BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Stories of goats running through the bar, drop ceilings falling, and Sharon Horan taking a tumble off a ladder speckle the colorful past 45 years of Horan’s Cabaret.
The local pub, famous for its St. Patrick’s Day corned beef feed and Taco Night, hit 45 years in business in Fort Madison on May 7th. Horan said there will be a four-hour celebration on Saturday from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. with food and drink specials. Horan is asking people who have Cabaret t-shirts to wear them to the celebration. Anyone wearing a Cabaret shirt will get a free drink.
Mike Horan bought the business located at 1337 Avenue G back in 1973. According to Sharon, Rosemary Durham offered Mike the option of purchasing either the Cabaret turn-key including the property or the Olde English Inn tavern which was just the business and not the property. So he bought the Cabaret on May 7, 1943.
“I was just at that time dating him,” Sharon said. “And at that time I didn’t really hang out in bars and didn’t know there was different times of vodka or whiskeys,” she said. “And this is really how when we first got going he said I had to work when they got going. People would come in and say what they wanted and I would say, ‘How do you make it, and how much does it cost’.”
She said any customers that have been around since that time would confirm that story true.
Sharon said Mike had told her that when she turned 50 she could sell the business.
“I think I misunderstood him and what he really meant is when I had the business 50 years I could sell it,” she laughed.
The famous St. Patrick’s corned beef and cabbage feed began around 1985 after the Horans took over the bar. Sharon said Mike brought in Irish music, which wasn’t received very well.
“I know when my husband and Todd Edwards brought in the Irish music and were playing it. People would come in and say, “if you’re gonna play that …. we’re not staying and Mike told them Goodbye. Now we have customers who wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Sharon’s daughter Bobbie Jo Horan Willis has been handling most of the business now, after being a part of the business for more than 30 years.
She said Taco Night started about 10 years after they bought the place and it quickly became one of the pubs most popular nights.
“It started out with two people. When we first started out a lady down in the village would make the shells for us,” Bobbi Jo said.
Sharon said the Cabaret would go through about 13 dozen shells every Thursday night. She said the employees at DuPont suggested it could be a popular draw.
As far as the Cabaret itself, the family has installed new flooring, a new metal roof and rehabbed the tin ceiling and made that part of the atmosphere.
“Mike and Greg Smith were installing insulation in the attic and they had been working a few weekends and we kept hearing a screech-screech and they were walking on the beams,” she said. “Then all of a sudden we started seeing the nails start dropping and the whole drop ceiling started falling from one end to the other.”
Bobbie Jo said they looked up and saw the original tin ceiling.
“We said hey, that’s a pretty nice ceiling up there and then we just painted it. It was in pretty good shape and now it looks great.”
Some of the memories of the business that were conjured up in the conversation included a street fair, the Rodeo Parades when it was legal to serve beer outside for the parade goers.
Bobbie Jo also brought up a incident where Sharon climbed a rickety ladder because Mike was insisting on a light being changed.
“She busted up her wrist, her knee, and was pretty banged up. It was real close to St. Patrick’s Day and it was one of those years that we just kind of winged it,” she said.
Sharon said she tried to help with the holiday celebration that year, but ended up going home because she couldn’t really help with anything.
“The running joke was that I jumped off that ladder and got hurt so I didn’t have to help with St. Patrick’s Day,” she said.
The two both agreed that the future of the bar, or the next 45 years, is up in the air.
Bobbie Jo said she wasn’t sure if she would take over full ownership or if the family will sell it.
“It’s like the old saying goes, everything has a price. If someone came in and wanted to make an offer for it, we’d probably listen to that,” Sharon said. “Other than that, the future is up in the air. I’ve had 45 years of great friends, great family. A lot of my friends have become my family,” Sharon said. “And some days you wonder if was worth it all, but yes, definitely it was worth it all.”
For more information on the Irish Pub, visit their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Horans-Cabaret-Irish-Pub-151354174897981/.