Heroes Club reunion happening Sunday, May 22
By Josh Staloch
GREEN BAY – Between 1989 and 2006, Heroes Club on the south end of Washington Street played host to some of the best blues acts in the music business.
Owned by the late Pat Coniff, who passed away in 2015 at the age of 67, Heroes Club is remembered fondly by those who worked and socialized there in the 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 reunion of Heroes Club patrons will be held at Blue Collar Bar and Grill at 1313 S. Broadway as a way for everyone who enjoyed the countless good times at Heroes Club to get back together and see where the last 16 years or so has taken them.
“I’ve been trying to find anyone I can from back then,” Dan “Skinny” Skenandore, former Heroes bartender and the man who got the ball rolling on the reunion, said “Being a bartender, you know what someone drinks, but you might not necessarily know their name. So that’s where Barb came in and really helped out, with posters and organizing things and Facebook.”
Skenandore said he set out to get ahold of as many former bartenders and familiar faces from Heroes as he could, and it all led to Sunday’s event taking shape.
One of the gang
One of those familiar faces was Rich Piumbroeck, vocalist/percussionist for Big Mouth, one of the bands that played regularly at Heroes, and whose current lineup, known as Big Mouth and the and the Power Tool Horns, will be featured at Sunday’s reunion.
Heroes was just 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 group called The Hooligans. And then, we put a band together with Jay Whitney from Big Mouth and myself and Paul Wilmette and we’d play Sundays after Packers games.”
A regular feature on Sundays at the Heroes Club, Big Mouth often had a tough act to follow after Packers games.
But, Piumbroeck said it was a good time regardless of a win or a loss.
“You work a little harder, you make a little more eye contact,” he said of having to adapt to the mood of a room following a rough game from the Green and Gold. “You just make the show a little more personal. make a joke about one of your friends in the crowd or be self-deprecating. You just worked a little harder to make sure the loss sort of went 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 serving 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 enjoy himself, while at the same time being a success.
“He was a party guy, I think, and he brought that to the bar environment,” he said. “But he also seemed like a smart businessman in how he was able to get bands into a small venue like that. It almost seemed like we shouldn’t have been able to pull 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! at four o’clock,” she said. “We had people shouting answers out in the bar. I think Pat would be absolutely thrilled to see what we’ve got planned for Sunday. It’s going to be very nice to be hanging out with some of those friends again.”
When asked if he thought Green Bay might ever again see another place like Heroes Club, Piumbroeck seemed doubtful.
“Boy, I don’t know if there’s another Uncle Pat out there right now, that’s what I always called him,” he said. “It would all have to start with someone like Uncle Pat, he was the backbone of the place, the lifeblood. It really was a cool place and you appreciated it back then when you were in it. But, even now, there’s an even deeper and greater appreciation for what he did and what he brought to the community.”
The people who frequented Heroes Club have been described by former employees as good, salt of the earth folks, very nice and, most importantly, they were very appreciative of music and what was happening at Heroes.
Piumbroeck said music lovers in the Green Bay area knew, that on any given weekend, you could go to Heroes and hear something special, and have a real musical experience.
Barb said it was Pat that made Heroes special.
“He was a Green Bay native,” she said. “He went to West High, he played on the basketball team that went to state, and he was well known in the community. So, when he opened Heroes, naturally, a lot of people came. But it was the music and the bartenders and the friends they made there that kept them coming back. In addition to wanting to be where Pat was, he provided a fun environment.”
It was always good
Piumbroeck said he can’t recall having a bad night at Heroes and that sometimes, incredibly good things just happened.
He recalled a winter night years ago that brought with it one of the heaviest snowstorms the area had seen in quite a few years.
The band, gear already loaded and ready to go, told Pat they wouldn’t be upset if he called the night’s performance off.
“We told Pat that, if he wanted to call it a night, we’d just sit down and have a couple of beers,” Piumbroeck said. “He thought about it for a few minutes before he told us to go ahead and set up.”
Piumbroeck said what happened after the band began to play that night has been stuck in his memory ever since.
“It’s snowing like (crazy),” he said. “I don’t know that I’ve seen snow that hard since then. But, people were showing up. I’m not kidding, on cross country skis and snowshoes. Honest to God, before you knew it, we were playing before an almost capacity crowd.”
It was family
Piumbroeck also said his connection to Heroes Club, and more importantly, his relationship with Pat helped him through tough times.
A scheduled performance at Heroes happened to fall one day after his father died.
He said Pat called to offer his condolences and made the suggestion that it would be ok to call off that night’s show.
“But I told him that I really needed to do it, to perform and not be thinking about this,” 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. But I knew that it would come.’ And I’m telling you, it’s Niagara Falls. Everyone in the place was family, everyone knew what had happened. They moved closer in and it was like getting a telepathic hug from this crowd while I tried to fight through this song. That’s one of the many nights at Heroes that I’ll always remember.”
The Heroes reunion kicks off at 11 a.m. at Blue Collar Bar and Grill, with Big Mouth and the Power Tool Horns taking the stage from 1-4 p.m.
“I’ve never been a Heroes customer and I’m excited to meet everyone,” Blue Collar owner Kim Glover said. “It will be an honor to have them here.”