made her the only woman to own and operate a saloon in the city for at least two years.
In 1912, she turned the license over to Fritz. It’s not clear if Elizabeth had intended to run the bar for the long term, or if she was always looking for an opportunity to turn it over to Fritz, but the 23-year-old proved to be a natural frontman for the family business. After the transfer was approved by the city council, they faintly praised Elizabeth as the last and only woman saloon keeper in Minneapolis. “Mrs. Maurer will probably be the last woman to enter the liquor business in the city,” the paper reported. For years to come, that was true.
Fritz was charming, outgoing, and well-connected in the neighborhood. Eventually, he became an alderman on the city council and stayed closely connected to the liquor trade while serving—a little too close, in fact. In 1929, Fritz was swept up in an anti-corruption effort that also involved a number of his fellow aldermen. He was arrested for accepting a $1,000 bribe from one of his colleagues on the city council in exchange for clearing licensure for a northside club called the Stables. Fritz went to prison on a 10-year sentence and ended up serving through the mid-1930s.
His wife, Mabel, would run the store while he was away, it was reported. And so, for the second time in two decades, a Maurer woman was in charge at 507 Washington Avenue North.
Mabel Maurer was 35 years old at the time. Like Fritz, she was personable and active in the community. In addition to running the store, she served as head of the auxiliary post of the Northside American Legion and hosted sewing meetings for the ladies of the post in the upstairs apartment of the store. (In 1929, toward the end of Prohibition, Maurer’s wasn’t serving liquor but instead served meals, soft drinks, and cigarettes.) After Prohibition was lifted, Mabel reapplied for a liquor license. Two decades after her mother-in-law had transferred the license to Fritz, Mabel was granted permission to serve alcohol by the city council.
The Maurers ran the cafe throughout the 1930s and passed away, one by one, in relatively quick succession: Elizabeth in 1941, Fritz in 1943, and Mabel in 1948.
Maurer’s Bar outlasted its namesakes by at least a few decades. Over those years, the building seemed to collapse in on itself as the downtown core around it was hacked away by urban renewal: the 505 half was demolished in 1963, and the second story was removed in 1972. The missing half is, and has been since the early 1960s, a parking lot.
Since 1995 it’s been Cuzzy’s, a lone dive-bar holdout on a tidy new Washington Avenue now known for high-end eateries, condos, and gyms. The building that stands on the site today is exactly one-quarter the size of the original Maurer’s and has been painted a loud combination of emerald green and stop-sign red, camouflaging its true age. Though there are a handful of older bars in St. Paul, there aren’t many bars on the Minneapolis side of the river that can claim an unbroken lineage stretching back to the 1880s.
Inside, the bar retains the shape of a classic turn-of-the-century saloon: a tile floor that may very well be left over from the Maurers’ tenure, tables on one side, a wood-topped bar on the other; nearly every surface has been barnacled with signed dollar bills from regulars.
One of Cuzzy’s claims to fame in the 21st century is its resident ghost. The Cuzzy’s menu mentions it, and the bar is a popular destination for ghost hunters; it appears often on online guides to haunted locations around the city. Who knows how these stories get started, whether through hazy memories, coincidence, or some expression of the collective unconscious, but appropriately enough, the ghost’s name is said to be Betsy, for reasons no one can quite remember. According to the literature, Betsy was a woman of ill-repute around the turn of the century.
That could be, and certainly the history of the bar has more than enough death and mayhem in it to play host to any number of spectral forces. The behavior of the ghost, though—moved drinks, switched off lights, “enigmatic hugs”—doesn’t definitively indicate to me, anyway, a “woman of ill repute.”
If it’s anyone, it seems more likely to be Betsy Maurer, a hardworking woman who is still keeping an eye on the family business a century later. She must have had quite a presence in order to keep control of the barroom frequented almost entirely by hard-drinking men. If you believe in ghosts, raise a toast to Betsy.
This article is an excerpt from the book, “Closing Time: Saloons, Taverns, Dives, and Watering Holes of the Twin Cities,” by Bill Lindeke and Andy Sturdevant, coming from the Minnesota Historical Society Press in October 2019.