40 Years in Beer, Part Seven: The K & H forever (heartland adagio)

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1987: Pam, who bartended at the K & H.

Previously: 40 Years in Beer, Part Six: The K & H forever (Lanesville prelude).

Americans weaned on a diet of rugged individualism are often confused, and at times confounded, by what can be accomplished by when people work together toward a common end.

In my early twenties, affiliated lessons on the nature of community spirit and cooperation came to me in a neighboring town, while I was seated on a barstool. As proof of what the Reidys in Louisville have been saying at their Irish Rover eatery ever since I’ve known them, it was a case of the pub as a poor man’s university.

The precise reasons why the K & H Café became my Lanesville “local” include these many preceding ruminations about the town and its people, as well as a few other factors long since forgotten. It’s conceivable that I might have picked Circle Bar, a few yards down the street, except it never felt quite as comfortable.

The Circle was a few steps away from the K & H, but I went there only a handful of times.

Let the record indicate the huge formative influence of the K & H. Along with Scoreboard Liquors, Nachand Beverage, Michael “Beer Hunter” Jackson and subsequent European travels, this modest tavern helped shape my career in beer, albeit not at all because of the beer itself, but what I learned there about life.

In the beginning, my thoughts were entirely prosaic. I was 19 the first time I drank beer at the K & H, partaking of its short list of mass-market, adjunct-augmented American lager beers, kept highly chilled therein.

If it’s any consolation, I broke the law at other places, too, and as often as possible with little consideration of consequences. Most of us had fake IDs, anyway.

Barrie Ottersbach and Allan Gamborg, 1987.

While 19 may seem young, patronage of the K & H commenced even earlier for my lifelong pal Barrie, who as a child would be placed by his dad atop cases of empty long neck returnable bottles (Wiedemann, if memory serves) in the rear of his family’s station wagon for the short ride into Lanesville for restocking.

The date of my own K & H debut didn’t seem to matter much until 1983, when I began helping out as a bartender here and there. Then as now, Indiana requires an employee permit to sell alcoholic beverages to the public, and in those days the slip of paper had to be visible behind the bar.

Needless to say, the permit bearer’s age was clearly displayed, and the owners Kenny (K) and Harold (H) Schneider surely did the retroactive math at some point, although if so, they never mentioned it to me.

Maybe I confided my secret to them later, in 1995, when quite a few of the regulars from various eras gathered together at the K & H to say goodbye to the brothers and wish them a happy retirement.

By then Kenny and the red-haired Harold, the latter known to everyone as Strawberry (or Straw), had long since ceased to be ordinary bartenders. Rather, they were friends and mentors. I can only hope I thanked them adequately for everything they did for me.

The brothers Schneider owned the K & H for 35 years, beginning in 1960 (the year of my birth) when both of them were in their twenties. Harold died in June of 2013 at the age of 78, and Kenny left us at 83 in May of 2020.

Of course, mere words will never suffice to summarize long and well-lived lives. Teetotalers might look down on the occupation of small town tavern keeper, but both brothers raised stellar children, sent them through college, attended church, and were active community pillars by any prevailing standard.

Bob Gunn at the bar, 1987. Food prices were reasonable.

Kenny was a tad more extroverted, and Straw understated to the point of sagacious, or at least to an extent of playing the role of gentle sandbagger. Both invariably provided the barflies with wise, thoughtful counsel. It didn’t occur to me that I was taking notes, and yet my subconscious evidently paid attention.

For me it was a glimpse of the view from all sides of the bar, where the regulars like Doc, Dottie, Rags, Woody, Dick, Ross and Sim pulled up a stool and stayed a while, as opposed to the package store routine, with patrons constantly coming and going.

Operations at the K & H were fairly simple. There’d been a time when the brothers hired full-time staff persons, but by the 1980s they were alternating day and night shifts on a weekly basis, with an extra bartender to accommodate larger crowds on weekends, and maybe a kitchen helper, too.

Weekdays an ancient lady who’d been there from the start cooked burgers and tenderloins for the lunch crowd, then prepped the evening’s food. On slower weeknights, the sole bartender both served and manned the griddle.

Bob Gunn with K & H artwork.

Budweiser and Miller Lite were on tap, served in chilled Mason jars. Cocktails mostly resembled various combinations of whiskey, vodka, cola and orange juice. There might have been tomato juice as well, and tequila shots were not unknown.

Pabst, Old Milwaukee and a handful of other mass market brands were available in cans, and a couple weekly cases of Stroh’s were on hand for Doc (Holliday, no kidding), a retired military officer and colorful Lanesville resident who pillaged them each weekend before retreating to his hilltop home, Maverick Mountain.

The wood-paneled barroom was divided from the all-ages area by a wall, later removed during renovations near the end of the Schneiders’ long run. Carry-out beer was kept in a cylindrical metal refrigerator — literally, a discarded blood bank.

Shuffleboard with Beth Ottersbach and Kim Wiesener, 1987.

Upstairs was a dusty, unused former apartment filled with supplies, point-of-sale detritus and a quarter-century of unclaimed lost-and-found. I desperately wanted to live up there.

The television showed college sports, selected network dramas and (for a while) the Dukes of Hazard. An electronic darts game in back was a useful distraction for idle hands, when it was visible through the haze, as there was no discernible non-smoking area, and no statutory obligation to provide one.

Country music and classic rock played on a genuine vinyl-filled juke box, and to this very day, certain Hank Jr., Conway Twitty and Alabama songs compel my inner Pavlov’s dog to yelp at the mere hint of their chords.

I seem to recall key customers pitching in for the restoration of a vintage shuffleboard table, which became a retro showpiece. Various knickknacks and wall hangings belied coherency of interior design. One of them, a religious wood carving situated on a shelf behind the bar, once prompted my visiting cousin, who was in a condition of sheer blotto, to announce to all and sundry that Jesus was now on tap.

Allan Gamborg at the shuffleboard table.

Shelf stock Saviors aside, no imports were stocked, and craft beer as such didn’t yet exist during the Reagan years. Kenny and Straw tolerated a short phase when Larry and I got uppity and insisted on bringing bottles of Guinness Export Stout into the K & H for mixing into half-and-halves, in Mason jars, using … yes, using Budweiser.

Once the novelty wore off, I accepted my station in regional life and went back to drinking Doc’s leftover Stroh’s. They suited me fine, actually.

The owners usually attended the annual national liquor association trade show in Las Vegas, combining business with pleasure. They always brought back trinkets, including an early prototype of a portable “civilian” breathalyzer, intended to provide guidance as to whether patrons were over the limit.

The late Rick Lang studies the music, 1987.

It took only a couple of days before the breathalyzer became the subject of feverish bar bets along the lines of “who’s the drunkest?’ The device soon disappeared into the upstairs archive.

For a while in the early 1980s I’d spell Kenny or Straw during daytime hours so they could run errands. Lunch might be briefly hectic, and then the crowd of elderly day drinkers would shuffle in, many of them farmers, others from various walks of life. Listening to their stories was a graduate degree in oral history.

Around 1988 my Lanesville ties slowly began to fade. I moved to Floyds Knobs from Georgetown, and began hanging out at a pizza place in New Albany called Sportstime. The foreshadowing passed unnoticed.

An evolution was underway, or a revolution. Finally, and regrettably, I was growing up. Centers of gravity can change quickly, and it wasn’t long before years-since-the-K & H became decades, and a rose-hued glow started shining in the rear-view mirror. I’ve learned to respect it tremendously – and keep right on driving.

When I think back on these days, not once during my period of work and patronage at the K & H did the prospect of small business ownership cross my mind, and yet by 1992 it had enveloped me completely. Perhaps inadvertently, I learned far more from the K & H about the psychological side of running a business than as evident.

It’s because Kenny and Straw taught me about people. They offered numerous and memorable life lessons about patience, gallows humor and a positive attitude when dealing with the unpredictability of the consuming public. I may not have always practiced these examples, but their guidance hasn’t been forgotten, and won’t ever be.

Most importantly, the K & H was about community. It’s the biggest insight of all, and the one that never goes out of fashion. It’s the community in one’s third space, neither home nor work, but the place you go where everyone knows your name. I may not have known it at the time, and yet those third spaces would define my coming career in beer.

Next: 40 Years in Beer, Part Eight: The origins of a European travel (and beer) obsession.

Photos: It is possible that photos of Kenny and Straw exist as yet somewhere in my archives, although so far not.  

Heritage Weekend parade day in 1985. That’s Chuck Simler to the right.

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