Downtown at DaCar's: Renovated bar aims to please

·6 min read
Downtown at Dacar's Manager Brittany Magnuson works behind the bar. The downtown bar reopened  in November after an extensive renovation by owner Mark Magnuson.
Downtown at Dacar's Manager Brittany Magnuson works behind the bar. The downtown bar reopened in November after an extensive renovation by owner Mark Magnuson.

BEDFORD — The best way to sum up the feel of the new Downtown at DaCar's is a blast from the past intermingled with an eye to the future.

Right away upon entering, you're struck by the black and white panoramic vintage photograph of downtown Bedford back in its heyday with old cars and throngs of people lining the streets. On another wall is a bold and modern mural done in red and black of images that evoke Lawrence County's history of astronauts, playing a guitar no less, and limestone as well as unique landmarks like the Tunnelton Tunnel, stack rock and Williams Covered Bridge.

And if that's not enough, there's the bar, a colossal wooden structure that now measures 45 feet after it was disassembled, removed and taken to Greene County where it was refurbished and lengthened.

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Walking through the establishment, it's hard to say what new owner Mark Magnuson is most proud of as he points to the new stage, sound system, beer selection, usage of reclaimed wood and new lighting, but the bar, made from five different species of wood, is pretty close to the top for Magnuson.

He knows every inch of the massive bar. His hand slides across the bar top as he points to the original reed and barrel molding and the painstaking efforts to replicate the pattern on the new portion.

He shares its origins as it's been told to him by others, that it was made in England and was in another Bedford bar before it was moved into its current location when the bar was owned by Puffy Lemmons.

For all the renovations in the bar, there was no touching the famed bullet hole in the mirror behind the bar. The hole and the cracks that spread across the mirror like veins remains.

A mural depicting items iconic to Lawrence County graces the wall adjacent to the stage at Downtown at DaCar's, 1005 16th St., in Bedford. The renovated bar is open after an extensive renovation and now features regular live entertainment. It was painted by Mitchell Austin of MetaByte Creative.
A mural depicting items iconic to Lawrence County graces the wall adjacent to the stage at Downtown at DaCar's, 1005 16th St., in Bedford. The renovated bar is open after an extensive renovation and now features regular live entertainment. It was painted by Mitchell Austin of MetaByte Creative.

The venerable bar has been a fixture in downtown Bedford for decades, with names like Puffy's, Rusty's and Olde Downtown. It re-opened in November as Downtown at DaCar's. Magnuson purchased the bar and spent a year and seven months on the renovation.

"It was a total gut," he said.

The work started in the basement, where double and triple beams were added to reinforce the structure. On the main floor, paneling was ripped off to expose the original brick. The stage has been shifted from the back to the front and a new house sound system was installed that a DJ or band can use.

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Out back is a tiki bar with ample seating on the patio that overlooks Harp Commons. In keeping with preserving the bar's history, Magnuson salvaged as much of the old wood in the building as he could in other areas.

Food service began this week from the fully equipped kitchen. The main and rear entrances now have ramps and are fully accessible to wheelchairs.

It's Magnuson's first time owning a bar, but he has long wanted to own one.

"Everything we've put in here are things I've always wanted in a bar," he said.

He was friends with members of a band in his younger days and got familiar with the bar scene as a launching pad of local music.

"I love music, all kinds, and I want to bring that here," he said.

Since opening in November, the bar has had a steady lineup of music covering multiple genres. It's also added karaoke and trivia nights.

The bar is stocked with 30 different taps and Indiana craft beers including Switchyard, Tax Man and Upland Brewing.

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Coming up Jan. 22, there will be a bourbon night with West Fork Whiskey, an Indianapolis-based distillery founded by a trio of former Lawrence County residents.

Magnuson has a day job and leaves the daily management of Downtown at DaCar's to his daughter Brittany.

As with any new venture, the Magnusons and staff are finding their rhythm as customers re-discover the venerable tavern.

"Sometimes it doesn't feel real because of all the work that went into it," said Brittany. "I'm really looking forward to summer time when the patio will be open."

Magnuson said he has received positive feedback on the renovation.

"The community is behind us," he said. "We got great help from the city of Bedford, contractors, electricians and the Bedford Fire Department."

Rusty Abel, who owned the bar from 1990-2000, has been among those giving it his blessing.

"It's beautiful, they've done a helluva job," Abel said.

About that bar

The history behind the bar with its marble columns and carvings can be found by talking with one of its former owners.

Abel said the bar was purchased at a sale in Atlanta, Georgia, in the late 1950s by the owner of Torphy's Tavern, which was located at 16th and K where StoneCutter's Place is today.

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Around 1978-79, Puffy Lemmons, who owned Puffy's on 16th Street, bought the bar from the Torphys.

"I'm not sure, but I think he bought it for $750," Abel said. "They brought it up the stairs, out the front door and rolled it down the middle of 16th Street and put it in Puffy's."

The bar replaced the existing one in Puffy's and, except for its removal during restoration, has been there ever since.

Stories, myths and legends have only grown since then. One of those, Abel recalled, is that Jeanie Lemmons was offered $50,000 for the wood and marble bar by someone who wanted to use it in television.

How a bullet became lodged in the mirror one day when the tavern was Puffy's is another tale in the tavern's history. The famed bullet hole was already there when Abel became owner.

Abel elaborated, as it was told to him years ago: "Kenny Knight was in there. Toots Bowden was bartender and he had a pistol he was trying to sell to Kenny. Kenny said let me see it. There was a potato chip rack at the end of the bar and Kenny pointed it at it and shot it."

Rusty Abel, who owned Rusty's Tavern from 1990 to 2000, stands at the bar with its intricate carvings and marble columns that remains a feature of the establishment today.
Rusty Abel, who owned Rusty's Tavern from 1990 to 2000, stands at the bar with its intricate carvings and marble columns that remains a feature of the establishment today.

The chance to tell the story elicits a laugh from Abel.

"Of all the people that worked there, everyone told a different story. A lot of stories have been told about it. I admit to telling a windy story or two ... it's a good conversation piece," Abel confessed.

Abel renamed the tavern Rusty's after he bought the business from Jeanie Lemmons.

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It was smaller than it is today. Abel expanded the business when he purchased the adjoining building to the west.

Abel, who got into the bar business in 1973 when he purchased the North Side Cafe on Lincoln Avenue, said the Bedford square had an abundance of watering holes decades ago.

"At one time, there were 11 bars on the square or one block off the square," said Abel, who can rattle their names off one by one.

In 2000, he sold it to Scott Smith.

"I enjoyed owning it," he said. "I wish the new owners the best."

Contact Times-Mail Staff Writer Carol Johnson at cjohnson@tmnews.com or 812-277-7252.

This article originally appeared on The Times-Mail: Bedford's Downtown at DaCar's bar aims to please

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