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Door County’s Great Home Bars

Like most children of the ’80s, I grew up with the television turned to Cheers every Thursday night. It was one of the rare shows my parents watched that I actually liked and it’s probably why I always wanted to own my own bar as a kid. My parents never went to bars, and I didn’t know anything about beer or bartending, but I loved the idea of standing behind the bar like Sam Malone, joking and debating sports each day with the regular crowd.

I got that chance years ago at Husby’s in Sister Bay, and though I’ve long since left the tavern industry, I still have a great affinity for bars. It’s never been about the booze or the beer for me, but the chance encounters, new friendships, and celebrations that they engender.

When my wife and I bought our first home this year, the previous owner, Leif Mickelson, left behind a 10-stool garage bar he made with materials left over from building the home in 2013. It was a generous housewarming gift, and inspiration for a quest to find the best home bars in Door County.

5 o’Clock Somewhere

There are home bars, there are great home bars, and then there’s 5 o’Clock Somewhere at the home of J.R. and Nell Jarosh, a legendary home bar that lives in its own strata of pubs, a rarefied level of greatness that most commercial taverns could only dream of achieving.

Tucked behind his Jacksonport home, the 5 o’Clock Somewhere is part Mexican alley bar, part northwoods hunting shack, part Appalachian lean-to.

The walls are constructed of old pallets, found wood and scraps — not that you can see much of them beneath mementos from more than a decade of good times. Photos of parties past, beer tins, neon signs, hundreds of koozies line the walls. “It’s a bunch of little stuff that there’s really no point to have it in your house,” said the self-effacing Jarosh.

There’s a classic Pabst light hanging in the center of the bar, a collection of tape measures featuring the logo of each NFL team (that’s 32 tape measures), and prominently, a punch clock on the wall, one of many “three-drink ideas” Jarosh has sprinkled throughout the bar.

“I think one day someone said ‘We’re drinking like it’s our job,’ and that got me thinking it would be cool to have a time clock,” Jarosh said. Now guests punch in and punch out at each visit, with a history of shifts a point of pride among friends. “It also comes in handy when you’re sitting around the next day and someone asks, ‘How late were we out there last night?’ Well, let’s go check the clock.”

Next to the punch clock is an old Jacksonport town sign, left at the bar by a town worker one day. Look close and you can spot the marks of the repair job made necessary when the original was misspelled “Jacksonsport.” The bar itself is made from part of an old bowling lane, donated by a man Jarosh ran into at Mike’s Port Pub down the street. It was waterlogged when he got it, but a couple days in the bar’s sauna took care of it.

Yes, the bar has a sauna. Jarosh is the founder of the Jacksonport Polar Bear Plunge, in which about a thousand people sprint into the icy waters of Jacksonport every New Year’s Day. So of course he built a sauna into the bar where he can recover from his annual ice bath.

Inside the bar are several etchings of clocks, with only one time available — 5 o’clock. It’s a cool touch, but upon closer inspection you find that they aren’t actually etchings.

“Those are real, edible cookies in there,” Jarosh said. “Someone brought them for me and I thought they just looked too good to eat, so I carved a spot in the bar and lacquered them into it. They’ve been in there four or five years now. They’re holding up pretty well I’d say.”

Jarosh doesn’t spend as much time in the bar as he once did. “Since we’ve had kids, it’s more about quality time, not quantity,” he said. “But it’s like an old friend. You may not see it as often, but when you do it feels like home.”

It feels like home for a lot of friends. There has been plenty of drinking at the 5 o’Clock Somewhere, but that’s not what makes it special. It’s the memories that live there, the friends whose hands are all over it, and the gatherings it facilitates. The 5 o’Clock Somewhere is what every great bar, home or on the corner, should be — a place where the consumption is secondary to the camaraderie, surrounded by mementos of it all.

Buelow’s Down Under

The bar in Richard and Kathy Buelow’s home outside Sturgeon Bay started simply. The basement flooded, giving Richard a blank canvas to work with.

“We got a pool table, then Richard met a guy in a parking lot who had some teak wood he must have taken from the shipyard,” Kathy said. “Richard built the bar and it grew from there.”

It’s a simple four-stool bar with a fridge built into the wall behind it, always stocked with an ample supply of Blatz, Richard’s flavor of choice. They come down often.

“We call it our date night,” Kathy said.

Several old Blatz signs hang from the walls, as well as a Pabst sign that once hung in the Institute Saloon down the road. Where there aren’t Blatz signs, Kathy’s collection of vintage Door County map posters hang on the wall.

“My mother had a ton of those, and when she died I guess I just started collecting them,” she said.

One old tourism promotional poster is a time capsule of another era, dotted with the names of businesses long gone, while others depict the agriculture and industry of the peninsula and its recreational outlets. They’re the kind of posters that once hung on lobby walls and vestibules all over the peninsula, long since discarded in the trash.

When it’s time to stop admiring their poster collection, Richard and Kathy serve a house cocktail that’s tough to beat. It’s a brandy slush made with a combination of frozen lemonade and orange juice concentrate, sugar, green tea, and brandy, the all-Wisconsin base. They serve them big, and they go down easy, which might be the reason for their favorite part of their home bar.

“We don’t have to worry about getting home,” Richard said.

 

Salmons’ Packers Palace

“We take our entertaining very seriously,” said Christine Salmon, who, with her husband Phil, is the proud owner of a home bar to make any Packer backer jealous.

On Packers game days, guests pick their own shot glass from the Salmons’ extensive collection, which they can use all day as they sample from 10 or more flavors of homemade cherry bounce. Or, if bounce isn’t your thing, the house shot of Crown Royal and Fireball.

Fans of any team are welcome — if they can stomach lounging in a Packers emporium.

“Bring something from your team and it will be represented,” Christine said, which explains a FC Bayern Munich soccer scarf hanging on a wall. (Fair warning to Bears fans:  you may be welcome, but you won’t want to use the bathroom.)

The bar itself was built by Pat Keehan, but the Salmons have surrounded it with a collection of bobbleheads featuring the famous (Clay Matthews) and the obscure (University of Wisconsin — Green Bay’s Brennan Cougill and Kevin Borseth), Wisconsin sports memorabilia, and several vintage beer signs.

Phil’s favorite Packer, Herb Adderley of the Lombardi-era champs, is represented in autographs and bobbleheads. So is former Milwaukee Bucks great Oscar Robertson, in a 50-year-old poster pulled from Phil’s childhood Sports Illustrated subscription. And in an eclectic ode to Wisco pop culture, a signed picture of the cast from Happy Days.

Phil and Christine may not have built this bar, but they’ve certainly made it their own.

Brady’s Dugout

It’s gutsy to construct anything significant in a rental home, but Brady Olson couldn’t help himself. When he and his wife, Bailey, toured the home they rent south of Egg Harbor, he immediately knew what he would do with the space.

“I walked in, looked to my left and saw these shelves on the wall,” he said. “I thought, ‘that would be a great place for my collection of beer glasses.’ And then that became, well, let’s build a bar.”

With the help of a few friends and about $175, he built a bar from scrap wood and old pallets, a perfect match for the home that looks like it grew out of the woods that surround it.

The walls are covered in Packers, Badgers and Bucks Sports Illustrated covers, the shelves home to a burgeoning bobblehead collection. Sidney Crosby, Bailey’s favorite athlete, has his own section of the wall, and The Boss, Bruce Springsteen, is present throughout.

But tucked among the magazine covers, autographs, a High Life mirror courtesy of his grandfather, and a Blatz sign with a mounted faux deer that only makes sense if you have enough of them, one item stands out if you know Olson’s lineage. It’s a framed pencil drawing of 1980s-era Husby’s, the landmark Sister Bay bar that his father Delmar “Pickle” Olson ran for 14 years.

“I kind of grew up in there my first few years,” Olson said.

Years later he kept bar there as well, and when he and Bailey married, they stopped in for photos, one of which sits under glass on the bar.

The house drink is a Wisconsin staple, a whiskey old-fashioned sweet with cherries, enjoyed often on Packers game days, viewed not on a big screen, but on a tiny 15-inch television at the end of the bar.

“It works fine,” Olson said, shrugging as he looked at the four stools in front of the bar. “It’s not that big a bar.”

What Makes a Great Home Bar?

So what makes a home bar great? My quest revealed a few common threads. Running water isn’t one of them. Neither is tap beer, or comfortable chairs, or a big-screen TV. A great home bar takes many forms, but the following pre-requisites have to be found in any bar aspiring to greatness.

  1. A classic beer sign or neon, prominently displayed, is essential. Even better if it has been gifted (or more scandalously acquired) from another bar.
  2. A fridge. Nobody should have to leave the bar to get a cold one.
  3. A personal touch. A good home bar carries the mark of the owner. Sure, you can pay for a nice home bar, but you can’t buy a great one. Your hands and story need to be all over it. If you didn’t build the bar, build the back bar, or make a shelf, or fill it with fixtures with stories of their own. If your bar says nothing about you, just keep the doors closed.
  4. A little something extra. A house drink is a big plus. It could be a beer you always have in stock, a cocktail you’ve perfected, or something as simple as a shot. A foot rail helps, and a bar gets bonus points in my book if it has under-bar hooks for hanging purses, coats and hats. It saves seats and reduces the risk of stumbling on a misplaced bag at your feet (nothing ends a good party like a face plant).
  5. A conversation starter. For some, it’s the construction of the bar itself. One friend hung the back of a boat above his bar, begging a question from everyone who entered. And at J.R. Jarosh’s 5 o’Clock Somewhere, every inch sparks a conversation.

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