The Navy veteran behind the bar always wore jeans to work, even in summer.
For 42 years, Steven Wisdorf served up humor, counsel and drinks at Bunny’s Bar and Grill in St. Louis Park, becoming something of a quiet legend with a loyal following. No one there called him by his given name; at Bunny’s, he was “Wiz.” The west end of the bar? That was “Wiz’s end.”
“We still call it Wiz’s end, you know? And he hasn’t worked for us in five years,” said Gary Rackner, a co-owner at Bunny’s. “He was a bartender’s bartender. He was made to bartend.”
Wisdorf, of Spring Park, died March 13 following a heart attack, said his sister, Wanda Ackerman of Minneapolis. He was 75.
Ackerman may have been one of the few people to call her brother by his first name. She learned it was useless to ask for “Steven” at Bunny’s, where he was known for his classic car chats, big mustache and the sardonic look he often dished out, peering over his glasses.
“They would look puzzled and then laugh and say, ‘Oh, Wiz?’ ” she recalled.
Wisdorf grew up in Minneapolis, tinkering with and restoring cars and motorcycles. He always had an eye for anything mechanical, Ackerman said. It came as a surprise, she said, that her soft-spoken brother made a career out of what co-workers described as his “gift of gab.”
After attending Minneapolis Central High School, he graduated from the University of Minnesota where he studied psychology — perhaps a prescient subject given his later profession.
“He used to make jokes about that,” Ackerman said. “He wondered how many bartenders there were who had studied psychology.”
Before beginning his long career at Bunny’s, Wisdorf served in the U.S. Navy as an airplane mechanic. Friends say he remained a devoted supporter of veterans for the rest of his life.
At Bunny’s, Wisdorf was known for making folks feel at home, from neighborhood newbies to regulars who specifically waited for bar stools to open up on Wiz’s end.
“He was such a good listener,” said Steve Koch, a co-owner of Bunny’s. “He was not a notice-me type guy.”
Regulars recall his love for sports, boating and his little red Corvette. When a team from the U was playing, he pulled out his Gophers apparel.
Patrons were comfortable confiding in him as he poured drinks and tossed in some wry humor and counseling. Wiz talked to strangers and friends alike about worries of the head and problems of the heart, so much so that his bosses sometimes had to nudge him to keep serving amid all the story swapping.
“He was a very approachable man,” said Tom Manley, a manager at Bunny’s. “That’s what made him a good bartender.”
Wisdorf didn’t imbibe much, usually opting for a Budweiser, Manley said. Behind the bar, he preferred serving up a simple beer, or whiskey and Coke, to anything with frills.
“If you would have put a blender in front of Wiz, he probably would have thrown it right back at you,” Rackner said.
Even after Wisdorf retired about five years ago he often popped in at Bunny’s, and the crowd there kept a lookout for him. Friends and family plan to gather there again from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday for a farewell to Wiz, complete with a Budweiser toast.