Butch’s Bar fire is loss to Sturgeon Bay history, music, community

Local musicians Hunter Gatherer, Jamey Clark and Brittany Hildebrandt perform during a Wednesday night open jam at Butch's Bar.  Clark was a founder and organizer of the sessions which ran every Wednesday for more than seven years until Butch's was destroyed in a Feb.  22 fire.

STURGEON BAY – Butch’s Bar meant different things to different people in the community.

For some, it carried the reputation, deserved or not, of a tough, stereotypical, old-school downtown tavern they wouldn’t be caught in.

But for others, the grayish-cream, stone-covered building at South Third Avenue and Nebraska Street was a link to the city’s past, thanks to an exterior largely unchanged in its 117 years.

For many, Butch’s has been a focal point of Sturgeon Bay’s live music scene in recent years.

And for others, it was a place where they could find affordable shelter they couldn’t find elsewhere.

Now, the building and all those facets are gone after a Feb. 22 inferno that destroyed Butch’s and killed two people who were tenants in its upstairs apartments, with another tenant hospitalized. Anthony Gonzalez, a 57-year-old man who also was a tenant at Butch’s, has been accused of starting the fire accidentally and is facing eight charges related to it, including two for second-degree reckless homicide. A benefit concert is being held March 16 for victims of the fire — a Wednesday night, the same night and time as the weekly open mic jams that Butch’s hosted for more than seven years until the blaze.

And while the dollar loss is huge — not just the building and bar equipment but also all the sound and musical equipment kept on site and the belongings of the displaced residents — so, too, is the loss of something with the history it had in the community.

Firefighters battle an early morning blaze on Feb.  22 at Butch's Bar in downtown Sturgeon Bay.  The building also housed nine occupied apartments.  Two tenants died in the fire and another was hospitalized.  Another resident of the apartments has been charged with eight counts related to the fire, including two for second-degree reckless homicide.

History of Butch’s Bar began in 1904

Steven Rice, manager of the Door County Historical Museum and Door County Archives, said the appearance of the building seems to have remained almost the same as it was when it was built in late 1904, aside from the beer signs hung over the entrances during its years as Butch’s.

That original aura added to its appeal as a structure of historic significance in Sturgeon Bay, where most of Third Avenue downtown is recognized as a Historic District by the National and State Registers of Historic Places.

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