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On a history note | Remembering Gary’s Bar / Elbow Room on the hill in Barton

August 10, 2022 – West Bend, WI – There are a lot of changes coming up at the corner of Highway 144 and Main Street in Barton as Hilltop Service closes after 50 years and the corner has plans to turn into State Bank of Newburg.

Prior to the garage, dating to the 1920’s, the corner was home to a series of taverns. Gary’s Bar was run by Gary Koenings.

Gary's Bar
Gary Koenings – Bar in Barton

Gary stands behind the bar and a large bottle of Seagram’s 7. There are three ashtrays on the counter and what appears to be a box of matches upright in each.

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There’s a girly calendar, a brunette Miss June dressed in a bikini, on the wall over Gary’s right shoulder. There are bottles of hard liquor lining two shelves behind the bar with a cash register in the middle and what appears to be another girlie calendar just below the register.

The hands of the clock above the register indicate a time of 11:10 and the cash register has a 15-cent price flag showing in the right corner.

A couple of mounted fish are visible above the register as well as a stuffed pheasant on the far wall. In the mirror on the right side is a reflection of a poster for the Random Lake Firemen’s Picnic

The beer sign out front of the building reads Gary’s Tavern; the word Tavern is written in cursive. Below the white portion of the sign is the traditional Lithia Beer signature and below that it reads ‘On Tap.’

Gary’s wife Viola poses next to their vehicle. She is dressed in a knee-length floral print with white open toed sandals with a heel. Her shoulder-length hair is pulled back and she appears to have blush on her cheeks. There is an American flag out front.

Gary's Bar

“That’s my mother,” said Joanne Krueger, nee Koenings. “Prior to working at the tavern, she worked at the Telephone Company.”

The Shell station was attached to the left of the bar. “I could always smell it,” Joanne said of the oil. “They were always doing crap in there.

“That’s my dad in the tavern. Those were the good old days with all that alcohol.”

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Joanne said she was pretty young when she was behind the bar. “My dad had a cigarette route so my ma would go there during the day and guys like Art Sepersky and Ollie Robb would tend bar and come and help.”

Joanne said she was 15 years old when she “borrowed” a car.  “My ma and dad went out and Ollie Robb was tending bar and my friend Joan Waala and I went down to the tavern and the car was out front. In those days the keys were in the car. So, we got in and him (Joanne’s husband Paul) and his friend were next door at the service station, so we picked them up and took them for a ride through West Bend. And it was snowing. So, when we got back my dad was waiting and he said, ‘Head for the shed.’ I never caught hell for it at all, but it was funny…

Joanne said the story must have got legs in town…

Joanne

“I was almost 16 and had to go get my driver’s license over at the firehouse and the guy had two pencils. He said, ‘What color is this?’ and I said, black. He said, ‘What color is this?’ and I said blue, and he said, ‘You’re done. You can get your license.’  And then he leaned in and said, ‘I know you know how to drive.’  That was it. I didn’t even have to get in the car or drive around or nothing.”

Joanne said even though her dad owned a tavern, she knew not to drink too close to home. “I think I was 16 when I had my first beer. I went up to Steve & Mary’s minor bar in Kewaskum,” she said.

Foundry 45

Gary Koenings was a big guy. In the photo below, taken outside of the West Bend Brewery, he’s standing in the top right corner. “In his younger days the photos of him, he was really thin; but as he got older, he got heavy,” Joanne said. “Probably from all of the stress his daughter was causing.”

Brewery Lithia

Joanne was a self-confessed member of the Barton Girls. “We got in trouble,” she said. “We’d collect June bugs and throw them in by the barber shop. We’d put them in a popsicle bag and throw them in by Flicky and he’d run out and holler at us…. ”

Carl Meyer was with the police department. “He said, you four are going to put me in my grave,” said Joanne about her crew made up of Arlene ‘Pickles’ Gengler, Judy Matenaer, and Joan Waala. We were little devils,” she laughed.

Joanne went to St. Mary’s Grade School and graduated West Bend High School (the old Badger School) in 1955.

“I got pulled in the closet one time by Sister Columbine,” said Joanne. “She really roughed me up in there.”

Joanne said Sister Columbine was “only a little nun but meant business.”

“I skipped school with some older friends, and we went to Milwaukee and bummed around, and I was young yet.  We got back, and everything was good and one of the kids from school saw me and squealed. The nuns wanted to know where I was, and I said I was hiding out in the woods because I couldn’t tell them I went with these other people.

“So, we were graduating, and I couldn’t go to the picnic – I had to stay at school that day,” said Joanne shrugging her shoulders.

Jeff's Spirits on Main

On a side note – Joanne and Paul were reviewing some photos when they came across one of Fat Naumann.  “That’s what everybody called him,” said Joanne.  Does anyone remember his real name?

Fat Naumann

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