by Michelle Watson
You can bet that anyone who has been in the bar business for 41 years has plenty of stories to tell. Such is the case with Elly Harmeyer. Elly has recently retired as owner of Elly’s Lakefront Tap, a popular Clear Lake bar for 41 years.
Elly’s story began in 1971. Her father, Elton Nelson, owned Lake Park Tap and Grill at the time, located where the current VFW is. Elly, who had two little girls ages seven and nine, lived in Minnesota at the time and was going through a divorce.
“Dad came home one day and told my mother that he had just purchased Ruth and Jerry’s, a bar in Clear Lake,” said Elly. “My mom said, ‘what are we going to do with another bar?’ She said why don’t you have Elly move here and run it. So that’s how it all happened.”
Elly went on to tell that after her father purchased the bar, which was located in the basement of a home, the owner at the time, Jerry, died in a fire that gutted the upstairs residence. Elly and the girls still moved back to town, but the home had to be totally remodeled before they could move in.
In 1974, Elly said she got a loan and added on to the home and bar. She went from five barstools at the bar to 14 and she added booths, which she said are still there today. Another addition was purchasing a liquor license.
“When I first opened all I could sell was beer and tap beer. I didn’t have the money to purchase a liquor license. I soon learned you can’t make it on beer alone, so I also got a liquor license to sell mixed drinks.”
Elly said that through the years she has made many memories and most all of them can be attributed to the wonderful friends and customers who frequented her bar. Elly has lived through three RAGBRAI stops in Clear Lake, and of course many, many Fourth of July celebrations.
She said the pool team trip was a highlight every year. Elly and 12 other women played pool one night a week for years. Each night they would pay $5 apiece and in the spring would take all the money and go on a trip.
“Each trip was usually within two and one-half hours from here,” said Elly. “We would have such a good time. Our group changed through the years, some passed away, because none of us are kids anymore.”
Another highlight for Elly were the nights the tap shoes would come out.
“I own about 14 pairs of tap shoes and some nights we’d crank up the juke box and everyone would find a pair to fit them and we’d tap away. It was just a fun thing to do.”
Acquiring the memorial guitar that had been at the Buddy Holly crash site was another highlight. Elly said that she has had an interest in Buddy Holly memorabilia for years. Her father farmed across the road from the crash site and Elly remembers collecting things from the field, such as pieces of a guitar. Her box of memorabilia was thrown out when her parents moved, but since then she has acquired more.
“I bid on the guitar on Ebay, which was new for me,” said Elly. “A friend helped me get it. I became very popular for a while there. The newspaper and TV came to do stories on me. You would have thought I won it, but I paid for it.”