Little Bohemia

I’ve had some e-mails lately from folks outside of CR wondering about the fate of Little Bohemia. Here’s a column I wrote on the bar published today:

The very first beer I drank in this town as a newly minted local was poured from a tap at Little Bohemia, the iconic brick tavern at 1317 Third St. SE. It clearly looked like my kind of place.The guy running the tap had just the right bartender’s blend of friendly/surly.

He fit the bar and the bar fit the neighborhood, a no-nonsense part of town where people work hard for a living, or once did, and appreciate a drink at quitting time.

I gulped cold beer and gobbled hot goulash and felt that this could easily become my favorite spot.

Then, 12 days ago, the Cedar River filled the joint with muddy bilge nearly to the ceiling. About all that stayed high and dry were a stuffed pheasant and a mounted trophy fish, ironically enough.

Now I’m not sure if that bartender, manager Jeff Melsha, will ever pull that tap for us again.

So many local places like this that give Cedar Rapids its identity were taken by the flood. And every day we’re smacked by the reality that familiar spots have become disaster areas. It was “Little Bo” for me on Friday.

“Pretty much everything’s gone,” said Melsha, standing in muddy boots in front of Little Bohemia and next to a big, heartbreaking pile of history-turnedto-trash by toxic floodwater.

Melsha says he has no idea yet whether he can reopen the bar, which his family has operated for 26 years. He flew the “open” flag anyway, as a joke.

Like so many people, Melsha tells a didn’t-see-it-coming story.

He figured that a 22- or 24-foot Cedar crest might bring a few feet of water into the bar. They put freezers up on blocks and got stuff off the floor.

On that fateful Wednesday night before the river invaded, Little Bo did what it does best – served drinks, lots of them, to a crowd of regulars and well-wishers.

Melsha decided to stay at the bar, so he bedded down on the pool table.

An employee who lived nearby jarred him from sleep in the wee hours of Thursday morning. The water had arrived, it was going to be higher than they thought and that they had to evacuate, fast.

His focus now is on trying to save many of the waterlogged antiques that gave the place its comfy time-capsule feel. He’s afraid that even if he does rebuild, he’ll be forced to replace the wooden floor, walls and other features that made the place what it was.

“It was like walking into the past before,” Melsha said. “It won’t be the same ever again.” “But hey, I’m not the only one, right?” he adds.

Right. The entire Third Street SE, New Bohemia neighborhood was trashed by the flood. Just a couple of months ago, I wrote about the area’s big potential as an arts and cultural district. Now that’s hard to imagine. But no one’s giving up just yet.

“New Bohemia has seen better days,” said Michael Richards, who has led development efforts in the neighborhood. “But I think there’s still the attitude here to pull back together and rebuild.”

New Bohemia leaders are expected to hold an emergency meeting on the neighborhood’s future this week. In the meantime, here’s to hoping that future includes a cold beer at Little Bohemia.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Little Bohemia

  1. Tom

    Thanks for the update. Little Bo’s is one of those places that make Cedar Rapids Cedar Rapids, and not Generic Stripmall-ville, USA. Unfortunately a lot of those places took a big hit in the flood.

  2. Sherry Rilett (Hammel)

    Jeff, my heart goes out to you! Good luck!!!
    -from Sherry in Indio CA.

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