Young and Hungry

Glur’s Tavern: The Oldest Bar West of the Missouri River… and Maybe the Quietest

My recent trip back to the Midwest took me to Columbus, Neb., for a wedding and an unexpected visit to Glur's Tavern, which the Beverage Analyst in 1972 called the oldest bar west of the Missouri River operating continuously in the same building. Yeah, I know, that's a ton of qualifications in one sentence, but, hey, you gotta fight for your historical claims in a place like Columbus, Neb.

Now, I say "unexpected visit" because, prior to performing the required Wiki search on Columbus, I had no idea that the town was home to both the Higgins boat (the "Little Boat That Won The War," the opening scene in Saving Private Ryan notwithstanding) and Glur's.

Glur's is located a number of blocks south of what everyone seems to call "downtown" Columbus, which is essentially a long series of strip malls, motels, gas stations, and farm equipment stores. As you can see from the photo above, the tavern is a worn, white clapboard structure that looks untouched by time and remodeling experts. There's even an old "SALOON" sign hanging over the front-porch entrance.

If you squint your eyes and blur your vision, you can almost imagine hitching posts outside the joint instead of parking stalls.

Glur's opened, according to the Lincoln Journal Star, in 1876 under the name of Bucher's Saloon. (No apparent relation to Mark Bucher of BGR: The Burger Joint.) The saloon was the preferred watering hole of Buffalo Bill Cody, who in 1885 used Columbus as the location to rehearse his "Wild West" shows. On their way out of town — apparently headed to Omaha where the show would open — Cody and his troupe stopped at Bucher's.

"The showman with a keen eye for publicity orders a drink for everyone and lays a $1,000 bill on the bar," wrote the Journal Star. "William Bucher, who opened the saloon in 1876, nearly faints and townspeople flock to see the four-figure note."

More than a 120 years later, the wife and I are sitting in the bar now called Glur's, named after Louis Glur who bought the joint in 1914. The wooden floors look older than dirt. There are faded photos on the wall showing a barren bar, circa a Long Time Ago, with a couple of somber (if not sober) hombres standing around it. The interior decor looks like a combination of Old West and Modern Sports Bar.  Overhead TVs are showing the Celtics-Bulls playoff game.

As Carrie and I suck down our Fat Tire beers (probably not available in 1876) and nosh on Glur's signature spuds (thick, greasy, skin-on potato slices sprinkled with Lawry's seasoned salt; see pic below), I can't help but watch the people at the nearby tables. They're not loud drinkers, like the folks back at the cavernous sports bar Maximus in "downtown" Columbus; they're mostly families, including this party of five directly in front of us. The clan barely says five words to each other.

The scene reminds me of something I witnessed while growing up in the Midwest: the land's essential silence, as eerie as the open prairie at night. People who should be intimates, as close as humans can be, sit at a table and act as if their words should be parceled out like bread rations during the war. Perhaps this isn't unique to the Midwest; maybe it's more about family and the quiet resentments that go unresolved for years, leading to a silence louder than the cries of the damned.

Whatever the reason, the scene isn't what I expected at the oldest bar west of the Missouri. I wanted a modern-day gunfight. I wanted a brawl over cattle rustlin' or the Bill Callahan era of the Nebraska Cornhuskers. I wanted someone's skull cracked with a glass mug because he made a pass at your woman. I didn't want 125 of Midwestern repression.

  • L Glur

    just surf'n thru. I stopped by several years ago and picked up a T-shirt for my name sake. Glad the restaurant is doing well. related and out West - L

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    For me, that type of place is heaven! Happiness can be found in mellow sound of someones special. Being in touched with nature and with loved ones feed your soul. Ear-deadening party are for people who are not strong enough to face life's realities.

  • Korgie

    As an ex-resident, born and raised in Columbus I found this article very interesting. I myself do not frequent the tavern but I have been there several times in my life. It is known for good burgers and is a common hang out for Scotus High alumni. Being the 21st century, I would not expect much gun slinging, but it definitely holds up its reputation by appearance. Loved hearing the outsider opinion.

  • Nate

    Just a couple quick notes, what is called downtown Columbus is the oldest part of town and generally describes the area surrounding Frankfurt Square 3 or 4 blocks out in any direction. Maximus is most certainly not downtown.

    I would also ask you on which night of the week you went to the bar. I'm guessing Friday or Saturday because of the wedding? I've definitely seen the place as you described during a week night. However, although rarely packed, I'm pretty sure there's usually a good crowd most weekends.

  • Jeremy

    " visit to Glur’s Tavern, which the Beverage Analyst in 1972 called the oldest bar west of the Missouri River operating continuously in the same building. Yeah, I know, that’s a ton of qualifications in one sentence, but, hey, you gotta fight for your historical claims in a place like Columbus, Neb."

    Those qualifications, do not take away from the uniqueness of the bar's historical significance but rather contribute to the historical significance. Any other bar could claim to be the oldest bar west of the Missouri, but because of the qualifications that Glur's Tavern meet, would either have to be out of business for a period of time and then re-open, or change buildings. Either way the link between the institution of the bar, and the physical landmark of the bar is broken and the count for the age of the bar must start again.

  • Nina Weaver

    My great grandfather was Louis Glur. It is awesome to see that people from all around the U.S. still visit Glur's Tavern!

  • Ken Lantz

    I was hoping for some really good bar food upon a recent visit to Columbus. Unfortunately, the burgers were blah and the Glur fries were just soggy potato chips. History is a passion of mine and, thus, I appreciated the tavern but the food left something to be desired. With the right marketing & restaurant/bar vision, Glur's could be so much more than it is.

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  • Daniel A Harsh

    I just wanted you to know I went to college with Rudy Glur in 1978-1979. I had no idea Glur's Tavern was on Saving Private Ryan nice advertising.

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  • Louise Glur

    My great-grandfather was the brother who came out west from Columbus. Originally from Switzerland.

  • Ray Mihulka III

    I used to go there on weekends in the early 80's. It was quite busy at the time. My mom and grandfather go there regularly to this day.

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  • Chelsea Ensor

    Hey Nina! Louis Glur was also my great grandfather. Just thought I'd say hello. :)