“There’s no place in Door County that AC Tap isn’t on the way home from,” Earlen “Butch” Seiler used to say. Seiler was a regular at the Tap with his buddy, the Polka King Freddie Kodanko, a local legend. It was the first and often the only stop on their tractor rides through the rural parts of a rural county.
“It was a farmers’ bar and that was its niche here,” said owner Steve Mueller. “It was farmers in the morning, afternoon, whatever they’re doing between plowing or spreading manure or milking cows. They would come in and have a few beers and then go back to their chores.”
The AC Tap is four miles south of Sister Bay and four miles north of Baileys Harbor, sometimes referred to as, “the middle of nowhere.” Mueller, who also grew up in that neighborhood that no town could truly claim, said that’s how they wanted it.
“They didn’t want to go into town,” he said. “They would have had to change clothes or do whatever. Here it didn’t matter. They had cow poop on their feet, they came in like that.”
Mueller took over the AC Tap in 2002 but was familiar with the bar long before then.
“I was probably here when I was five years old with my parents. We’d be here every Sunday after church for second sermon,” he laughed.
But the chuckles don’t mean Mueller is exaggerating. In the mid-19th century, farmers would rise with the sun every day and get to work. After half a day in the field, their break would consist of beer and conversation with the other farmers living around the Tap.
Many, like Freddie Kodanko, drove their tractors to the bar because, as Kodanko liked to say, “You don’t need no license for no tractor.”
But being off the beaten path does pose some challenges.
“You put my same venue into town and I’d be probably three times as busy,” said Mueller. “The laws changed and it got harder. Mothers Against Drunk Driving was a good thing. But once they got all the bad drunks off the road, then they went for casual drinkers. Now they’re going for anyone who has a whisper of alcohol and I think that’s the wrong thing. It’s going to send taverns out and that’s where bars like this have a harder time than the ones in town that people can walk to.”
Still, Mueller is consistently looking for new niches to squeeze the AC Tap into. From serving food until bar close to sushi on Tuesdays, Mueller has worked to improve what will always be the farmer’s bar.
“When I started, I wanted it to be a cheers to Door County,” he said. “I wanted it to be local. I wanted it to be everybody knows everybody and the tourists will find us anyway. I’m not worried about them.”
Read the full series on Door County taverns:
Tuesday: The Institute Saloon – Keeping the Locals Happy for 120 Years, by Jim Lundstrom
Wednesday: When I Learned What Husby’s Meant to Sister Bay, by Myles Dannhausen Jr.
Thursday: Breadth and Longevity at Birmingham’s, by Jackson Parr
Friday: The Red Room, By Myles Dannhausen Jr.
Saturday: AC Tap – A Tavern Less Traveled, by Jackson Parr
Sunday: The Bayside Tavern – Door County’s Great Equalizer, by Myles Dannhausen Jr.
Monday: Marnie’s – Stepping into Tradition, by Jim Lundstrom
Tuesday: Epicenter of Island Life – Nelsen’s Hall and Bitters Pub, by Jackson Parr