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An out-of-towner may think they have stepped into a baseball museum or an episode of “American Pickers.” Locals know it as a place “where everybody knows your name.”
Welcome to Lefty’s Club Tavern which has been in the Geist family for seventy years. The business has been located at 111 E. Madison for the entire seventy years and carries a great deal of history with it.
Carroll Porter “Lefty” Geist was born at Ellston, Iowa in 1919 and was a star for the Ellston High School basketball team. Lefty’s athletic prowess earned him a tryout with the St. Louis Browns baseball club in 1939. World War II called and Lefty served his country in the South Pacific until his discharge in October 1945. He married Cleola Burchett on August 26, 1948 and son Cullen was born a year later.
Lefty had been playing baseball on local teams and players as good as Lefty could make money playing on “amateur” teams.
In 1951, Lefty bought a half interest in Mount Ayr’s Sandwich Shop. His partner was Donald “Joe” Sobtka and they purchased the Club Bar Tavern in 1953, selling the Sandwich Shop in January 1954.
Club Bar Tavern had been started by A. I. “Bob” Wilson in 1951. Lefty continued to play for and manage the Mount Ayr Vets baseball club while running the tavern. He would purchase the interest of his partner before 1955.
The building that houses Lefty’s Club Tavern was built in 1897 as the office and plant for The Twice-A-Week News, which was, ironically, a prohibitionist newspaper. Later, the building was used as a meat market, grocery, electrical supply company, and a harness shop.
Lefty’s son Crae was born in 1957 and six years later, liquor by the drink became legal in Iowa. Lefty’s became the first tavern in Mount Ayr to serve mixed drinks but was also the first to install bar stools, a jukebox, and a television set.
In the 1960s Lefty installed a bar upstairs and opened The Attic with Cullen and Cleola helping with the duties there. Live music was provided by Jane Thomas or Margaret Pence on the organ and Jack Terry would play drums on occasion. The Attic has been closed since 1988.
Lefty bought the Q Club pool hall in 1966. Crae began working at the Q Club and cleaning his father’s bar as a teenager and started his bartending career in 1975. After having the tavern for thirty-five years, Lefty sold the bar to Crae who has now had it for thirty-five years.
In 1978, Lefty started a baseball “Pitchers Pool” in which participants selected five Major League Baseball pitchers at the beginning of a season and the highest total of combined wins netted the pool. The “Pitchers Pool” led to an annual party held during the All-Star Break.
The interior of the tavern is decorated with a great amount of baseball memorabilia, photos, vintage advertising, antiques, and miscellaneous items. Even the cash register is an antique.
Some of the patrons have been customers for over fifty years and could say which items have been in the bar since they first arrived. Lefty’s has a unique piece of furniture known as the “smart table.” It originally sat in the kitchen of the Geist home but made its way to the tavern in the 1960s. It is believed to increase the I. Q. of those who make use of the table. “The longer you sit there, the smarter you get,” Crae says with a laugh. “We’ve even had a few graduates.” Supposedly, the process is accelerated if one places a pitcher of beer in the center of the “smart table.”
Many long-term employees have served them cold over the years including Grace Saltzman, Hugh Burchett, Helen Spencer, Doris Sheil, Judy Fletchall, and Jeremy Long. Thousands of people over the years have sat at the bar and watched a baseball game at Lefty’s.
So, how has the business changed over the years? Crae says his customers are more inclined to be responsible drinkers than in decades past; more aware of driving impaired. Also, the varieties and flavors of drinks is tenfold over what was available in the 1970s.
Lefty passed away in 2001. He had a unique parting phrase for his customers: “Tell’em where you got it.” A phrase that is still heard today at Lefty’s Club Tavern.