Recently a rather momentous occurrence happened in the sleepy little Kickapoo River town of La Farge. On August 28th, the Town Tap, the village’s only bar, offered twenty-cent hot dogs and chili dogs for lunch. Although the chili dogs were delicious, the significance of the event was that it marked the 20thanniversary for Phil & Deb’s Town Tap. That is a rather long time for a bar or tavern to remain under the same ownership in these parts.
Phil & Deb Campbell purchased the business in 1999 from Bob & Charlotte Hysel, who had operated the bar from 1976 until 1988 and again from 1994 until selling it to the Campbell’s. Deb Campbell passed away in 2012, but her name remains on the business to this day.
When I was at the Town Tap munching on my chili dogs, I shared some information with Phil about some previous owners of the bar. I had been investigating who had owned the bar some seventy years before due to a conversation that I had at a family reunion back in June.
There was a Melvin family reunion on June 15that the Methodist Church on Salem Ridge. Ruth Clark organized the reunion and a nice crowd attended the event that included a tasty potluck lunch, lots of visiting and looking at family scrapbooks, and walking around the Salem Ridge Cemetery to look at family graves. I was at the reunion because I am the grandson of Isa Melvin Campbell, who was the daughter of Scott and Lucy Melvin. At one time, Scott Melvin owned pretty much all of Salem Ridge, so there are lots of family connections to that place.
At the reunion, I met Susan Krause, who lives in Potosi. (Susan makes a living by growing organic worms – isn’t that wild!) She is the daughter of Charlene (Melvin) Krause and the granddaughter of M.P. Melvin, who ran a grocery store in La Farge for several years. (Another family connection is that M.P. Melvin rented the store from my parents, who had operated a grocery store there in the early 1950s – more on that Steinmetz Grocery operation later in this piece.)
Susan wondered if I knew anything about a bar that her grandparents on the Krause side had operated in La Farge. I did not have any information, but I started digging through my research notes to see if I could find anything. Sure enough, I did.
In some of my research notes, I found where August Krause has applied for a tavern license on June 1, 1950. The tavern was then called the La Farge Tap Room and at the time was the east side of the first floor of the old Opera House building. (The west side of the building was a hardware store at that time operated by Vern and Vivian Heckart.)
After a gymnasium was built at the school in 1936, the La Farge Opera House was used less and less for community events. Herman Abelt purchased the building in the early 1940s and converted it from the original design, which had a huge, open two-story space for the Opera House. The roof was lowered and several offices were formed on the “new” second floor space. (Eventually those offices were converted to several apartments.) The street level floor was divided into two places for businesses to operate. Soon after, taverns started occupying the east side space.
In my research on the tavern owners of that era, I found that in 1944, the bar was known as Heckart’s Tavern and was operated by Vern and Vivian Heckart. A year later, there was another Christmas ad for Heckart’s Tavern, but by 1946, the bar was called the “La Farge Tap Room” and was operated by Bill and Madelyn Cottrill. The bar remained under that name until the Krause’s took over the business in 1950.
August and Alice Krause renamed the bar the “Tumbler Tavern”. I found that name for the bar when the Krause’s helped sponsor an ad in the La Farge newspaper for the championship LHS basketball team in March of 1951. There was also a Christmas/New Year’s ad for the Tumbler Tavern in an issue of the La Farge Enterprise in December of 1950.
But the Krause’s didn’t stay very long as the bar was called the “Club La Farge” by December of 1951. That name remained with the bar for most of the next decade of the 1950s with several different owners. Ray Merwin was one of those owners and he added a back room to the building when he owned the tavern.
By the 1970s, Jerry and Marie Brickl owned the bar, which they called “Jerry & Marie’s Place”. They also began a supper club, “The Matador”, in the space on the west side, converting an apartment that had been there. Brickl’s also renovated a kitchen space between the bar and supper club to serve both businesses. Bob & Charlotte Hysel bought the business from Brickl’s in 1976 and opened up the supper club to be part of the bar, renovated the kitchen and put in new restrooms. Hysel’s also named their bar, the “Town Tap”, a name that remains today.
The name of the Club La Farge tavern brought back a memory of a story that Rex Bufton told me many years ago. It seems that Rex was a bartender at the Club La Farge in the early 1950s. This was also a time when my parents, Earl and Hope Steinmetz, were running a grocery store in La Farge (at the current site of the La Farge Episcope newspaper office).
Rex told me that my parents would like to stop in for a drink or two at the Club La Farge after closing the grocery store on Saturday nights. During that time, Saturday nights were crazy busy for La Farge stores and sometimes it would be nearly midnight by the time that my parents got the grocery store closed and locked up.
Although the bars in La Farge were open until 1 am at that time, there was a village ordinance that no drinks could be served after midnight. Rex told me that sometimes my parents didn’t get to the bar until after midnight. In order for them to get a drink, Rex would pour out the contents of their drinks into glasses and set them under the bar before the midnight hour struck. So, they were technically poured before the cutoff hour. Then when my parents arrived, he would take the drinks out, add some ice and serve them. It was kind of a “No harm, No foul” kind of thing, I guess.
By 1954, my Dad had joined LaVerne Campbell in the C&S Motors garage business in La Farge so the late Saturday nights at the grocery store for my parents ended. They rented the grocery store to my Mom’s cousin, M.P. Melvin, who operated Melvin’s Super IGA Market at the location through much of the next decade. (And we are once again connected to Susan Krause, the granddaughter of M.P. Melvin.)
That post-WW II era was a time of growth for bars in La Farge. In 1946, Ray Hollenbeck and Doug Gabrielson had wedged a bar into the space between the theater building and Ned’s Pool Hall right across the street from the Club La Farge. Stan Hollenbeck joined his brother in operating the bar, called the G.I. Tavern, by 1947 and they continued operating the bar through the early 1950s. But that’s another bar story for another time in this little history of La Farge.