They have been “Livin’ the Dream” in Chattanooga, Ohio, for the past 37 years, but now Barney and Twila Lehman will find new ways to follow their dreams. For nearly 4 decades the couple owned and operated the Chatt Bar but in May of this year they sold the popular local establishment.
Last Saturday my mom and I attended a farewell and congratulations party for Barney and Twila at the Chatt Bar. The theme of the party was one of Twila’s favorite phrases, “Just Livin’ the Dream.”
Many friends, locals, and bar patrons showed up to congratulate and wish the Lehmans well. It was standing room only inside the bar with a tent outside for the overflow. There was delicious food, cake, and spirits to celebrate the occasion. The late co-owner Dean Strawn was remembered with photos. I sat across from a couple Chattanoogians and I enjoyed listening to them reminisce and tell stories about Chatt.
The renowned Chatt Bar is over 100 years old and was at one time called a saloon. These days the sign attached to the outside of the building reads “Chatt Home Restaurant.” I have even heard some call it by the classy name of Chatt Cafe, but to everyone around here it is known as the Chatt Bar.
They say there were two bars in Chatt at one time, but the current one sits nearly in the middle of town. The building that houses the Chatt Bar was originally one of three buildings that made up the Chattanooga Hotel. In the early 1900s the old hotel was owned by Nick Jennings of Berne. The small building at the north end housed some small shops: a barber shop, an ice cream store, and a hat store. There was pool hall in the middle building and the bar/restaurant at the south end.
Someone, I believe Twila, once made a list of the bar’s owners and gave it to my dad:
Nick Jennings (from Berne)
Bill Betzel (local)
Perry Gibbons (local)
Albert & Hulda (Baker) Garman
Rude Heffner (local) (1912)
Mr. & Mrs. George Rothaar
Herbert & Vi Kuhn (local)
Fred V. Bollenbacher (local)
Hank Steele (Fort Recovery)
Herb & Donna Leirkamp (Berne)
Gene Ault (local)
Edna Lawson & William Chapman (RR Berne)
Gene Ault (local)
Russel “Barney” Lehman & Dennis Kuhn (RR Rockford & Celina) (1976)
Russel “Barney” Lehman & Dean Strawn (Celina) (1978)
And most recently: Valerie Petitt (2013)
Barney Lehman and Dean Strawn ran the bar from 1998 until Dean’s death in 2012. Barney and his wife Twila ran it after Dean’s death.
According to the 1910 census, Perry Gibbons was a “saloon owner” in Chatt and Fred Heffner was a bartender at a saloon. Perry was the bar’s third owner. Gene Alt supposedly gave it the name of “Chatt Bar.” I remember that Ray Hemmelgarn owned the bar/restaurant when I was a child.
According to Perry Gibbon’s granddaughter, Wanda Lou Gilliland, Ray Hemmelgarn served the best chili soup around at the bar. It seems that Ray’s mother made the soup and her secret ingredient was mashed potatoes, added to make the soup thick.
Years ago, one of my St. Marys patients told me that he drove a Budweiser beer truck and delivered beer to the Chatt Bar when Ray Hemmelgarn owned it. That patient always called me “Chattanooga” after learning my connection to Chatt.
Ray Hemmelgarn made changes to the bar when he owned it. He tore down the north building, made the pool hall into a kitchen, and moved the inside bar from the south wall to the north wall.
The Chatt Bar has always opened early in the morning for breakfast. My dad used to go there every morning for coffee, but the main morning draw was shooting the breeze with the area farmers and locals. Barney told me that my dad was often the first one to arrive at the Bar in the morning. My dad knew where Barney kept the key and so he would open up the bar and turn on the lights. Knowing my dad, he probably plugged in the coffee pot, too.
Twila told me that she was so nervous her first day on the job at the Bar that she couldn’t figure out how to make change for the $20 bill my dad gave her. He told her that three $5s & a $10 would be just fine!
Someone in that morning group started a tradition at the Chatt Bar. When one of the morning regulars passed away the other others would put the deceased’s chair upside down on the table where he sat. I’m sure they did that with my dad’s chair when he passed away last year.
When our son Jeff was little he also enjoyed going to the Chatt Bar with my dad. Jeff would bum quarters off my dad for video games. Jeff also remembers that Barney would put a Snickers candy bar in the freezer for him. Jeff still remembers those frozen Snickers bars.
The Chatt Bar is still known for its good food. They are best known for their deep-fried pizza and breaded tenderloin sandwich. People come from miles around for the deep-fried pizza, but I am partial to the breaded tenderloin. The jumbo tenderloin is huge and half a jumbo is plenty for me. Serve it up with deep-fried breaded dill pickles and you’ve got yourself one good meal. Some of my other favorites are breaded onion rings, fresh sausage sandwich, grilled tenderloin, and grilled or broasted chicken.
Congratulations and best wishes to Barney and Twila! Enjoy Livin’ Your Dream!
[Some Chatt Bar information from Mercer County, Ohio History, 1978, Joyce L. Alig, Editor, The Mercer County Historical Society, Inc.]