The Joynt, a venerable Eau Claire watering hole, is many things. It’s a landmark. It’s a time capsule. It’s a classic Wisconsin tavern with a narrow, wood-lined interior decorated in a style one reviewer termed “Lumberjack Revival.” It’s a relaxing place to slip onto a stool (or, if you’re lucky, into a corner table) and drink some of the cheapest beer in town while chatting with a clientele that ranges from poets to students to blue-collar folks.
Above all, the Joynt is cool. Not, mind you, the kind of cool that feels the need to proclaim itself with neon and billboards and outrageous drink specials. Not the kind of cool that requires the trendiest songs to be played at the highest volume, and certainly not the kind of cool that makes those older than 25 feel like they’re much too old for the place.
The Joynt’s cool is the cool of the jazz and blues legends who once packed the house during its days as a music venue. It’s the cool of rubbing shoulders with local celebrities – and maybe not knowing it. It’s the cool that makes you – whoever you happen to be – feel a little cooler just for finding the place despite the fact its facade lacks a sign. (Cool doesn’t need to advertise.)
Bill Nolte has owned the Joynt since 1971, and between 1974 and 1990 it hosted packed-to-the-rafters shows by top musicians who typically stopped between gigs in Chicago and Minneapolis – performers including Charles Mingus, Dizzy Gillespie, and Koko Taylor. Scores of these musicians are immortalized in the yellowed photos lining the walls. (Ask your bartender for a copy of a helpful who’s-who guide to performers’ portraits.)
The Joynt – which you’ll find at 322 Water St., by the way – has been celebrated by Chippewa Valley artistic luminaries as well: New York Times best-selling author Michael Perry honed his craft at the knee of poets and writers in the Joynt, while Grammy-winning indie rocker Justin Vernon’s parents legendarily met there.
The Joynt defies categorization. Sure, it’s a college bar, and on a Saturday night there are plenty of students. But then, as at other times, you’ll also find tattooed hipsters tossing back taps of Leinenkugel’s Original (50 cents a glass during happy hour) next to professors, doctors, tourists, and townies of all stripes. And if you’re not into people-watching, there are plenty of other things to look at in the Joynt: the massive collection of vintage beer cans, the framed covers of underground comics, the shelf full of reference books (useful for settling bar bets).
All in all, whether you’re in town for a day or a lifetime, make yourself at home. At the Joynt, there’s only one unforgivable faux pas against Sawdust City authenticity, and it’s spelled out in
the only neon letters you’ll see in the place: Hanging above the back bar, a sign simply declares, “NO LIGHT BEER.”
Photo credit to Katie Lebrun/Volume One.