To Main Street passersby, Art’s Town Tap looks like a typical Wisconsin watering hole where local patrons come and go for a cold beer and friendly exchange.
But it’s the historic features inside that sets this tavern apart from the other local establishments in town, and something that owner Art Hana takes great pride in.
The solid oak bar, spanning about 20 feet, reveals impressive wood craftsmanship from more than 130 years ago. His old-time tavern also boasts an impressive antique walk-in cooler that he’s been told, the bar was built around.
Old, angelic and queen-like faces stare down at patrons from the original metal ceiling that extends all the way down the wall, on the east side of the bar, to create a fire barrier.
“People say that at closing they have blue eyes,” Art chuckled, looking up at the tiles that depict the Victorian-era reliefs.
Not much has changed since Art took over the bar in 1977, nor since the owners before him for that matter. He said he intends to keep it that way.
“I still have a rotary telephone on my bar,” he said, adding that the younger generations think it’s novel. As is the ‘70s wall paper wrapped around the pool room in back and the mural at the front of the house depicting dogs bellying up to the bar.
“They’re all good conversation pieces about this bar’s history,” Art said referring to his bar’s dated details.
Since 1875, aside from during the Prohibition era, the business has been serving up cocktails and happy hospitality, making it the longest, continuous-running saloon in Waterford.
It was one of the few downtown businesses east of the river to have survived the Great Fire of 1898. “Plucker’s hotel and saloon” was one of a few neighboring businesses listed as being spared by the fire, after Burlington firemen and locals spent several hours working to get the blaze under control, according to the Burlington Free Press article published July 5, 1898, the day following the devastating fire. (Click HERE for more information on the fire)
William Plucker was listed as the saloon keeper on site in the 1876 Racine Advocate Directory.
Wm. Plucker’s retirement was announced in the Waterford Post May 22, 1897 stating that his sons will take over the business.
The business and upstairs residences continued in the Plucker name into the 19th century and through Prohibition when it simply operated as Plucker’s Hotel.
Old photos in the Waterford Public Library’s digital collection show the bar switched hands sometime in the 1930s or ‘40s when an old picture revealed the bar name was Eddie’s Inn, Eddie Werkowski, proprietor.
Mr. Werkowski, a former prize fighter, found himself the victim of an over zealous county prosecutor, under the direction of Governor Goodland, as evidenced by the following article in the Milwaukee Journal during February and March, 1945.
According to the digital archive, the business switched hands at least two more times before Art’s era, when it operated as Harry’s Town Tap and Hazel’s Town Tap respectively.
Art took ownership over from Hazel Burns, after first working a few years for her at a time when the drinking age was 18 and dynamics were a little different from today.
“She knew me from the Dahl House (former Riverhouse that was razed July 14, 2014) and was having problems with the young crowd at that time,” he said.
Though Art’s reign at Town Tap has been nearly 50 years, many would be surprised to learn he didn’t even want to come work for Burns when she first sought him out.
“Hazel was a tough old bird,” he said. “She would get you on the floor and fight you for a nickel. But if you were around and she was making supper… whoever was around she would feed you. She had awesome fish fries I understand. She did that, not to make money, she pretty much broke even. She did it to get people into the bar.”
As Burns health began to deteriorate, she relied more on Art to take care of her bar, and “one thing led to another” before he took over.
Since Art has been at Town Tap, patrons’ ages have ranged from the legal drinking age to those well into their 80s.
“Over the years, I have had some of the best customers in the world, they’re just great,” he said.
Art said that through the years there have been cycles of changes that have had an impact on business – mainly as the drunken driving laws are tightened.
“You just kind of go with it, you know,” he said, noting that his downtown Waterford has always had “pretty responsible drinkers.”
“They look out for each other, you know. They get out of line, they kind of police themselves,” he said.
And despite the pressure of running his bar and raising a family, he made time for his hobby – racing stock cars. “Art’s Town Tap: Hangovers installed and serviced” was displayed proudly when his car debuted on the track in Wilmot and Lake Geneva. For nearly three decades, Art’s sponsored a wing sprint car for the Interstate Racing Association, which demanded time set outside of the bar for travel.
‘Good service with a laid-back clientele’
Art is proud of the “laid back” feel of his bar. He likens Art’s Town Tap to those up north, where people are “good and friendly.”
“This is it down here, good friendly people, you know. You never have to watch your back.”
The building, he said, “is a good old bar. But like any old building, it requires a lot of work. I have to replace the floor, but it needs quite a shutdown to get that done…”
Hours of operation: Monday-Friday, noon-close (which can vary) and on weekends, 10 a.m. – 2:30 a.m.
Rumors of ghostly encounters
Town Tap bartender Stephanie Truax claims the bar is haunted. According to her, over the seven years she has been employed at the tavern, she has seen a ghostly image about five times. She describes the ghost as a woman who stands about 5-foot-three-inches tall and wears a black dress with buttons up the neck and a bonnet covering her head. The appearances generally happen around 4 p.m. and appear at the entrance of the billiard room.
Another bartender, Theresa McFadden, claims to have seen shadows in the same area float across the room, around the same time.
Art said that although he has heard about others’ ghost encounters in his building, he himself has yet to have an encounter.
Lead Researcher – Maureen Vander Sanden with contributions from Bob Gariepy, Sr.
NOTE: Should the reader have further documentation to enhance the content of this web page, please contact the Lead Researcher through Absolutely Waterford. We are particularly interested in pictures or historic artifacts that may be shared. Credit will be given.
. Waterford: Stories of Our Village and its Busy Life, unpaginated
. In-person interview with Art Hanna, May, 7, 2017.
. Some photos courtesy of the Waterford Public Library’s Local History Digital Collection, http://digital.library.wisc.edu/1711.dl/WI.WaterfordLocHist
. Milwaukee Journal articles as indicated.