The Dorman Street Saloon has a long and fabled history in Cottage Home Neighborhood on the near eastside. Variously known as Anacker’s Tavern, the 9th Street Tavern, The Mahogany Bar (shortened to “The Hog,” a nickname still used today), May’s Lounge, and currently The Dorman Street Saloon, the bar has been a favorite watering hole on its corner at Dorman and Ninth Streets for at least 80 years.
This bar started out as a house. Joseph Rieger, a German-born railroad carpenter, applied for a building permit for this house in late 1871. In 1900 he lived in the two-story frame house with his daughter and her photographer husband, so one day I hope to locate an old photograph of the house. A glimpse of the east side of the house can be seen in this 1890s photograph of the adjacent brick cottage.
The history then gets a little fuzzy. A bartender named Barbara at Arnold’s Tavern on 10th Street once told me that “The Hog” had been a school and that she owned her mother’s class photo with the little tikes posed in front of the building. Since she is the only neighbor who ever mentioned this, and since I was a little fuzzy myself while sitting at her bar, I wrote off her story until I stumbled upon a 1912 city directory listing for “Free Kindergarten #27, northeast corner of Dorman and East Pratt” (renamed 9thStreet). During this era the Indianapolis Free Kindergarten Society set up neighborhood schools in houses, quite often in the front rooms of the teachers’ homes. By 1914 the neighborhood kindergarten had moved to Polk Street (currently the home of Troy Felton), so the school was only here for a short time. Check out the many unidentified kindergarten photographs in the Butler University Archives and let me know if you recognize “The Hog.”
When the house became a tavern is hard to pinpoint, but it was probably in the 1910s when the Frederick Miller Brewing Company bought the property, which by then had been expanded and converted into a grocery store. Miller Brewing Company owned many small taverns throughout the country including several in Indianapolis. This all came to a screeching halt in 1919 when Prohibition was enacted and Miller sold the building in January 1920. (Sign from retroplanet.com)
Old-timers (many now gone) tell me that the place sold “near beer” (with low-alcohol content) during Prohibition. The store was a grocery, restaurant, and ice cream parlor in the 1920s and ‘30s, changing management every few years until Clarence O. and Amelia Anacker took over from about 1930 until at least 1945. I cold-called the few Anackers in the phone book in the 1980s and finally reached an old woman who probably could have shared plenty of history. After reluctantly admitting that her family had owned the old dive, she curtly cut off the conversation with a stoic “let’s let them days die.” This beer token found on eBay a few years ago.
Persistent rumors exist that the bar was frequented by John Dillinger, who robbed the nearby Massachusetts Avenue State Bank on September 6, 1933. Some even heard that he sat in the bar/grocery while he planned the heist. Although it is hard to prove, there is likely some truth to his patronage here since Hilton Crouch, his get-away driver, lived two blocks away on Oriental Street. Doc Fitzgerald, who grew up nearby, told me that after the robbery the car was hidden in an alley ½ block from the bar while the police combed the area for the robbers. A few years ago an older woman from New Jersey revisited the bar that her grandparents frequented in the early 1930s and she claims to have a snapshot of Dillinger posing with her grandparents in front of the tavern. Unfortunately, the patron she shared this with cannot locate his note with her name and address, so if this sounds like someone you know, please let us know.
After the Anacker’s left in the mid-1940s, the bar was managed by several different people and suffered a fire in 1956 (as seen in this Indianapolis Fire Department negative). Through the years, the by-all-accounts seedy bar was a hangout for laborers at nearby roofing and hardwood companies, employees of Schwitzer-Cummins, and neighbors in the working-class German and Irish neighborhood. A man I recently interviewed recalled that he hung-out there with many drywall workers from 1963 through the 1970s. Older pals told him that the name came from the beautiful mahogany woodwork in the bar, but there was no sign of original wood by the time he discovered the place. He said it was a “tough joint” frequented mainly by men, who occasionally brought along their wives or girlfriends. The place occasionally had performers such as go-go dancers and country music stars (including Little Jimmie Dickins, known for his novelty country songs, short stature, and Rhinestone outfits). He remembered many fights, a man being murdered as he walked out the side door, and a female manager so stingy that she often reused the ice from other peoples’ empty glasses. Friday nights the place was packed when the bartender had a huge wad of money to cash-in the workers’ paychecks. Mabel Russell purchased the bar in about 1980 and changed the name to May’s Lounge.
Neighbor Bruce Baird poses next to the bar in about 1990. By this point the old house was covered with wood siding and a painted pig paid tribute to the nickname “The Hog.” (Courtesy of Cottage Home Neighborhood Association). Tammy Miller purchased the once-rowdy bar in 2003 and still serves long-time regulars as well as a younger crowd.
A few years ago the owners removed the old siding and discovered original painted signs from prior to 1945. The top sign reads “9th STREET TAVERN / CLARENCE ANACKER, PROP.” A mural advertises Royal Crown Cola (a soda created in 1934). The signs were carefully repainted and one was added above the corner window for “maHOGany.”
Mary, the daytime bartender of 15 years, says that the bar came from the old Greyhound Bus Station, although no one knows exactly when it arrived. The Greyhound Station was located at the Indianapolis Traction and Terminal Station until the train shed was demolished in 1968 and the office tower in 1972, so the bar might have been salvaged at that time. (Photo by Joan Hostetler, October 2011)
The bar’s tiles were made by architectural ceramic artist Ernest A. Batchelder, an important Arts and Crafts Movement tile designer who worked in California. The earth-toned tiles feature animals and date to between 1914 (when he opened a large factory in Los Angeles) and 1932 when the factory closed due to the Depression. (Photo by Joan Hostetler, October 2011)
The Hog was named the “Best Dive Bar” by Indianapolis Monthly three years in a row and now features a large liquor selection, an impressive array of microbrews and imports, and the best jukebox in town.
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