By Josh Staloch
GREEN BAY — Between 1989 and 2006, Heroes Club at the south end of Washington Street hosted some of the music industry’s top blues bands.
Owned by the late Pat Coniff, who died in 2015 at the age of 67, Heroes Club is treasured in memory of those who worked there and socialized at this one-of-a-kind establishment.
On Sunday, May 22, thanks to the work of a handful of former employees, musicians, and Pat’s widow, Barb Coniff, a meeting of Heroes Club patrons will take place at the Blue Collar Bar and Grill at 1313 S. Broadway as a way for everyone who has enjoyed countless good times at the Heroes Club to reunite and see where the last 16 years have taken them.
“I tried to find someone I could at the time,” said Dan “Skinny” Skenandore, former Heroes bartender and the man who got the ball rolling at the reunion, “As a bartender , you know what someone is drinking, but you might not necessarily know their name.That’s where Barb came in and really helped, with posters, organizing things and Facebook.
Skenandore said he set out to get his hands on as many former Heroes bartenders and familiar faces as possible, and it all led to Sunday’s event taking shape.
one of the gang
One such familiar face was Rich Piumbroeck, vocalist/percussionist from Big Mouth, one of the bands that played Heroes regularly, and whose current lineup, known as Big Mouth and power tool hornswill be presented at Sunday’s meeting.
Heroes was such a great place,” Piumbroeck said. “I think I’ve played there with four different bands over the years. When the acoustic thing was big, it was Los Desperados. Then I was in a band called The Hooligans. And then we put together a band with Jay Whitney from Big Mouth and myself and Paul Wilmette and we played on Sundays after the Packers games.
The post-game blues
A regular fixture on Sundays at the Heroes Club, Big Mouth often struggled to keep up after Packers games.
But, Piumbroeck said it was a good time whether it was a win or a loss.
“You work a little harder, you make a little more eye contact,” he said of having to adjust to the atmosphere in a room following a tough Verts et Or game. “You just made the show a little more personal. crack a joke on one of your friends in the crowd or make fun of yourself. You just worked a little harder to make sure the loss goes away, there are smiles to be had.
Pat’s Magnetic Personality
Kurt Munchoff said he started working as a Heroes bartender in 1990 when he returned from duty in Iraq in Desert Shield/Desert Storm and spent a decade working with Coniff.
Munchoff said he was immediately impressed with Coniff’s ability to have fun, while being a success.
“He was a party animal, I think, and he brought that to the bar,” he said. “But he also seemed like a smart businessman in the way he managed to bring groups to a small venue like that. It almost seemed like we shouldn’t have been able to pull off the caliber of music that came in.
Lynn Huepel, a longtime Heroes Club bartender who helped organize Sunday’s event, said it was always a lot of fun.
“We had an afternoon crowd – Jeopardy! four o’clock, she said. “We had people shouting answers in the bar. I think Pat would be absolutely thrilled to see what we have planned for Sunday. It will be very nice to spend time with some of these friends again.
When asked if he thought Green Bay might ever see another place like Heroes Club again, Piumbroeck sounded dubious.
“Boy, I don’t know if there’s another Uncle Pat out there right now, that’s what I’ve always called him,” he said. “It would all have to start with someone like Uncle Pat, he was the backbone of the place, the cornerstone. It was a really cool place and you enjoyed it when you were there. But, even now, there is an even deeper and greater appreciation for what he has done and what he has brought to the community.
The people who frequented Heroes Club were described by former employees as good people, salt of the earth, very kind and most importantly, they really enjoyed the music and what was happening at Heroes.
Piumbroeck said music lovers in the Green Bay area know that any weekend you can go to Heroes and hear something special and have a real musical experience.
Barb said it was Pat who made Heroes special.
“He was from Green Bay,” she said. “He went to West High, he played on the basketball team that went stateside, and he was well known in the community. So when he opened Heroes, naturally a lot of people came. But it was the music, the bartenders and the friends they made there that kept them coming back. Besides wanting to be where Pat was, he provided a fun environment.
It was always good
Piumbroeck said he doesn’t remember having a bad night at Heroes and that sometimes incredibly good things happen.
He recalls a winter night years ago that brought one of the heaviest snowstorms the region had seen in several years.
The band, gear already loaded and ready to go, told Pat they wouldn’t be mad if he canceled the night’s performance.
“We told Pat that if he wanted to call it a night, we’d just sit down and have a few beers,” Piumbroeck said. “He thought about it for a few minutes before telling us to go ahead and settle down.”
Piumbroeck said what happened after the band started playing that night has been etched in his memory ever since.
“It’s snowing like (crazy),” he said. “I don’t know if I’ve seen such hard snow since. But, people were showing up. I’m not kidding, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Honestly to God, before you knew it, we were playing to an almost full crowd.
It was with family
Piumbroeck also said his connection to Heroes Club and, more importantly, his relationship with Pat helped him through some tough times.
A scheduled performance at Heroes dropped a day after her father died.
He said Pat called to offer his condolences and suggested it would be okay to cancel the show that night.
“But I told him that I really needed to do it, play it and not think about it,” Piumbroeck said. “So one of the songs we did was ‘Heart of the Matter’, by Don Henley. I sang on that one and the first line of that song is ‘I got the call today. I didn’t want to hear today. But I knew it was coming. And I’m telling you, it’s Niagara Falls. Everyone in the place was family, everyone knew what happened. They got closer and it was like getting a telepathic hug from that crowd as I tried to fight through that song. It’s one of the many nights at Heroes that I’ll always remember.
The Hero Reunion kicks off at 11 a.m. at the Blue Collar Bar and Grill, with Big Mouth and the Power Tool Horns on stage from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
“I’ve never been a Heroes customer and it’s great to meet everyone,” said Kim Glover, owner of Blue Collar. “It will be an honor to have them here.”