Tuesday, January 4, 2011

r.i.p. corner tavern

I've always been partial to the local joints--they have all the character and quirkiness the franchises like Applebee's and Bennigan's and O'Charley's strive for with their carefully orchestrated imitation "authenticity." The real good places have cheap tap beer, regular customers who are full of stories and irritating tendencies to talk too much and greasy menus that haven't been updated for decades (except to scratch out old prices with a ballpoint pen). The classic dives have their names on the backs of Little League t-shirts, dusty bottles of Johnny Walker (because the locals don't drink the expensive booze) and Johnny Cash on the jukebox.

In Mr. D's hometown there stands a really old building that housed the Corner Tavern. New Year's Eve was the Corner's last night in business, so we dropped in to say goodbye.

The first time I met Mr. D's family was in the front booth--we had beer and chicken and potato wedges. The broasted chicken was nothing short of amazing. That alone would've kept the Corner in business except the new management sold the trademark recipe to the competition down the street. No kidding!

behind the bar--pictures from times past

Actually, as I recall, it was Lent and everyone in Mr. D's family ate fish. I was the only person ordering chicken (and the only non-Catholic), and only realized my faux pas after the food arrived at our booth.

more than one person in our party remembered sleeping in these booths as children, oblivious to the noise and smoke while their parents visited and had drinks

We spent several nights in this tiny bar. The smoke-filled air would choke you to death until a couple years ago when the Iowa state legislature banned smoking in public places.
I've been in other old bars with the same set-up--a tiny bathroom, doorways so low that you have to duck your head, a single sink out in the main bar, just outside the bathroom door.

You probably don't know one of my (many) dirty little secrets: I'm a crackerjack craps player. My luck is just incredible. Back in my wilder days I had a really crazy winning streak playing craps on the pool table in the Corner's back room. Sure, it would've been easier to just take everybody's money straight out of their pockets, but half the fun is playing the game, right?

so many cool old signs

Another time one of my brothers-in-law took me down to the Corner for a beer--I believe it was on Thanksgiving. We sat right here and had 50-cent tappers. It's true, people really do bond over a few beers and we had a good time. Another brother-in-law recalls it differently, however. He told me New Year's Eve that he remembers me coming back to the Thanksgiving party a couple sheets to the wind.

It's a shame to see a wee little town bar close it's doors. It's full of a lot of memories, grease and building code violations (as you can see here by the Men's Room door--in the kitchen, next to boxes of food!). Inside that building are some darn cool beer signs, photos of old baseball teams and gorgeous cabinets from when craftsmen made things from scratch with care and love.

Maybe someone will buy the Corner Tavern and do something cool with the building. Hopefully Mike and Frank and an architectural salvage crew come through if someone decides to raze it. I wasn't even a modest part of the Corner's history, but I'm glad I got to have one last glass of beer and toast it's memory.

this picture shows how small the bar is--I'm standing nearly at the back wall to take this picture!


  1. Ah, there's a place much like the Corner in the small town where the mister and I graduated from high school. It had dart boards and pool tables. An interesting mix of activities that seem to occur together in small, dark spaces where alcohol is served.

  2. How sad to see a piece of history fade! We have a small bar in our town...when we moved here, they only sold beer by the Can! Needless to say, new management had greater plans and the summers are filled with beer tents, bad bands who try and make up for their lack of talent by playing louder and bar fights. My favorite small town place is Baumgartner's in Monroe. I'd take a cheese sandwich, a bowl of chili and a beer there over any fancy chain restaurant!

  3. Looks and sounds like an awesome place! I would have spent far too much time there.

    Cheers to the Corner Tavern!

  4. I love supporting local places. It's a shame to lose a little bit of local history. :(

  5. Up where mom is, the Knotty Pine is a similar bar... and it's the only bar for miles. We've held family dinners there, celebrated just about every milestone in one way or the other and had a couple too many a few too many times.

  6. Sounds like a great place with lots of memories. I know a few bars like that. Cheers Corner Tavern!

  7. I love taverns like that. When we lived in Door County we were "regulars" at a couple of places that stayed open all year - the ones who served the locals, not just the tourists. It's the character of the place that keeps it going.

  8. That is sad. I love local places like your corner tavern. Sometimes I worry that America is becoming one big tangled string of Applebees.

    Happy New Year to you, friend! I've missed visiting you over the last month or so. Life got complicated and I unplugged for a while. It's great to be back at your place. I wish you the very best for the new year!

  9. Our versions would be:
    Ruthie's Keyhole
    Some Other Place

    Love them all!

  10. I have never been much of a bar person, but maybe that's because I never lived in a small town. It sounds like a place full of character and characters.

  11. That is sad. I love those old joints.

  12. There were so many spots in Austin that went the way of the Corner in the time I lived away (I wonder if my not being there to order endless pitchers of beer and plates of nachos had anything to do with it?), and even the little haunt in Houston that was my husbands hang out (and where he took me on our first date)is no more. It makes me sad - if I have to resign myself to the bar at a Chili's I think I'd rather stay home.

    I'm so glad you gave your place a great send-off. Happy New Year!

  13. What a fine tribute. It sounds like a small place with big memories. And I love the expression "a couple sheets to the wind."

  14. So you were less than "3 sheets" to the wind. What's wrong with that? Perfectly acceptable! hehee!

    It's a shame when these little places full of history and memories disappear. Guess we just have to frequent them while we can, and document them the way you have in your post. I enjoyed reading about the Corner Tavern!

  15. We have a place where we used to sit at the bar and drink beer and eat pizza. The last time we went back, the same owners had bought the empty space next door and made it into a more upscale place. The food is the same, but the atmosphere is definately not!

    And I believe the correct expression is "slightly sh&%-faced"

  16. That is such a bummer. We have quite a few places like that here (small town and all) and I know I'd be bummed if one of them closed.

  17. Aww. That is sad. The little corner bars are always the best.

    Our favorite pub/restaurant up north just closed. I posted pictures and stories about it a few times before. The boys LOVE it. The bartender always made them their own specialty drinks let them "work" behind the bar. It was a highlight of our trips up north. It won't be the same going up without stopping there. :(


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