"Through these doors walk the most important people on earth."
It's a saying many people in Seneca County have passed under, although few may notice. And those important people who walk through those doors could be considered a sign of the times and perhaps a change in thought for a place that was once called a "stag bar" which has become a landmark in downtown Tiffin.
This summer, Clover Club celebrated its 75th anniversary. Opened June 6, 1936, the business always has stood at 266 S. Washington St., although those original patrons probably would not recognize it if they ventured there today.
PHOTO BY NICK DUTRO
A pint glass from Clover Club, featuring its current logo.
At what had been the location of a soda shop in the late 1800s, Leon Fetzer and Paul Kleinhenz opened the bar on that "Saturday eve" in 1936, according to a notice in The Advertiser-Tribune. In those days, it was a place for entertainment and gathering musical scores and pictures of musicians showed that singing and laughing often were heard coming from the bar.
Although selling drinks was its specialty, Clover Club also offered a variety of sandwiches, mostly cold cut meats and cheeses. A menu showing the offerings is still at the bar - with prices advertised for 10 or 20 cents - as well as the cutting board, upon which a computer now sits.
In addition to the two owners, Clover Club had a long-running manager during this time, according to current owner Sharon Gosche. When Fetzer was called to fight in World War I, Chick Linker was asked to take over the bar for a few years.
Linker's daughter Marilyn Riley lives in Tiffin with her husband, Wayne. Gosche said a scale which was a fixture on the outside of the bar now is on display at Wayne's business, Wayne Riley's Car Wash in Tiffin.
Many rumors have followed Clover Club through the years. For example, the original bar is believed to still be in use at an establishment at Put-in-Bay opened by Kleinhenz. The round, art-deco bar, still in use today, was installed before the bar's 15th anniversary in 1951.
"The rumor that I was always told was it was designed for a bar in New York City but it didn't fit or something went wrong, and it ended up here but it had to be cut down (to fit)," said Dennis Stevenson, manager.
In 1958, Leon's son, John Fetzer, bought the bar. Starting at a young age mopping the floors, John said, he began working regularly as he grew older.
"I enjoyed it, yeah," he said.
Although it often has been referred to as a "men only" establishment during its early years, John said Clover Club was never intended to be that way.
"It was never a stag bar," he said. "We always had two johns, one for men and one for ladies. I don't think my dad tried to influence what it wasn't. We had female bartenders my mother was a bartender. ... We didn't refuse service to anyone."
It was during those years culture began to change and the "ladies john" became more commonly used.
"I think women's liberation came about, bottom line," Sharon said. "I know I was coming here in 1968 when it was stag, but they started opening it up."
A unique side of the business when Fetzer owned it was the relationship with the barbershop next door.
"We had a buzzer in the barber shop, so instead of waiting in the shop, you could wait at the Clover Club and get buzzed in when the chair was open," Fetzer said.
Many people have stories about waiting in the bar as children while their fathers were getting their hair cut. Gosche said her father and uncles would wait there when her grandfather was next door.
Fetzer owned the bar until 1992, and sometime after the bar expanded to take over the barbershop's space, which now is a dining room.
The bar was up for sale again in the later part of the 1990s. Gosche, who said working always has been in her blood, saw an opportunity and took ownership July 1, 1997.
"Sharon's somewhat of a preservationist and really has spent time and money to replace every window, the electrical, everything a building from 1890s requires," Stevenson said. "She saw the opportunity to build a kitchen, and really the need for it in downtown."
"I believe in Tiffin, so I think the more history you can keep, it just says to outsiders and people who are here that Tiffin is important," Gosche said. "Let's revitalize it and enhance what we have."
Gosche said one of the biggest compliments she has received was being mentioned as an asset in the downtown strategic survey commissioned by Tiffin Tomorrow.
Tiffin Tomorrow downtown manager Theresa Sullivan complimented the business on their anniversary.
"It's quite an accomplishment in and of itself," she said. "It's quite an asset to have something that well established. ... It's a community place, and they are very much a name in downtown Tiffin a wonderful, vibrant business."
The business continues to expand due in part to the restaurant side. Gosche said each month, beer and food sales are neck-and-neck.
"I can tell you that our food is half our business," Sharon said.
"Ten years ago this was a bar that had food now it's a restaurant that has beer," Stevenson said. "There's no difference than any other (sports bar), and I think that's why people feel comfortable bringing their kids and families."
The menu also has gone through many changes, in look and content. Gosche said she tries to keep up with trends and has added items such as wraps, salads and a variety of specialty pub burgers.
"We just try to update it and keep it fresh," she said. "And we've added the consistency for lunch so that a lot of downtown business people, and even just business people, who don't have a lot of time for lunch can come down."
Gosche said she has a great staff that has made dining a success, especially her kitchen staff, which makes many of the items from scratch, limiting the amount of pre-packaged or frozen items.
"Everybody's amazed at how much we do from that little kitchen," she said.
"We're Tiffin's biggest menu and Tiffin's smallest kitchen," Stevenson said.
But they have not forgotten their roots. In addition to big changes to the restaurant side, Clover Club has become recognized for its selection of beer, with 12 draught choices and a variety of specialty brews.
The establishment builds on that diversity through the World Beer Tour, which features 25 beverages the bar has never stocked before. The Clover Club just finished its seventh tour and 175th unique beer.
"That's getting harder and harder to do," Stevenson said.
Other events include Kegs and Eggs, during which breakfast and beer are served for the Ohio State/University of Michigan football game and on St. Patrick's Day.
Gosche said the idea came from two employees who gave her three days notice before the big game.
"I think it's been a success, and it gives people something to look forward to," Gosche said.
"And for many people, it's a tradition," Stevenson said.
This year, Clover Club had its first live broadcast for St. Patrick's Day, with Keith Hodkinson and Frank Barber of SenecaCountyRadio.com, which they plan to continue next year.
Hodkinson said he was looking forward to it as a fan of St. Patrick's Day broadcasts from years past.
"The Clover Club was the perfect venue," he said. "Sharon and everyone was wonderful to work with. ... We had a great turn out. Whether it was 6 a.m. or midnight, the Clover Club was the place to be."
The business also has diversified by offering a hall upstairs for catered events and get-togethers.
"Camden Falls and the Community Civic Center are nice, but those are for big parties. This is perfect for small little gatherings, if you don't have more than 50 people," Gosche said.
John Fetzer has been to Clover Club a few times since Sharon took over and said he has been impressed with the changes.
"I think it's all for the better, but the times have changed," John said. "Whereas my business was busy after work, theirs is busy in the evening. It's different times, I guess."
The changes also have resulted in bringing in a cross section of the community. Gosche and Stevenson commented on their patrons, saying in a given day they will see college students and staff, older couples and young families taking in the atmosphere.
"And we feel like the Clover Club is a social obligation to the community," Stevenson said. "It's where neighbors meet, run into each other, people who haven't seen each other in a while. A lot of people comment on the dynamic of the round bar, that no matter where you sit, you can see everyone there. You can go from table to table here and know just about everybody."