Herald JournalHerald Journal, Dec. 6, 2004

Deb Kohler will keep bartending until she can’t make it up the steps

By Ryan Gueningsman

Staff Writer

Ole and Lena were laying in bed one night and the telephone rings.

Ole picks it up, and after a second or two, says “How am I supposed to know? I’m 2,000 miles away.”

Lena asks her husband what that was about, and he replies “They wanted to know if the coast was clear.”

Although Deb Kohler has heard many bar jokes throughout her 25 years of tending bar in the are, that is one of the few that is clean enough for print.

“I wish I could remember all the jokes I’ve heard in my days,” Kohler said. “So many of them are dirty – there aren’t many clean ones,” she said with a laugh.

Kohler began tending bar Nov. 29, 1979, working for Steve and Bob Kegler, then-owners of Keg’s Bar in Winsted. Her first day of work was a Tuesday morning, and she said Bob Kegler would teach her to make drinks during the day when business was slower.

“Bob taught me everything I know,” she said. She began working an alternating schedule of one week of days, one week of nights for the next 14 years with the Keglers.

In July 1993, after Keg’s closed, Kohler took a job in Howard Lake at the American Legion Post 145, working there for about three years.

When Marvin Vetsch took over Keg’s Bar in Winsted and reopened it, Kohler was hired back in June 1996. Brian “Woody” Langenfeld took over the bar two years later, and has continued to run the bar with Kohler still one of the establishment’s loyal employees.

Kohler said over the past 25 years, clientele and business has changed a lot. She also said that more activities, such as dart and pool leagues, have kept bars more active.

“It used to be just a juke box,” she said. “Years ago, bars used to be packed. Now, laws have changed so much.”

She has a hard time dealing with the death of a long-time patron and not seeing those people anymore. She remembers a patron walking across the room with a glass of beer on his head, and has fond memories of many other locals.

“You get to know people, then they die,” she said. “That’s pretty hard sometimes.”

While she hasn’t seen too many bar fights or things of that nature, Kohler said there has been some arguing and pushing and shoving, and she did note that the bar was robbed one time years back – but that it was after hours and no one was there.

She has seen several people fall off of bar stools, or down the back steps, but said, overall, it has been a good experience.

Some of her favorite events are New Year’s and Halloween parties, she said. Her fondest memory was the Minnesota Twins’ 1987 World Series victory.

“The place was packed, champagne was flying, and the moons were full,” she said with a laugh, hinting at the antics of four men who shall remain nameless. She also noted that when Winsted has its major events – the Summer Festival and Winstock, she stays plenty busy.

“Winstock weekend is busy from Thursday night until Sunday,” she said.

For her hard work, many different tokens of appreciation have been offered to Kohler.

“Older guys came in with garden stuff and flowers,” she said. The biggest monetary tip she received was $25. She has been proposed to more than once, but always tells the proposer to “come back when you’re sober,” she said with a laugh.

She has only called in sick to work twice in her 25 years of bartending – one of those times came while working for Langenfeld.

“It ended up being a week, but it was one call,” Langenfeld said laughing. Kohler said she has never been late for work, but she received a time clock as a gag gift one year.

When asked what her favorite drink to make is, Kohler quickly replied “Windsor Diet,” which is her personal favorite.

She also likes making screwdrivers, as well as the locally-famous “Debbie’s Bloody Mary Mix,” which is “my secret, homemade mix – it’s not out of a bottle,” she said. “It’s tomato juice and some seasonings – I’ve made plenty of ‘em.”

After 25 years, Kohler said she has no plans to retire, and plans on working at Keg’s “until I can’t make it up the back steps anymore. I’ve been up and down those steps millions of times.”

She never forgets a name or birth date

Kohler has a knack for remembering her customers’ birth dates, and can rattle off the birth date of just about anyone in Winsted.

One patron noted that even if Kohler doesn’t see a person for several months, if the person stops back in, nine times out of 10, Kohler will remember their name and their favorite drink.

‘Frank’s ghost’

Legend has it that the elder Hertzog, Frank, died in the building that houses Keg’s Bar.

Kohler said she has experienced several supernatural things while being in the building, including seeing shadows in the basement, as well as hearing stories about lights and televisions going on and off.

One of the upstairs tenants has also smelled coffee brewing in the morning, as well as the smell of sulfur, like a match being struck. He also hears doors open and close at strange times.

“They’re all friendly,” Kohler said of whomever may be watching over the building. “They don’t hurt you.”

Kohler said one time while standing behind the bar, she received a friendly tap, and upon turning around – no one was there.

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