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The Village Tap

A local hangout for decades

Eighty years ago you couldn't buy a beer at the Village Tap—then known as Mary's Saloon—because of Prohibition. But in all other respects, the establishment was a bar and a village hangout. Customers would enter through a set of swinging doors, and after passing the candy, tobacco, and ice cream counters in front, they'd find a stand-up bar with a foot rail, surrounded by tables and chairs.

Mary's was named for its owner, Mary Singer. Customers "would sit around kibitzing, smoking a pipe, or chewing tobacco. They'd talk about farming or about old times," recalls Glenn Lehr, who worked there in the 1920s, when he was a teenager. He recalls interesting characters such as Dyke Lehman, who lived three doors north of the bar and hung out there most of the day, going home only to eat meals. Lehman used to tell of the gold rush (Lehr thinks it was probably the one in South Dakota), when he got rich by rolling drunks. "He'd help himself to any cash they had, gold nuggets or coins," says Lehr.

Customers entertained themselves with chugging contests, seeing who could swallow a near beer or a bottle of pop the fastest. (Lehr says he usually won because he had more practice.) They'd play euchre and other card games such as Five Hundred or Pedro. In the winter, people would come in after sledding or ice skating to warm up around the potbellied stove.

The saloon served two brands of near beer, a special brew allowed to ferment only to about 1.3 percent alcohol content; ginger ale, cream soda, and root beer; and soda pop in several flavors like lemon, strawberry, and cherry. Lehr recalls that orange, the most popular flavor, sold more than the rest put together.

Singer sold cheese sandwiches for a nickel and ham or pickled tongue for a dime. Lehr made the last himself, buying tongue from the butcher two doors up, mixing it with wine vinegar, sugar, and onions, and cooking it for four or five hours.

Kids came in after school to buy penny candy and ice cream. Since there were no freezers, the ice cream was delivered in ten-gallon steel containers packed in big wooden buckets filled with ice and salt. It came in three flavors: vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry. Lehr made ice cream bars using skewers borrowed from the butcher. He'd stick a paper cap from a milk bottle on the skewer, add the ice cream, and dip it in chocolate.

Wednesday and Saturday nights, when the farmers came to town, were the busiest times. Lehr was supposed to close the saloon at nine o'clock but usually didn't lock up until closer to eleven. The farmers bought a lot of tobacco. "All the farmers chewed," recalls Lehr. "They would buy ten or more packages at a time. Beech Nut was the favorite." Mary's also sold snuff, sweet tobacco, cigarettes, cigars, and pipe tobacco.

The Village Tap has been owned by the Stein family for the last twenty-five years. Today, brothers Chris and Jack manage it while their mother, Jeanette, enjoys semiretirement. Chris grew up in the bar, learning pool and euchre from customers. He's been there long enough to see people who were brought in by their fathers bringing in their own kids.

The menu has expanded greatly since Mary Singer's day. It now includes a roster of daily specials: soups, goulash, knockwurst, and the burgers for which the place is famous. But just as it was eighty years ago, the Village Tap is a local hangout.

Chris Stein says people often come in after softball, bowling, or golf. Lately, he's been organizing special events, such as the recent Oktoberfest held in the parking lot. "Now that Manchester is a bedroom community, people like a chance to meet," he explains. "Times change, but people are the same."

—Grace Shackman

Photo Caption: Chris Stein and Glenn Lehr.

Dexter Cider Mill

A little bit of Americana

On the northern edge of Dexter, where the Huron River flows into town, stands the oldest cider mill in continuous use in the state, and one of the few still using wooden presses.

"We still have the original washer, grinder, and crusher," says Richard Koziski, who owns the Dexter Cider Mill with his wife, Katherine. "People from the Henry Ford Museum have been here to observe. We share stories back and forth."

The site has been used since 1836, when Peninsula Mills started grinding flour here. In 1838 a sawmill and wool plant were added. The plant made yarn for stockings and blankets.

In 1886, William Van Ettan and a Mr. Tuttle built the two-story red-painted wooden cider mill. Apples were delivered to the second floor, where they were washed and ground into a mash called "pomace" that fed the press on the first floor. The river provided water for the twelve-horsepower steam engine and also helped keep the finished product cool. An early record reports that the mill "ran day and night in 1887 and produced 100 barrels in 10 hours." The owners shipped the cider, along with jelly they also produced at the mill, to markets by railroad.

Michigan was, and still is, a good state to grow apples. "Known as the 'Variety State,' Michigan is fortunate to have the type of climate that provides cool nights to build flavor, sunlight for color, and rain to swell the apple," Katherine Koziski writes in the introduction to The Dexter Cider Mill Apple Cookbook.

Besides making cider to sell at market, the mill also pressed farmers' apples for their own use. Longtime Dexter residents remember seeing long lines of horse-drawn wagons (and later trucks) filled with apples as farmers waited their turn outside the mill.

"Cider was a substitute for water," says Richard Koziski. "Wells at the turn of the century were often shallow and became polluted." Farmers could also let their cider turn to vinegar for preserving or cleaning, or to hard cider for recreational drinking.

In 1900, John Wagner bought the mill. It stayed in the family for three generations, as his son Otto took over, followed by Otto's son Frederick. It was the Wagners who, in 1953, installed modem bottling equipment. Middle-aged people in Dexter remember earning extra money as schoolkids washing one-gallon glass bottles for a penny apiece. The mill also used to make pasteurized apple juice and grape juice, using grapes from the Paw Paw area.

After Frederick Wagner died in 1981, his widow, Katherine, continued to run the mill with help from her children until the Koziskis purchased it in 1987. The new owners have tried to keep the mill as historically authentic as possible. The only major change is an addition, built in the style of the mill, where the Koziskis' son-in-law, Roger Black, runs an upscale produce market.

The cider mill is open from mid-August to mid-November. The Koziskis buy their apples from small family-run farms, and the whole family pitches in to help—including Katherine Koziski's mother, who makes pies.

Fall is usually a frantically busy time—but it's also a lot of fun, says Richard Koziski. "It's a little bit of Americana," he says.

—Grace Shackman