You may or may not recall that I wrote about my grandparent’s house in Chetek, Wisconsin a couple of years ago and how I wanted to visit Chetek again and possibly find the house they lived in. Well, this summer I finally did return to Chetek.
After dropping Andrew off at Oberlin in September, Dean and I headed west. We visited family for a few days then drove to Wisconsin. Our first stop was Madison to drop off some bulky items to Andrew’s friend Peter, who is studying at the University there. Then we visited Two Rivers which will get a post all of its own. We drove to Hazelhurst and settled in to mom’s lake house for a few days. On Wednesday we drove the 130 miles to Chetek which is through beautiful Wisconsin farm country.
When we arrived in Chetek, I immediately saw it had not changed much in the 26 years since my last visit. The first thing we did was try to find the house that my grandparents owned on Ten Mile Lake. I’ll write about that search in Part 2. This part is about the bars.
I’m not sure I mentioned this earlier, but a reporter from the Chetek Alert — the town’s weekly newspaper — contacted me spring 2010 and asked if they could use the post I wrote for their special section called Summer Scene. I was happy to allow them to use my post.
Rereading my blog post from 2009, I’m not sure why I left out one of the most memorable parts of Chetek. I suspect I wrote about it, but cleaned it up for the article. Perhaps I didn’t want the town of Chetek and the visiting tourists to know about My Family and The Bars.
Chetek has a number of bars. It is in Wisconsin, after all. And it is a town that relies on tourism. After a day on the lake any self-respecting tourist likes to belly up to a bar and have a beer. My family was no different. Well, maybe it was. We spent a lot of time in bars. Since there rarely was anyone to babysit the kids — the kids went to the bars along with the parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles and family friends.
There were four bars we’d visit on our Chetek vacation:
- The Indianhead Bar: (we called it Millie’s because Millie was an owner) I remember that Millie would serve a chicken dinner one night a week and I often helped tear up the bread for stuffing. My grandparents and Millie were good friends. I have many fond memories of sitting at the bar with my grandparents while they talked to Millie while she tended bar.
- The Black Bass: This was right next to the Indianhead Bar. We didn’t go there that often, but I do remember being there a few times. They sold off-sales alcohol. That I remember. It may have been here that the Leinenkugel heir would buy beers for anyone who talked to him and drank the family brew. It may also have been here that as I wrote in my journal at the bar a man yelled at me and asked me if I was writing down what he and the woman next to him were talking about. I wasn’t.
- The B & B Bar: I think my parents liked the B & B bar the best. I remember being there with them most often. At least once they put a couple of chairs together and I’d sleep on the chairs while my parents drank and had fun. My brother took his first steps in the B & B Bar. Mom doesn’t remember that, but I do. For what it is worth, it was daylight when it happened. My fondest memory of the B & B Bar is the bartender we called “Butch”. Somewhere exists a photograph I took of Butch standing behind his bar, his arms outstretched, leaning on the bar. I had a schoolgirl crush on Butch and he humored me. There was a jackalope behind the bar and I remember my grandfather telling me about it.
- The Spot: We rarely went to The Spot to drink, but I remember visiting it when my grandfather was tending bar there. What I remember is the restaurant. The Spot was a supper club and had really good steaks. They served their baked potatoes with melted cheese and it was delicious. To this day I have cheese on my baked potatoes. One vivid memory of being at the spot is being bored while my parents and grandparents talked. I’d had a kiddie cocktail which had a mermaid cocktail pick. I remember playing with the plastic mermaid and whenever I dropped it on the floor under the table, I held my nose like I was going under water to find her.
All four bars are still standing and two are still called the names I knew them by when I was a child. Of the other two, one resembles the bar I remember and the other seems completely different.
The Indianhead is still called The Indianhead and looks pretty much as I remember it when I was a kid. The current owner told me that the bar is now longer and the bathrooms have been moved to the back. I was able, however, to picture my young self in the back room, tearing bread up for stuffing.
The Black Bass is now called Stringers and looks the same inside, although the owner said it was completely redone after a fire. I guess it was a two story building before the fire. (The Indianhead also caught on fire).
The Spot is now a sports bar called Gilligans and really looks different from my memory — however I don’t remember a lot about the outside.
Saving the best for last, the B & B has the same name and the same bar, but the rest of the bar area looks different. In addition the jackalope is gone and in its place is what looks like a monkey’s face, but on further inspection is the rear end of a white-tailed deer with a cigarette in its “mouth”. Apparently, according to the Internet, it is called an Adirondack Snow Monkey.
We talked to the current owner of the B & B for a while and he told me that Butch worked just down the street at a real estate office if we wanted to pay him a visit. Normally I would have been too shy to do something as bold as that, but since Dean was willing, we headed over to Six Lakes Reality to see if Butch was in the office. He wasn’t, but his wife, Barb, was and she graciously took a few minutes off work to talk to me.
Dean and I ate lunch at Bob’s Grill, next to The Indianhead. I don’t remember ever eating there before, but the food was great and we each had a spudnik (doughnut hole made from potatoes and created when Sputnik was launched) along with our meal.
The most visual of my memories of Main Street Chetek is the huge fish outside the Rod and Gun Shop. He’s still there. I remember going to the Rod and Gun Shop with my dad or grandfather and looking at the fish in the sinks. The smell was exactly as I remembered it — part fishy part, plastic (from the fake lures).
Seeing downtown Chetek again was like putting together a puzzle. I remembered bits and pieces, but seeing it all together brought being there back to me.
Check back later for part 2 of my Return to Chetek including a fun Internet surprise.