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Behind the Bar: White lightning makes Treehouse shine

It’s not the green glow-in-the-dark floor of the ladies’ room that illuminates the dimly lit Treehouse Shinebar. And it’s not the mounted stoplight, signaling to servers that a freshly prepared order is up.

It’s lightning in a mason jar that gives the Mishawaka bar its glow.

Located at 111 Lincolnway E. in Mishawaka, Treehouse Shinebar branches out from the ordinary. From jalapeño and apple pie-flavored “sugar shines” to an all-bacon Sunday food menu, sisters and co-owners Teresa Stanton and Peggy Strasser will try just about anything that sets them apart from local competitors.

Inspired by Stanton’s time in the hills of Tennessee, the tough-as-nails sugar shine holds the Treehouse together.

Stanton and Strasser’s sugar shine process removes the harsh sting commonly associated with unaged grain alcohol, known by the slang term “white lightning.”

“Down south, if you mention it from the boys making it in the backyard, that means they use 50 percent grain alcohol and 50 percent sugar cane and that produces a sweeter white lightning,” Stanton said. 

It’s your atmosphere, your party and these are your people.

Treehouse combines a half-and-half mixture of 190-proof and 100-proof grain alcohol with its rotating list of sugar shine flavorings. The bar always has at least seven varieties available and can have double that, depending on seasonal availability of ingredients.

The strength of each shine shot can range anywhere from a standard Jack and Coke to a shot of Wild Turkey.

“It’s just what you need to keep movin’, or your night’s gonna end quick,” Stanton said.

For those planning to sit awhile on Treehouse’s hand-made stools, the sisters offer “The Paralyzer.” 

Travis Stacy, owner of Stacy’s Bait and Tackle in Mishawaka, has been afflicted with ALS for over 20 years and surpassed doctors’ initial prognosis for his disease. While supporters of ALS research have been busy dumping buckets of ice on themselves, Stanton and Strasser are pushing “The Paralyzer.”

“When it comes to charity, we like to concentrate on someone within the community that could use something,” Stanton said.

Combined with sales from homemade suckers and small treats, the ladies donate all proceeds from every $3 Paralyzer shot to a fund for Stacy. Stanton and Strasser hope to raise the $1,500 needed to buy Stacy a wheelchair lift for his vehicle. So far, they have raised $800 of that goal.  

It’s a way of giving back, as Stanton has received the support of her community during each step of her hospitality career. It all began in  Punta Gorda, Fla., when, as a 12-year-old, she began working in her father’s Sunset Lounge kitchen.

A 10-year tenure as a bartender at Mishawaka cop hangout Squad’s 2nd Precinct provided Stanton with a base clientele before she opened her own establishment. Almost every employee of Treehouse is a close friend or previous co-worker of the sisters.

“We knew we had good people that would sit on our barstools, and we knew we had the best people to rock our beers,” said Stanton. “Literally, it was a no-brainer.”

“Building parties” were thrown in March 2013, where friends of the sisters would assist in the assembly of tables and stools, as well as the bar itself, while maneuvering multiple electrical updates. Remodeling of the space began in December of the same year. Treehouse will celebrate its one-year anniversary on April 1 this year.

“It kind of made sense in that we all hung at the treehouse as our second home,” Stanton said. “As a kid, there was a treehouse, a clubhouse, some kind of place to go away and do all the bad s— you weren’t supposed to do.” 

Featured cocktail:
The Paralyzer shot

  • 1 oz. Tito’s Vodka
  • 1 oz. Shine of choice
  • 2 oz. soda water

What’s the worst drink you’ve ever made? Oh, that would be a cement mixer, because it’s intended to be disgusting. It’s Bailey’s and lime juice. They’re supposed to put it their mouth and swish it like a cement mixer and it coagulates immediately. It’s repulsive and meant to be gross.

What’s something that most people don’t know about bartending? Hmm. I guess that the drinks are probably the least thing you need to worry about. They’re important, but what’s more important is your atmosphere — paying attention to what douche is hitting on what chick that’s gonna leave and take all her friends, because the douche doesn’t go away. It’s much simpler to remove the douche and keep the chicks.

What do you wish you didn’t have to deal with as a bartender? Douches. It makes me feel bad when I have to treat people that way.

What’s the best perk of being a bartender? Getting to host the party. It’s your atmosphere, your party and these are your people. Like, honestly, they really are. Even if they’re new to you and never been there before, if you suck at it, they’re not coming back. If you don’t suck, they will. It’s literally that simple. It’s your party.

What’s the secret to a perfect cocktail? A lot of tasting, until you figure it out. I’m gonna say that’s a must. I never understood how bars that don’t let their bartenders drink, how a bartender can execute a drink correctly if it doesn’t get to taste as it goes.

What’s in a name? I’m gonna say absolutely everything that we’ve given an original name represents something. Like the Paralyzer represents a charity for a paralyzed man. Lowrider is our tall drink and that’s pretty much because our Hispanic bartender decided that Cheech and Chong would rock that s—. That’s really what happened there, though. That was Janie going, “If Cheech and Chong were going to order something, this is what they would order.”

If there was a trick to bartending, what would that be? Finding a line between being real with people and them still liking you. Honestly, I’ve never had to kiss (up) or show (skin), and I’ve made better money than most people in town and I have more friends than most people in town. I think most of that is just for the simplicity of, ’it is what it is.’ There’s no misconceptions. I’m very to point, you know. I’m not shy, so I try to be blunt with tact.

Treehouse Shinebar is open seven days a week from 5 p.m. to at least midnight (except Sundays, with an 11 p.m. close). Kitchen hours on Sunday are 3 to 8 p.m.

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