The Big Red Barn Dishes up Some Grub
Not everything at Put-in-Bay is located downtown. If you are adventurous and explore the island a bit further, you are bound to find some hidden gems. Joe's Bar is one of them. Located at the end of Catawba across from the Crown Hill Cemetary, it is about as far from downtown as you can get. It is also a favored haunt of those staying at the State Park, just over the hill. You would not think of food right away when you look at the place, but they do have some grub there if you look hard enough. Most come for the drinks because this joint is truly the island dive bar, in a good way.
Imagine a big red barn that someone placed a bar in the middle of, cut out some holes for windows, and slapped on a couple porches to hang out. That's Joe's Bar. It originated as the Press House and was the corner market for many many years before being transformed in to what it is today. It did a volume of business selling ice, sandwiches, snacks, and truckloads of beer to fishermen and campers. That was back when the original owner, Joe Suttman, owned the place. Oddly enough, the bar is named after him as well. Joe has since moved on to teach school in Austria and the change in ownership is evident, but you will still find Joe's picture hanging on the wall.
They have a new slushy machine this year which whips up some great frozen concoctions ($3.00 non-alcoholic, $6.00 with booze). And in this place, you need a cold drink because in the hot summer heat, their idea of air conditioning is fans in the window. The decor has been spiced up a bit with the new ownership, and Joe would be rolling in his grave to see two new flat-screen TV's up on the walls for those inclined to watch sports or the Weather Channel. Most come to just hang out and chat, and the beer of choice has got to be Milwaukee's Best Ice ($2.00). This goes great with one of the 6 everyday menu items... a bag of chips or pretzels ($1.50). There is also a full bar serving up all your mixed drinks. Sadly, the days of "big beers" left when Joe did. No longer can you get a supersize bottle of Corona, a jumbo slugger of Red Stripe or a 32oz can of Labatt Blue. Your options are now limited to the regular 12oz bottles and cans for the most part.
The second of 5 items listed on the menu is a bit challenging. It is called a "Spicy Dog" ($4.00, +$1.00 for kraut) and it certainly lives up to its namesake. Served slightly burned, naked, it definitely needs some condiments. For the extra buck, get the kraut. It needs a little bit of wetness to force this bad boy down your throat. It is indeed spicy, albeit a tad dry. You will be sucking on your beer for sure while eating this quarter pound of mouth-burning meaty tubesteak. The kraut will mellow it a bit and let it slide down easier, and if you are bold, like we were, and slopped on some spicy mustard, then let the sweat glands start pumping. It was a deliciously spicy dog, all in all. And the fact that it was served with a bag of chips, a healthy side of potato salad, and a deli style pickle spear definitely added to its value. For four bucks, you can not get as complete of a bar grub meal anywhere on the island!!!
Much has changed in this bar since Joe left, but there is still an old favorite on the menu... The Sloppy Scotty ($3.50). With the addition of TVs and the subtraction of big beers, we wondered if this island classic had been changed. To our delight, it remains basically the same, albeit a little smaller. What is a Sloppy Scotty you ask? It is named after Joe's longtime friend and former cook Scotty LastNameUnknown, an eclectic hippie funster who cooked, bartended and kept people coming back year after year. He came up with this crazy twist on a coney dog and it is still named in his honor. Take a fresh big dog roll (not bun, you need a bigger size one called a roll), steam it slightly, sprinkle on some mozzarella cheese, slip in a hot dog that you have halved lengthwise, dribble on some good homemade beanless chili, and serve it with a side of coleslaw. The kicker here is to spoon out some of the coleslaw on top of the dog. It is a flavor bonanza. The creamy coleslaw complements the tangy chili sauce just right so you get a combination of flavors with each delicious bite in to this island dog. We usually get two apiece for lunch, they are great!
The shot of choice here has been and probably always will be Jagermeister ($4.00). For the uninitiated, Jagermeister is an herbal, bitter liqueur from Germany made of a secret blend of over 50 herbs, fruits and spices. It gets you drunk! They serve it here well chilled, pulling it out from the freezer when needed, so it goes down icy cold. Chances are, your friendly bartender will be doing a shot with you, as it is an unwritten rule passed down from bartender to bartender at Joes Bar that you can't let your customer drink alone. Don't be offended if you find yourself drinking more than one shot because they are quite addictive! That kind of embodies the whole spirit of Joes Bar, a place where friends meet to get away from downtown in a quiet, friendly, elbow-to-elbow little local bar environment.
As an aside, one of their more popular items for sale is not food or drink, but Tshirts that are quite famous near and far. Remember their motto... Eat at Joe's, Beer is Food!
You can reach Joe's Bar by calling 419.285.5637. You also can follow them on MySpace at http://www.myspace.com/presshousejoes or e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Bar Rating: Eight out of ten stars
Food Rating: Six out of ten stars
Favorite Item: The Sloppy Scotty, with the mustard and coleslaw on top
Notes: random off-menu food specials such as riblets are often available
This website is meant to showcase the Put-in-Bay, Ohio food scene. Monthly reviews of Putinbay restaurants occur during the season. When there is a festival involving food or wine in town, then that is covered as well. Put-in-Bay Bars get occasional notice for the quality of their drinks and entertainment. Each review is as unbiased as the palate of the reviewer (unless brussel sprouts are involved, that is a dealbreaker!).
The mystery reviewer is an island resident who has been boating and working on the island for over 15 years and can remember back to the days when there was a Taco Bell on the island and the downtown bars closed at 11pm. Times change, but everyone still needs to eat!