The Wonder Bar Steakhouse

More From Madison More From Wisconsin

The spirits of the main mob gangster, his main squeeze & his fellas,
are spectral managers, while getting chuckles teasing the staff!

 

DESCRIPTION

On Google’s page for The Wonder Bar Steakhouse, it is described as being an “Iconic venue since the 1920s offering steaks, seafood & classic cocktails in a nostalgic setting.”

WOW! While keeping with the 1920s vibe, the once funky building  has been given a great facelift on the outside, with a new florescent sign, beautiful door and new windows, no longer looking on the outside like a funky fixer-upper opportunity.

The inside is authentic yet a lot of renovation was done, presenting “an old-fashioned supper club, where a good steak will cost closer to $20 than $40.”

Inside some of the areas that were improved were the bar and the turreted booths that all turned toward the front door, so no one would have their back to the doors. The bar was “lengthened a bit”, and the turreted booths were given “a polish.”

Besides the booths, up-scale wooden, table cloth covered tables and very nice wooden chairs with candlelight in the middle of the tables sets the mood of peace and elegance.

The inside has been upgraded from grungy to a high style yet traditional look. It is a beautiful and elegant atmosphere for dining or for events like wedding rehearsals, personal parties, and business meetings. The banquet room is on the second floor. Eddie Touhy and friends and family would approve.

 

HISTORY

THE WONDER BAR STEAKHOUSE building was constructed in 1929, opening as Eddie’s Wonder Bar, run by mobster Eddie Touhy with ulterior motives in mind. This building was built by Eddie’s brother, Chicago Irish mob figure, Roger “The terrible” Touhy, to become not only a legitimate roadhouse, Eddie’s Wonder Bar, but to also be a distribution center for illegal booze/beer and slot machines in the Madison area and areas farther north, as well as being a safe house for traveling gangsters. Wisconsonites liked their beer even during Prohibition!

The Touhy brothers, whose Irish gang was based in Des Plaines, Illinois, added some touches to the building to make this roadhouse into a fortress, in case it needed to be one. With Al Capone as a ruthless rival and a buyer for their beer, it needed the precautions taken.

It’s not surprising then, that custom-designed features were added, including turreted booths in which no one’s back was to the front door, made bullet proof, bomb proof, had bulletproof glass, round lookout windows in some rooms, hidden compartments under the windowsills to store Thompson submachine guns, hidden compartments in other parts of the building and a secret tunnel for hasty escapes. All these features would come in handy, in case of a siege attack from cops or other mob soldiers from competing gangs, wanting to muscle in on the Touhy’s black market business success.

While Roger Touhy built this building, his brother Eddie Touhy ran both businesses; the roadhouse and the distribution of the illegal beer/slot machines.

Throughout the years after the demise of the Touhy gang, The Wonder Bar continued on as a legitimate business, probably run at first by surviving family members. At some point, Three sisters, Mandie Burgin, Mamie Collier, and Ruby Farringer ran the Wonder Bar for Eddie; becoming at some point, the first cigar bar, featuring stogies with beer.

In 1942, Roger Touhy was framed for a kidnapping that Al Capone was responsible for, and sent to  Stateville Prison in Joliet. Rodger broke out and hid in a Chicago apt., sending a go-between to get some money from his brother Eddie in Madison at Eddie’s Wonder Bar. Rodger was caught but was eventually released from prison. He wrote a book, “The Stolen Years,” with the help of the noted Chicago crime reporter Ray Brennan. Soon after being sprung from the big house, he died a natural death; gangster-style by assassination.

Tom and I hunted down THE BAR NEXT DOOR on E. Orlin Avenue years ago. What we found was a funky, long in the tooth but full of character, two story brick building with two tower-like structures, adorned with a little Ivy. It was closed, but taking a peek inside the front window, one sees booths with green cushions and a bar area, with a 1930s aura about the place. One source said that the original back bar, fireplace are still there and the entrance to the old tunnel still in tact. On the second floor, according to sources, there  was a large banquet room which still seats 50 and some office space at the time we visited.

Eddie sold it to Joe and Marian Kassak in 1948. This establishment became really popular when Dick Whalen ran The Wonder Bar in the 1970s and 1980s. It became a great gathering place for U of W sports folks; both coaches and players and fans. Faculty of U of W at Madison also loved this place.

In 1993, The bar changed hands. Mike O’Brien changed the name to the MOB Roadhouse. which still offered cigars but returned to a more traditional format.

The Bar Next Door was this bar’s next name. It needed funds to restore and renovate the structure, so after being open for awhile in the early 2000s, it closed for a few years and was put back on the real estate market.

At some time, The Bar Next Door was bought by the company who owns the The Coliseum Bar. At first, the idea of adding the Touhys’ arch enemy’s name to the title of the Touhy’s roadhouse: Capone’s Bar Next Door, was a popular one. I bet some folks were spinning in their graves!

However, minds were changed, and as of 2009, Jim Luedtke now owns this property.  Jim Luedtke had the dream of restoring and renovating this structure  and bring it back to its glory days in the 1970s and 1980s.  It once more is an old-fashioned supper club, with both elegance and the aura of the 1920s’. Luedtke calls his establishment; The Wonder Bar Steak House.

 

HISTORY OF MANIFESTATIONS

Mobsters that were gunned down have the tendency to stay where they died, or where they worked; makingthe best of it by still enjoying the place and may even find amusement.

Wabasha Street Caves MN (Gangsters who were playing cards inside the Wabasha Street Speakeasy during Prohibition were executed by Mob hitmen. They are still there, inviting themselves to the events; even being kind to children).

The Biltmore, FL (New York Mafia member Thomas Fatty Welch, a fun-loving soul was murdered by local mobster gambler. Fatty still enjoys the spectral parties on the 13th floor, still loves the ladies and cooperates with ghost hunters).

The Comedy Store CA (A Mob Boss and his fellas are still watching; being spectral supervisors).

Bar next Door, WI (By 1934, the Touhy gang was finished, with eleven members behind bars and three shot dead. The Wonder Bar survived at least one shootout from the gang’s enemies. Despite the bullet-proof precautions, people did die here; both men and women).

Spirits whose bodies that are hidden from the living can decide to stay where their bodies were buried.

The King’s Tavern, MS (A murdered woman plus two other men were bricked up in the chimney wall).

General Wayne’s Inn PA (A Hessian soldier’s bones were buried in a hole in the basement).

Shaker’s Cigar Bar, WI (A murdered Prostitute was buried behind a wall in the Penthouse).

The Bar Next Door, WI (It is said that a human body was buried behind the fireplace in the upstairs banquet room, a casualty of such a shootout. It is thought that Eddie Touhy’s remains are laid to rest here. In the FBI report, Eddie Touhy wasn’t mentioned at all, because he was probably already dead; disappearing behind the fireplace, to hide his demise from enemies).

 

MANIFESTATIONS

The Wonder Bar Steak House; formerly The Bar Next Door, offers the full paranormal sports package to living people.

Olfactory Experiences:

The living have smelled the following aromas which last about an hour before going away, at a time when there is no logical source in this world for these odors:

Strong body odor caused by sweating, citrus aromas, and a musty smell in the air.

Auditory Experiences:

Footsteps have been heard coming down the stairs late at night after the bar has closed.

Sounds of rattling glasses, and loud thuds.

Tactile Experiences:

Staff have felt a presence following them in the stairwells.

Staff have been poked in the back by an unseen finger.

Visual Experiences:

Chairs have the habit of moving around after the bar is closed and void of human life, as if being used for a gathering or discussion.

Portraits have lifted themselves off wall, falling to the ground. (Entities showing displeasure in the decorum?)

Bottles and cigar boxes have been known to be knocked off secure shelves by an unseen force.

Cigar boxes have been seen to be moved around the display case, as if being checked out by an unseen, but interested presence who would probably like to try one.

Doors have slammed closed without the benefit of a wind or human hands.

Shadow people have been spotted by staff and customers alike.

After closing time, staff have seen a male apparition wearing a 1930s style, soft felt hat, known as a fedora, popular among gangster types, and a long coat. A female apparition accompanies him, described as having long red hair, wearing a white dress.

PARANORMAL FINDINGS

There are plenty of eye witness accounts from management, staff and patrons. Probably the entity of Eddie Touhy and his main squeeze are still keeping an eye on things.

Other spirits may visit as well from that era and perhaps from the later years of the 20th century.

The Madison Researchers Into the Paranormal caught some hard evidence such as EVPs; recorded voice phenomena, and unexplained shadows in photographs.

In the basement, they caught an anomaly moving around going about its business  perhaps thinking it was bringing up barrels of beer.

 

STILL HAUNTED?

Yes Indeed!

There are plenty of eye witness accounts from management, staff and patrons. Probably the entity of Eddie Touhy and his main squeeze are still keeping an eye on things. Other entities of Touhy mob soldiers/visiting gangsters are probably here as well, still working for the Touhy family organization, following the staff around, perhaps poking them in the back for chuckles.  More recent spectral patrons and owners may also visit.

 

LOCATION

222 E. Olin Avenue
Madison, Wisconsin 53713.
(608) 256-9430

The WONDER BAR Steak House (FORMERLY THE BAR NEXT DOOR) is located in an unpopulated area of Madison between John Nolen Drive and Quann Olin Parkway, just north of Alliant Energy Center and Expo Pond, just East of Quann Park, not far from the Coliseum.

SOURCES INCLUDE

  • fbi.gov – History of Famous Cases: Roger the Terrible Touchy
  • wonderbarmadison.com
  • prairieghosts.com
  • tripadvisor.com
  • paranormalresearchgroup.homestead.com
  • fbi.gov
  • thecoliseumbar.com

 
Our Haunted Paranormal Stories are Written by Julie Carr

Haunts in Madison Haunts in Wisconsin