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(Photograph courtesy of the Catalina Bar)

The word “dive” easily comes to mind when one drives by the Catalina Bar on East Washington Street a few blocks east of Rural Street. This old bar always looked like it had stories to tell, and when we included it in the East Side Pub Crawl in 2006, my friend George Hanlin uncovered some of its history. Here is his article from the pub crawl brochure.

In the days before the interstate, the old National Road—also known as Washington Street—was the major east-west thoroughfare. And in the days before McDonald’s, mom-and-pop restaurants ruled. In its early life, the Catalina was one of those spots.

In the 1920s and 1930s, at least a couple of different owners operated a restaurant from the ground floor of the large house. Chances are they served a stiff drink on the side, too. By the 1940s the tenants operated outright as a tavern, serving thirsty workers at the P. R. Mallory plant across the street and weary travelers passing through town.

In 1956 the establishment took on an exotic air when new owners Richard and Frank Cardis changed the name to the Catalina. Current owner Joe Wilson notes that around this same period it also served as a bookie outlet. He says that when he bought it in 1985 he found twenty to thirty phones in one of the seven rooms upstairs.

Joe remodeled the place and ran it for about five years. He then leased it out in the early 1990s to a woman who brought in go-go dancers (it made good money in those days, Joe says, because “these women were TANKS!”). After the city shut it down he took it over again and has run it since.

Today patrons usually find a familiar face behind the bar—Ruth Norris, nicknamed China (pronounced “Cheena”) who has bartended at the Catalina for more than seventeen years. The traffic on the old National Road isn’t what it used to be, and Mallory is long gone, but the beer still runs cold, giving comfort to the working-class folks who call the neighborhood home. (Courtesy of George Hanlin)

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In 2009 the Google Street View vehicle captured Catalina owner Joe Wilson (seated) and another man inspecting the stairway. Today the surrounding houses have been razed and the bar sits among parking lots, fast food restaurants, a liquor store, and the empty Mallory building across the street.

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The Catalina was voted “favorite bar” by the East Side Pub Crawl attendees, seen here in October 2010. Despite the rather drab brown exterior, the interior is bright and cheery and bar regulars and staff warmly welcomed the costumed “crawlers.” The twice-yearly fundraiser is sponsored by the History and Preservation Committee of the Near East Side Community Organization. (Photograph by Felipe Martinez) 

[Would you like to see your old photographs featured in this Then and Now column? If so, attach a high resolution jpeg or png and any details about the building within our “Say Hi” link in the footer of our website.]

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6 responses to “Then and Now: The Catalina Bar, 3032 E. Washington Street”

  1. Rick Cardis says:

    Not that it’s really a big deal, but the Catalina was never a bookie joint. My father, Frank Cardis, and my uncle, Richard Cardis, owned the bar for many years, running a reputable business. The current owner, Joe Wilson, was the third person to take on the business after my dad and uncle sold it. It must have been one of those intervening owners who put in the 30 phones. It was a great old working class bar in its day and was never the same after the Cardis family sold it.

  2. basil berchekas jr says:

    Remember it as a good neighborhood hangout like the former Oxford Inn just west of there, along with a bar over on East New York (don’t remember the name) along with one further east on New York just west of Emerson that became a garden shop (don’t remember its name either) and the McShane’s Lounge on Emerson that’s definitely closed (it was good in a prior life when it was “Irish” in nature). Hopefully the Sh Kay (16th and Emerson) is still going, along with the Grand Central Station (21st and Emerson) (a former Lindner’s Ice Cream store).

  3. Fred Bennett says:

    About 1955 or 56 before Frank and Dick bought the bar it was called ” The Showboat” we walked past it on our way to grade school and the Excise police , State Police and Indpls City police were performing a gambling raid on the Showboat. They were throwing poker machines and pinball machines out into the street and smashing the equipment with axes and sledge hammers. I grabbed a pinball from the gutter and pocketed it. I am almost 70 years old and still have that pinball today. I used it as a “Steelie” when playing marbles as a kid. Dick and Frank owned the Sinclair gas station on LaSalle and Washington and were known as neighborhood Icons and very well thought of. They did a lot of favors for people in the neighborhood and were very well respected. They helped many of us teenagers to fix our hot rods and extended credit before credit cards were even thought of. Their generosity in the neighborhood was one of the reasons their “Catalina” was such a great neighborhood fun place. When I delivered the Indianapolis News to the bar, and collected for the paper, Dick would always hand me a bottle of Coke and said ” Tell all your friends that you’ve been drinking down at the Catalina bar! LOL
    I remember Dick helping my mother out on repairs to our car when my Mom and Dad got divorced. A genuine real nice guy!
    Fred S Bennett

  4. Skot Huebner says:

    I am a current bartender at the “Catalina Bar”. Joe Wilson still owns the bar. We are saddened to report. that we have lost one great manager “China” Ruth Norris. January 15th 2014 and One hell of a bartender Apryl Chilton-Smith, December 1st, 2013. It’s been a hard transition for the year, with their loss.

    But on a lighter note, we have replaced the manager position with one hell of a woman that is turning the bar around, Candy Collins. We have redesigned theiInside of the Bar with a “COLTS STRONG” theme. The bar is kept clean daily. We have been voted Best Bar, from the Eastside Pub Crawl for the past 4 yrs, that I know of. The Beer is still cold and drinks mixed with a kick. There will still be new upgrades coming this Spring 2015. Music, darts, food and Free Pool Daily. Check us out on Facebook at Catalina_Bar. Stop by for a visit and enjoy our little bar and patrons

    Hope to see you soon,
    Skot Huebner

  5. Joan Hostetler says:

    So sorry about China and Candy. I think I have some good photos of them at one of our Halloween Pub Crawls.

  6. Mia says:

    I know this came out years ago! But I was wondering if you still had any pictures of China Norris. If so would you please email them to me at Miawagers@gmail.com. She was mother. Thank you

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