Spudz Bar dates to late 1800s

 Clarks Mills Street scene, 1915. You can see what is now Spudz in the background and the General Store, which is now at the Manitowoc County Historical Society’s Pinecrest Village, on the right.

Clarks Mills Street scene, 1915. You can see what is now Spudz in the background and the General Store, which is now at the Manitowoc County Historical Society’s Pinecrest Village, on the right.

Travelers through Clarks Mills a century ago would have found a bustling village complete with a post office, butcher, two general stores, two blacksmiths, 2 hotels, a dressmaker, 3 carpenters, and a veterinarian.  The building that is currently operated as Spud’s, 504 County Highway J, Clarks Mills, has a rich story that dates to the late 1800s.

It is believed that Frank H. Gehbe opened a hotel and bar at this site around 1880. While in Clarks Mills, he also served as the town treasurer for the Town of Cato. Gehbe’s son, Dr. Frank H. Gehbe Jr., also had his dentist practice in Clarks Mills from 1895 to 1898. Gehbe Sr. operated the hotel business until 1905 when he relocated his family to Manitowoc to operate a hotel and bar at 725 Quay Street.

In 1909, Anton Denk took over the Clarks Mills establishment (which was 1 of 2 hotels in the community). His brother, Frank, joined in the operation of the business around the year 1920.  In a biography sketch from “History of Manitowoc County Wisconsin”, written by Dr. L. Falge in 1911, it was written, “Anton Denk, a prosperous business man and public-spirited citizen of Clarks Mills, is the proprietor of a fine hotel in this village, and the owner of thirty acres of valuable farming land on section 34, in the township of Cato. He was born in the town of Cato, Manitowoc County, January 26, 1877, and is a son of Joseph and Frances (Huber) Denk, natives of Germany… He enjoys a large and profitable patronage at his hotel, which is modern in every respect, and is very popular with the traveling public.”

During Prohibition saloons were only allowed to serve soft drinks. John and Pauline Reichel are listed as a soft drink proprietor in Clarks Mills during the late 1920s. It was then operated by Louis and Mary Gauthier from 1929 to 1935 before selling to Henry Schroeder for $3,500.00.  With this sale was the note “Including Bar and the Back Bar.” 

By 1936, Henry Schroeder sold the saloon to John and Lillian Paul, who then sold it in 1943 to Henry Oswald and his wife Agnes Bleser. After multiple owners throughout the 1940s, Ray and Elsie Pankratz operated the building from 1945 to 1950. 

Lester E. and Veronica "QUEENIE" (McCarthy) Gerl owned and operated the site as Gerl’s Bar in Clarks Mills for ten years, from about 1953 to around 1963.  The bar changed ownership to the Junk family around 1963. George and Grace (Chaloupka) Junk farmed in the Town of Kossuth until 1961 after which they operated Junk’s Bar, Clarks Mills. Grace was known for serving her famous fish lunches for many years. The Junk family continued to operate the site with George and Grace’s son James (J.J) under various names including J.J. II Limited, and JJ Jets. The Junk family sold the bar in 1999.

In more recent operation, the building was known as Mr. Lucky’s 2, Caddy Shack, and The Caddy. Current owners, Travis Lauson, Brad Fischer, Tanya Bodart, and Brenda Fischer purchased the building in 2011.