Long-standing Lee wins hands down
December 2, 2008 · Updated 9:52 AM
I recently received correspondence from the world-famous waitresses at the Krain restaurant. In the course of their letter explaining the owner’s trials and tribulations with state and county bureaucracies (more about this next week), they claimed the establishment was the oldest restaurant on the Plateau.
Well, sorry ladies, that isn’t true. The Lee is older. And the current site of the El Camino has been a restaurant in one form or another (Stewart’s and others) since the 1920s.
It’s more accurate to say the Krain is possibly the oldest, surviving tavern on the Plateau, though today it’s surely known more for family dining than for beer and wine. The site of the Yella Beak has been a tavern at least since the early 1930s (Do you remember the U and I?), but it has burned down and been rebuilt a couple of times.
Near as I can determine without any extensive research – I haven’t the time nor the inclination to look through this newspaper’s historical records – Frank Pogorelc rolled a deserted coal miner’s house to the corner around 1916. It was a very small building, just the two-story front part of the current restaurant. Frank opened the place primarily as an ice cream shop, even though it also sold buckets of beer (That’s right, friends, beer by the bucket!) to farmers in the region. A fellow named Mike Bogdan actually ran the show.
When Prohibition arrived, Bogdan promoted the place solely as an ice cream and candy store but, in fact, he operated one of the most successful speakeasies on the Plateau. He became a rather notorious bootlegger and illustrious member of the”Austrian Mafia,” which monopolized the supply of “hooch” in, and well beyond, the Krain district.
In 1933, after Prohibition was flushed, Louie Pogorelc (Frank’s son) took over the place and opened a legal tavern. Throughout the next 40 years, this convenient pit-stop was fondly known as the Krain Corner and was a popular watering hole for the entire Plateau. It passed through a succession of owners. In the late 1940s and/or early 1950s, the tavern offered a short-order menu, mostly consisting of fries and hamburgers, but this didn’t last more than a few years before the place reverted back to the usual tavern fare: packaged chips and Beer Nuts.
I first entered the Krain in the mid-1970s. Though the building may have undergone some minor remodeling in its 50-year history, the size and general structure hadn’t changed a hell of a lot. The whole tavern was no more than 40 feet wide and perhaps 50 feet long, furnished with a pool table, a couple of booths, several chairs and stools along the bar. A mere 10 or 15 people comfortably filled the room and, on weekends when 20 or 30 might squeeze inside, it could get downright sweaty and terribly polluted with cigar and cigarette smoke.
I never spent much time there – maybe two or three nights for a beer or two. In retrospect, I feel it was more a hangout for my parents’ generation than mine. My uncles (the Semanski brothers), the Bellack brothers, Matt Medie and many other “good ol’ boys” too numerous to mention, spent considerable time there. It was a decidedly macho place.
At some point in the late 1970s, Bob Boyer owned it. Bob acquired a beautiful, old, wooden, battle-scarred bar from a tavern in Buckley – an antique that allegedly came from a saloon in Alaska around 1900 – but it was too big to fit into the Krain, so Bob built a section onto the rear of the tavern, more than doubling the size of the place and sat the bar back there.
For a while in the late 1970s or early ‘80s, Joanie Deveraux managed the place, but business went from bad to worse as the “good ‘ol boys” gradually passed away or quit going out. Joan finally gave up and Bob took over again. Then the place was closed, then opened, then closed again.
Finally, in 1993, current owner Karen Hatch and her deceased husband, Glenn, bought the tavern and surrounding acreage. They liked the idea of owning a small, historic country restaurant and thought they would enjoy refurbishing the place and serving reasonably-priced, down-home food to folks in a rural community. Alas, they were in for a rude awakening.
More next week.