MATTOON, Ill. (WCIA) – Walk into the doors of the old House Brothers Tavern, now known as just House Tavern, and you’re taken back in time.
It’s been a place where you could grab a beer, or a good conversation, since 1905. And it’s been in the same family for just as long.
“It started with my great great grandpa, who passed it on to his son, who then passed it on to his three sons, who then my grandpa passed it on to my dad, and my dad passed it on to me. So, I’m the 5th generation in the family since 1905,” Kelsa Bartel, the current owner, said.
Fifth generation, but first woman. She was the first-ever woman bartender for the tavern, and now she’s the first woman owner.
Actually, she was one of the first girls to ever set foot in the bar.
“This was an all-men’s tavern. Guys would get off work, come in here when they got off work. There was no women, there was no wives this was their escape,” she said.
That’s how it was for most of her childhood too.
“When I was growing up, because I was the daughter, I had to stand in the back room behind a curtain. I wasn’t allowed to come up front,” she said.
Mostly, that was because her father, who was the then owner, didn’t want her to hear the conversations, or be in a bar at that young age. But now, all of that has changed.
“Now, we’re just with the times, and it’s not an all men’s tavern anymore,” she said.
Even installing the first womens restroom just a few months ago. She said, right now, ironically, they only have women bartenders working.
She said it’s nice to be the first in all of these categories, and bringing the tavern up to date. But what’s more important for her, keeping it in the family in Our Town Mattoon.
“I feel like families really important and my son, who would be the 6th generation. He’s the one playing Pac-Man back there. He helped my husband pour the concrete outside, and my dad made the comment if his great great great grandpa knew that his great great great grandson was going to be pouring concrete and this was still going. I mean, he would be so happy he had probably no clue that 6 generations later it would still be going,” she said.
As for the future of the tavern, Kelsa hopes more women will start visiting. They’re starting a beer garden next to the bar, and she said she hopes they can keep it in the family name for 100 more years.