If you think Englewood has some pretty exciting bars, you probably never heard about the live alligator sitting on the counter, or the man tearing down the chandelier at the old Kellys bar on Dearborn Street. While driving to the antique shop last week I noticed a handwritten sign in the front of Kellys proclaiming it, “The Oldest Bar in Englewood.” Always looking for original story ideas, I stopped in and set up an interview with Vickie Cole, the current owner.
On the day of the interview, Vickie had invited local legend Bernie Reading to share his early memories of the bar. Bernie said local pioneer Don Platt had told him that the bar building was built in 1920 and was originally used as a stable. According to Don, Ollie and Emma Tate bought the building in the early thirties, and then turned it into a grocery store. Even though this was during prohibition, the Tate’s also sold beer and wine. There were only two places to get alcohol in Englewood at this time: Tate’s Grocery, and Whiskey Corners, a bar near present day Merchant’s Crossing. Bernie said that prohibition laws had little effect on Englewood since it was so isolated. Bernie’s first experience with the Kelly building was in the mid-thirties. As a young boy he would walk past the store on his way to get the mail at the old hardware store.
Bernie enlisted in the Coast Guard at the age of 15 (with his mother’s permission), and returned to Englewood in 1945. When Bernie came back, he visited the Tate store and found out that the building was now called Weide’s Bar, owned by Frank and Jess Weide who were former carnie people. Even though Bernie wasn’t 21, Jess served him anyway. She said, “If you volunteered to go out and get shot at, you’re old enough to come to this bar.” As time passed, Bernie opened up a sign painting business and also did a lot of traveling. He said that Weide’s was always his favorite place to go when he was in town.
As he recalled his days at Weide’s, Bernie began to tell a few interesting stories about his favorite hangout. He said Frank’s wife, Jess, was 6 feet tall and didn’t take ‘stuff’ from anyone. One night one of the patrons was terribly drunk and refused to leave the bar. He even said, “Whose going to make me?” Jess grabbed the man and put him in an arm lock. She then pushed him out the door and said, “Come back when you behave!”
Bernie also recalled the time that after a day of futile fishing, the only thing he and a friend caught was a three foot long alligator. Bernie came up with the idea of taking the gator to the bar and showing it to the tourists. Jess saw the gator and told Bernie to watch it. A man down the bar bragged that he knew everything about alligators. Bernie thought the man was acting like the “great white hunter” and proceeded to take the tape off the gator’s mouth. Bernie left the creature right near the braggart, and left the bar. Bernie later found out that the man had numerous teeth marks on his arm. Bernie washed Jess’s car and was permitted to come back one month later.
Another adventure took place when one of the customers after drinking all day pulled up to the bar on his Harley and saw the new chandelier that the owner had installed to upgrade the atmosphere. The man took a flying leap and proceeded to pull the fixture from the ceiling. Bernie said the owner had to be prevented from shooting the fool on the spot.
The Weide’s owned the bar until the early 70’s when new ownership took over. For the next few years the bar was called Pete’s. This owner sold the bar in the late 70’s to a Mr. Kell. Kell was Polish, but somehow the name of the bar became “Kellys.” Karen Goll was the next owner during the late 80’s and 90’s. In 1997 the bar closed for six months and reopened as “The Old Town Tap”. Finally in 1999, the bar was purchased by current owner, Vickie Cole. Vickie, who originally came from Indiana, was a patron of the bar, and liked it because of its’ friendly atmosphere. “It’s always been my dream to own a bar,” she said.
Vickie currently lives in the apartment above the bar and has tried to keep the atmosphere of the place the way it has always been. Bartender Kathleen Stringham said, “When the bar is running well, you don’t change a thing.” One of the only things that Vickie has done is to change the name to “Kellys II.” Meeting new people all the time is the nicest part of owning this bar,” said Vickie. Bernie and his wife, Phyllis, who are regular patrons, agree Vickie is a “wonderful, wonderful person.” As far as the type of clientele that frequent the bar, Vickie said, “There is a mixture of wild and quiet ones. Some of the wild ones know when to have a good time and when to back off.” When asked when she would sell the bar, Vickie answered, “When it stops being fun!” We hope that Vickie and Kellys II will be around for a long time.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on February 27, 2009.