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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


From Encyclopedia Dubuque
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FREE LUNCH. Free lunch was a famous institution in the bars of Dubuque for many years. Where it first began is not known, but the popularity of the lunch grew to the point that no barroom could afford not to offer it.

What was offered on the lunch counter depended upon the part of town in which the bar was located, the nationality of the bar's operator, and the nationality of the patrons. Sauerkraut and weiners were popular, but so were oysters which many patrons liked in their beer or whiskey. On one day of the week, usually Saturday, the free lunch took on special attention. It was common for bars to have a special roast or beef or pork...or both. There were other bars which offered game birds and domestic fowl. In 1891 M. E. Lyons' saloon on First Street offered baked beans and Boston brown bread. (1) J. P. LOWRY offered roast pork and beans. (2) On Christmas Day, A. J. Walter, who operated a saloon on 13th and Jackson, offered a fawn lunch with the meat obtained from Colorado. (3) Wild game including bear, antelope, rabbit, raccoon, opossum, elk, and turkey was offered by a Capt. Mont's at 359 Main. (4) Herman Roesch's GRAND OPERA EXCHANGE offered a lunch of fresh oysters, fresh shrimp, smoked sturgeon, and imported Swiss cheese. (5)

One of the most famous free lunches was offered by Liberat Alphonse "L.A." RHOMBERG. In "The Nutwood Exchange," named for NUTWOOD PARK, Rhomberg catered to the appetites of his guests with wild turkey with oyster dressing, Canadian wild geese with sage and onions, shrimp, broiled mallard, domestic turkey, broiled bear steak, roast elk, broiled lobsters, red snapper with tomato sauce, and leg of lamb. These were accompanied by cold slaw, French peas, raisins, cheese, crackers, Rocky Mountain punch, and Cosmopolitan claret punch. Rhomberg operated "The Nutwood Exchange" for many years with his wholesaling and retailing business. He then sold the establishment to "Billy" Hughes and "Jonnie" O'Meara. They continued to operate the bar, known as the "H and O," until PROHIBITION forced it to close.

The era of the free lunch in barrooms ended with Iowa's Mulct Law which prohibited free lunches from bars and regulated their hours.



1. "Municipal Molecules," Dubuque Daily Herald, September 15, 1891, p. 4

2. "Municipal Molecules," Dubuque Daily Herald, September 17, 1891, p. 4

3. "Fawn Lunch," Dubuque Daily Herald, December 23, 1891, p. 8

4. "Municipal Molecules," Dubuque Daily Herald, December 22, 1893, p. 4

5. "Municipal Molecules, Dubuque Daily Herald, February 10, 1894, p. 4