- Associated Press - Friday, September 15, 2017

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) - Ophelia’s, a wine-and-tapas bar begun in 2006, already has a storied 21st-century history, having opened and closed twice in different downtown venues over the eleven years since its grand opening.

As it turns out, the building where its owners plan to reopen the bar for a third time has a storied 19th-century history.

Team Ophelia’s recently discovered a fully intact vault under the building that nobody had been aware of for many decades, co-owner Tom Muetzel said.

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Husband-and-wife business partners Tom and Lori Muetzel began reviving Ophelia’s last year, responding to a crew of dedicated fans of the place who have adored the nomadic bar since Tom Carlson was mayor of Springfield, despite its two hiatuses.

Beginning last fall, the Muetzels began work on an 1873 building owned by Joe and Craig Hosmer of Northbridge 300, LLC.

Their original plan, as the News-Leader reported in November, was to create a two-level Ophelia’s using the building’s street level and its basement. The Muetzels expected to open between March and June of this year.

Now, Tom Muetzel said they don’t have an estimate of when Ophelia’s will again serve wine, lunch, dinner, tapas, cocktails and beer.

The building’s existing basement had a low ceiling, so the Muetzels conferred with the Hosmers (both of whom, Tom Muetzel noted, are taller than 6 feet) and the Hosmers agreed to excavate the basement floor by two to three extra feet, for the sake of head room.

What happened next was amazing.

Muetzel said that the property owners removed the street-level floor, then began digging out the basement floor.

On June 22, Marshfield-based ARCH Contracting began finding mud, concrete, bottles, shoes, bowls and “all manner of turn-of-the-century debris” from the basement.

A week later, the contractors found the top of a stone arch in the middle of the mud.

“We literally just had a wine cellar fall into our laps,” Muetzel said.

He and his wife plan to use it as a private event space with a small bar that might be open for general use if the upstairs Ophelia’s gets very crowded.

At first, the parties involved thought the arch was mere foundation debris, but they uncovered it slowly and found an opening that led to a 40-by-16-foot space full of spring water. Was it a cistern?

They brought in pumps to find out. It took seven weeks to remove the water. They cleared more debris and began drying the room via a large industrial fan, an ongoing process.

The subterranean room has an 8-foot vaulted ceiling that’s in “very, very good condition,” Muetzel told the Springfield News-Leader .

He consulted John Sellars at the History Museum on the Square, and they now believe the room was used for cold storage and that it probably dates back to a dry goods store founded in 1867 on Commercial Street - three years before the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad came to the district, prompting a building boom.

Sometime between 1867 and 1873, a fire broke out at a cluster of grain silos across the street, where Peruvian restaurant Cafe Cusco now stands. It burned so hot that the wooden dry-goods structure went up in flames.

At some point no later than the early 20th century, the Muetzels and the Hosmers think the sub-basement flooded with spring water, and its two entrances were sealed off.

The current work on the room is a painstaking partnership with ARCH Contracting, Springfield-based Hand Architecture and the Hosmers, Muetzel said.

“If you’ve ever been to Germany, it’s a lot like what you find in areas along the Moselle (river and wine region), he said. “It’s very reminiscent of (basement) rathskellers along there.”

They are taking their time to create “something absolutely stunning,” he said.

They believe the vault is unique in Springfield, even in a district like Commercial Street, which is littered with structures from the 1880s that have been renovated since the 2000s.

“There are a whole set of ambiguities that come up when you find something like this,” Muetzel said. “It’s very important to do this in the right way with something as special as this building.”


Information from: Springfield News-Leader, https://www.news-leader.com

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