Friday, March 11, 2011

Ryan Maybee digs into the Rieger Hotel's fascinating history

Posted By on Fri, Mar 11, 2011 at 11:24 AM

Artist Dan Brewer is painting an advertisement for Rieger Whiskey on the side of the Rieger Hotel.
  • Artist Dan Brewer is painting an advertisement for Rieger Whiskey on the side of the Rieger Hotel.

This week's Cafe review in The Pitch gives a little history of the 96-year-old hotel building that now houses the new Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange. But the restaurant's co-owner, Ryan Maybee, is becoming something of an expert on the history of both the Rieger family that built the property and their various business interests.

And it's a fascinating story.

Alexander Rieger, who built the hotel in 1915, was a real mover and shaker in Kansas City at the turn of the last century. Maybee pulls out a copy of his 1936 obituary from the Kansas City Star: at the time of Rieger's death, the 59-year-old chairman of the Mercantile Bank & Trust sat on the boards of several philanthropic organizations and was the official Czechoslovakian consul in Kansas City.

Rieger was born in Hungary, arriving with his family in America at age 6. Doing research online, Maybee has discovered that other members of the Rieger family settled in different parts of the United States. There was a Rieger & Gretz brewery in Philadelphia, and Maybee has collected letters typed on sheets of this long-defunct company's stationery and owns three blank checks from the Rieger & Gretz account. The reason the checks were never used? They were printed to reflect a date in the 1920s, the year after Prohibition went into effect and most breweries in America went bankrupt.

click to enlarge Ryan Maybee
  • Ryan Maybee
Thanks to Google, says Maybee, he discovered Topeka resident Paul Gronquist, a collector of pre-Prohibition memorabilia. "Paul not only shared a lot of history about the Rieger Whiskey company," says Maybee, "he gave us an old bottle, a shot glass and other things from the Rieger company."

Alexander Rieger's father, Jacob, founded the J. Rieger & Company Whiskey Distributorship, which went bust after Prohibition. His son went into banking, and two of Alexander Rieger's three sons -- Nathan and Jack -- were vice presidents of two area banks at the time of their father's death. Alexander Rieger died at the large apartment -- in the glamorous Sombart Apartments at 420 Armour Boulevard (which is still a pretty snazzy building today) -- he shared with his third wife, Mrs. Cora Peiser.


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