And the breweries even created regionally focused POS. The Fox had a Miller Lite LiTexas neon which alternatives between “LiTe” and “xas” (but the “xas” was always burned out), the ID Age Check calendar still on December 23, 1985, and since this bar was about three miles from George Strait’s house, the life-sized Bud Light cutout of the singer, signed by the legend himself. And, of course, no honkey-tonk worth its salt can be without a vintage Coors Light Elvira Mistress of the Dark standee, particularly popular at Halloween circa—when else?—1985, which invariably someone vandalizes in the right places with a magic marker. The Silver Fox had it all in spades. Kathy seemingly never refused a request by a beer salesman to place POS in her joint, nor did it ever occur to her to throw any away. It became difficult to navigate the Fox without knocking over a standee or bumping your head on a neon. We didn’t get many fire marshals visiting the Fox either.
But everybody loved Kathy, and she was somewhat of a local celebrity. When we had a flash flood in 1998 and the dry creek alongside the Fox flooded and Kathy suddenly had two feet of water in her bar, we all pitched in to replace her coolers and clean the carpet. When it happened again a few years later, we did it again. No flood insurance for the Fox.
So I was saddened to get a call a few years ago from a friend who reported that Kathy had passed away in her sleep. She went the right way. No nursing home or painful illness for the Fox. She simply lay down and faded away. Without Kathy’s personality and social glue, the Fox is now just a boarded-up cinder block building with a faded “For Sale” sign on it.
Bars like the Fox are fewer and farther between today, more’s the pity. Wisconsin seems to be the only place where they still thrive. They have fallen victim to the flight to the suburbs, smoking bans, strip mall pub chains and DUI crackdowns. They probably peaked around Christmas of 1985, at the exact moment when time stopped at the Silver Fox. Oh, it’s not all bad. There’s a great revival of gastro-pubs popping up out there, and a great new generation of taverns that focus on craft beer, particularly draught. But the days of the smoky, dim-lit, blue-collar tavern with Naugahyde chairs and ceiling tiles stained brown with nicotine seem to be on the wane.
It also saddens me that the golden years of elaborate POS are over as the big brewers focus on cutting costs. And it also makes me scratch my head and wonder: How did Coors make that sparkly flowing mountain spring water look so real? And what ever happened to Elvira?
They don’t make signs like that anymore, and they don’t make bars like the Fox.