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Renovated and expanded Big House Sports Bar dominates old Lewis Block of Midland Street on Bay City's West Side.

Oldtime Pharmacy Gets Cheers as Big House Sports Bar Grows Bigger

Renovated, Spiffed Up Midland Street Hotspot Once Was Undertaker's Parlor

June 28, 2003       Leave a Comment
By: Dave Rogers

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The Big House Sports Bar just got bigger.

Former professional boxer John Gottschling, 34, and his wife Mary, 29, acquired the 508-510 East Midland Street bistro from boxing promoter Art Dore a few years ago. Now, after acquiring the building next door and substantial renovations, they are living their dream of owning a large, going sports bar with all the trimmings.

The Gottschlings recently acquired the old Jerro Optical building at 512 E. Midland Street and expanded the former Pharmacy Bar into that space, providing customers more than 5,000 square feet of floor space in which to frolic. The place seats 250, including 77 on the new grill side where breakfast, lunch and dinner are being served.

There are 13 brand new television sets everywhere, seven game machines like darts and golf, a dance floor, a shiny new kitchen, a state-mandated sprinkler system throughout, new tables and booths and everything a popular bar should have.

Most interesting are the sports memorabilia items on the wall, typical of many sports bars but with a special touch. Some of them were in the building when the Gottschlings acquired it. Maybe they are original sports equipment from the 1940s when the smaller part of the establishment was the Jean Auto and Home Supply, a hardware, owned by an enterprising couple, Leo and Elizabeth Jean, who previously had operated Wenonah Oil Co., at the northwest corner of Midland and Litchfield.

One would hope there are not artifacts of any kind remaining from another previous owner of 512 Midland Street, Ira J. Hiller, an undertaker, operating there as early as 1894. The possible use of an elevator which went from basement to second floor can only be surmised.

Rupff and Carrigan Pharmacy, Fred Rupff pharmacist, goes way back at the 510 Midland Street address. Later it was just Carrigan's, a familiar Midland Street business until the mid-1990s when Dore acquired it and opened the Pharmacy Bar, using the old sign.

A special treat on display at the bar is an old University of Michigan football team photo, with team members clutching a ball the size of a basketball and wearing striped shirts and hats like inmates in Alcatraz. The photo no doubt dates to the 1870s because of the uniformsand the size of the ball.

Another display, appropriate to the boxing career of the owner, is a list of the "Heavyweight Champions Under Queensbury Rules" which John and Mary found in the basement.

Mary brings experience going back to her teens when she waited table at Annie's Place in Pinconning and a stint at the more proper Old City Hall in Bay City. John went from boxing to part owner of a concrete company while working part-time at Cruiser's, Steamer's and the Rathskeller and harboring the dream of owning a sports bar.

"It's always been a dream of his," said Mary, showing off her new bar in the new section. "He wanted something this size; it was something he always wanted to do."

"Every day it gets better and better," said Mary of the expanded business, packed on a Friday night with appreciative guests.

One outstanding feature of the new section is the original brick, which had been covered with paneling. "Our friends Romaine and Jerry Richards came in and couldn't believe it," said Mary.

John and Mary have assembled an impressive menu, including "pre-fame warmups," a kid's menu, "really good soups," and the specialty of the Big House, an Angus Steak for $11.99, a Big House Sirloin, and Pork Chop, Ravioli Alfredo, Portabello Mushroom Pasta, salads, and, of course, burgers of all varieties.

Were they ever to return to Midland Street, Mr. Hiller, the undertaker, Fred Rupff, Leo Carrigan, and Leo and Elizabeth Jean, would be surprised at the sports bar inhabitating their old space. Even Mr. Dore may be surprised.

Below Left: Mary Gottschling checks drink dispensing settings in new bar equipment in added section of Big House Sports Bar, 508-512 Midland Street.

Below Right: Old photo on display at Big House Sports Bar shows U_M football team sporting prison-type garb and huge ball like basketball in the 1870s.

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Dave Rogers

Dave Rogers is a former editorial writer for the Bay City Times and a widely read,
respected journalist/writer in and around Bay City.
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