Ask a Foodie: What is the oldest bar in Michiana?

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By: Geoff Lesar
glesar@flavor574.com

Dan Spalding/The Elkhart Truth

Those searching for a still-standing saloon from the era of Teddy Roosevelt need not travel far.

Old Tavern Inn, located at 61088 Indian Lake Road in Sumnerville, Mich., takes the cake as Michiana’s oldest bar. In fact, it’s the state’s oldest business still operating in its original building, according to the website Michigan.org.

The establishment was erected in 1835, providing a local meeting place and news hub for town residents to enjoy a stiff drink and conversation. Current owners Val and Jeff Gaideskis purchased it in 2005, according to a 2011 feature by Leader Publications. (Editor’s note: The original version of this article overlooked Old Tavern Inn. We apologize for this oversight.)

Northern Indiana is home to at least three taverns established around the turn of the 20th century, worthy of honorable mentions.

Ask a Foodie features local experts answering reader-submitted questions regarding all things food, nutrition and cooking. Each week, readers are able to vote for their favorite head-scratcher.

This week’s question: “What is the oldest bar in the Michiana area?”

Hoople’s in Bremen was originally purchased by owner C.J. Hoople for $500 in 1881 but did not open until 1882, according to a 2006 article published by the South Bend Tribune.

The bar received the State of Indiana’s Century Business Award in 1994, recognizing 100 years of family ownership. Located at 108 E. Plymouth St. in Bremen, Hoople’s still has the original 21-foot cherry-wood bar installed by its earliest owner.

Michael’s Italian Restaurant, located at 528 Harrison St. in Elkhart, was used as a grocery store until Thomasine Iavagnilio purchased the property in 1917. His great-grandson, current operator Rico Iavagnilio, said the grocery was transformed into a tavern “shortly after Prohibition.”

When Thomasine and his son, John, got sick, Thomasine approached his first grandson, Michael, about purchasing the restaurant. Rico said Michael purchased the bar in 1959 and added family dining shortly after. Michael’s celebrated 55 years of operation on May 14, 2014.

Martha’s Midway Tavern in Mishawaka is still owned by the Wassenhove family after more than 90 years of business. Located at 810 W. 4th St., the Midway pulls some of the best regional and national blues and R&B acts through its narrow door.

The iconic building was already standing when Cyriel and Martha Antheunis purchased it in February 1924. The bar and dance hall were passed down to Martha’s daughter Albertina Wassenhove, who still oversees operations today.

The bar area served as a speakeasy during the time of Prohibition, when it was referred to only as Midway Lunch. Infamous gangster Al Capone is rumored to have stopped in on more than one occasion with a dozen roses in hand for Martha, who was known for walking the establishment with a jar of homemade hooch tucked in her apron, ensuring that lunch diners were (illegally) well lubricated. 

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story cited the Indiana Online Licensing database for the dates of the original liquor licenses for Michael’s Italian Restaurant and Martha’s Midway Tavern. It’s been brought to our attention that a bug in that system causes any license over a certain age to show the year 1900. We’ve removed those points from the story until we can confirm them from a more reliable source.

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