In 1872 Wichita had fourteen saloons. The most popular was Fritz Snitzler’s Saloon, opened by German immigrant, Fritz Snitzler.
Schnitzler was born on April 18, 1835, in Baden-Württemberg, Germany.
At the age of 29, he ended up in Illinois. He worked on a Mississippi freight ship and quickly rose to captain. Accompanied by his wife Caroline, he made his way to Wichita in 1871 to pursue his American dream. For a brief period, he tried his hand at farming, but it wasn’t long before he sold his equipment and opened a restaurant.
Snitzler’s restaurant was known throughout the region for its good food and hospitality. Thanks to the popularity of the restaurant, he opened his first saloon, which quickly became a gathering place for locals and travelers. The saloon was located on the corner of Douglas and Market in downtown Wichita.
These establishments were more than just bars; they were a combination of gambling houses, show venues, hotels, restaurants, billiard halls, sporting clubs, and even fronts for prostitution. The saloons were diverse in size and style, ranging from the most elegant to the crudest. The first-class saloons, also known as dram shops, were the go-to places not only for a vast array of beverages but also for informal meetings between city leaders, where town policies were discussed over drinks.
But the saloon experience was not just about drinks and discussions. The saloon owners were entrepreneurs, offering customers what they desired. Some specialized in ice cream, oysters, or specialty sandwiches. If gambling was your thing, you could also purchase gambling paraphernalia or tokens that could be exchanged for services from the saloon’s prostitutes.
It is believed that Snitzler ran the first wholesale liquor establishment in southwestern Kansas and at one time he was the richest man in Wichita.
His saloon was known for its large selection of drinks, including beer, whiskey, and other spirits. It was also a popular spot for playing cards and other games.
Fritz himself was a colorful character who was known for his sense of humor and wit. He was also known for his rather robust size. Schnitzler was probably the largest man in Southwestern Kansas. At one time he weighed over 375 pounds.
By 1876, Snitzler had established a large complex that included a hotel with restaurant, a meat market, a saloon, a clothing store and a cigar store. The Wichita Weekly Beacon referred to the area as “Snitzville”.
“Mr. Snitzler… is fully as liberal and jolly as he is heavy.” He was known to “spare no expense to provide the best food, drink and cigars at any hour of the day or night.”
Fritz and his wife were members of the German Lutheran Church. Mr. Snitzler also served on the city council from 1889-91.
The saloon remained in operation for several decades, but eventually closed in the early 1900s.
The Saloon standing at Old Cowtown Museum was built in 1885 as the Rockford Township Hall in Derby, Kansas. In 1966, Derby donated it to Cowtown. It was known as the Buckhorn Bar until 1981, when the building was restored and renamed Fritz Snitzler’s Saloon.
Caroline Hulsmann Schnitzle died on January 26, 1907, at the age of 76. Fritz died on September 3, 1907, at the age of 72. He died in Colorado Springs while at a health resort but was brought back to Wichita for burial. The couple is interred at Highland Cemetery.
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