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The Boar's Nest: 50 years of friends and good times
Boars Nest owner Gerri Rufer poses for a portrait at the end of the bar top Friday, Sept. 7 in Monticello. The bar will be holding a 50th anniversary party rom 2 p.m. to bar close, Saturday, Sept. 14. (Times photo: Anthony Wahl)

MONTICELLO - Your typical night at the Boar's Nest tavern in Monticello depends on the era. When Boar's Nest owner Gerri Rufer and her husband Emil purchased the business Sept. 15, 1963, a glass of beer cost 10 cents. Mixed drinks set you back 15 cents. And a card player sitting next to you might have peered through wafts of cigar and pipe smoke to order a glass of wine.

But with all the changes Boar's Nest patrons have seen in the past 50 years, one thing seems to remain untouched by time.

"It's the people," Gerri said, "they've been wonderful to us."

The Rufers moved from Monroe to Monticello in 1964, committing themselves to their new business. They each had three children of their own and would have two children together. With eight children in tow, it didn't take long before the Boar's Nest became much more than a home away from home.

"Emil worked a lot of hours and we had very little outside help," Gerri said of her early years at the Boar's Nest. "I quit babysitting and came to work in the morning, then came back at night to work a couple of hours so he could rest.

"In 1984, I got a job at Springs Window Fashions division at Middleton on third shift so I could still help. I'd come home and open it up, work until he came down, and then I went home and rested and came back at night. We ran it pretty much ourselves."

Her son Jerry, born the same year the Rufers purchased the bar in 1963, remembers coming home from school every day to fill the coolers, take out empty boxes and clean the floors.

"It raised us, and it did a good job at it," Jerry said of the Boar's Nest. "We had a pretty good life in those days. We always had this place, and somehow (my parents) managed to raise eight kids and pay for the building . ... And to try to do that these days? Absolutely not."

Jerry said one of the biggest changes from the early days to now is the decline in area business. The Boar's Nest used to be open nightly but switched to Fridays, Saturdays and special events just a couple of years after Emil passed away in 1989.

"You can look out the front door and there's but five cars on Main Street," Jerry said. "And it never used to be like that. Seven days a week this town used to be full."

Gerri, who turns 74 this fall, said her favorite part of owning the Boar's Nest has been her customers, adding that as a bar owner, she's in the business of friends and "good times." The strangers who stop by, she said, are simply "the friends we haven't met yet."

Set your watch by your customers

"People drive around town to see whose car is parked where, and they come in," Gerri said. "We used to have people drive around to look for a Ford dealer's car because he bought people drinks all night long. And that would bring people.

"Years ago there used to be guys who played cards for a cigar or a candy bar. And every day you could set your watch by the time they came," Gerri said of a few of her most memorable customers. "They've been just wonderful. If I need help, all's I got to do is get on the phone and call somebody, and they're right here. It's just really nice to live in a small town like this."

Gerri said a night at the Boar's Nest wasn't always roses. She once had an angry customer threaten her life for refusing to serve him, a night that ended with nine squad cars parked outside the bar. She said rowdy customers were more of a problem in the early days than they are today, and that Monticello was once home to a lot of angry families who brought their troubles into the bar.

"We had a couple of guys who wouldn't go outside and fight because they wanted everybody to see them," Gerri said. "And there were a lot of families like that."

She said fights were just a part of being a bar owner until a law was passed that helped put troublemakers in jail.

"That was a good deal because I hated fights. Once you had a fight, everybody left," she said.

Gerri said she learned a lot about people when she bartended. In the tavern business, she said, you just learn as you go.

"It's interesting, very interesting," she laughed. "You learn how to treat people. Some people you can joke with and some people you can't. You've just got to get the feel for it and be careful what you say - and how you say it.

"I've always said that if I'd ever known I was going to be a bartender, I'd have never went to school a day in my life. Because one day I'd learn all about farming, one day I'd learn about selling insurance, and another day I'd learn about making cheese, and just down the line. And also lessons on how to tend the bar. There's quite a few who think they know better."

A unique history

Jerry estimates the Boar's Nest building was built in the 1860s. The family isn't certain when the property first became a bar but believes it was likely built for the purpose of serving drinks. A picture from 1919 hangs in the bar room proving that the establishment has been in the business of good times for at least a century, give or take. As for the tavern's name, Gerri said a particular comment someone made in the 1940s made history.

"Well, farmers always came in with their cow manure boots, pig manure boots," she said. "And a doctor's wife was sitting over here in the corner. She was kind of a boozer, and she yelled, 'It smells like a (expletive) boar's nest in here.'"

Gerri said the Boar's Nest lived up to its name in the early days. "If you go way back to when they thought we had a dirt floor, it was bad. Cigarette smoke, cigar smoke, pipe smoke.

"There'll be kids who come in and say, 'Well I used to come over with my grandpa and it had a dirt floor.' And I say, 'No, it didn't have a dirt floor. It just looked like it.'"

Gerri, who has since lived on the property for many years, said half a century in business is a feat she never anticipated. The Rufers had a few opportunities to sell the property over the years, but never wanted to let go of the place they call home. Today, the Boar's Nest is often populated by Gerri's nine grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren - the latest generation of Rufers who come to the barroom for family dinners and help out by washing tables, mopping floors and filling coolers.

Jerry, who today runs most of the day-to-day operations, said he and the family don't plan on selling the Boar's Nest as long as they're alive.

"We'll just keep doing what we're doing," he said.

The Boar's Nest will celebrate Gerri's 50th year of ownership on Saturday, Sept. 14 from 2 p.m. to bar close. The party will feature live music from 3 to 9 p.m., which includes local accordionist Ruth Marty and guitarist Dan Riley.

"We'll have food, music - and lots of beer," Gerri assured.

The celebration is open to all, both strangers and friends.