MARYSVILLE — Tanya Buttke danced on the bar, shaking glittery pompoms.
Music roared from the ensemble of horns and drums joined by an entourage of tambourine-waving, whistle-blowing sidekicks gyrating in the aisles.
It was 2 p.m. on Saturday afternoon, and the party was just getting started at Kuhnle’s Tavern.
The bar’s 100th anniversary bash kicked off with the circus-like Sauerkraut Band. Patrons took it as gospel when the band belted, “In heaven there is no beer, that’s why we drink it here.”
To many people, Kuhnle’s Tavern (pronounced koon-lees) is a name on that red awning on a nondescript block with a Mexican restaurant and a nail salon at the south end of State Avenue.
Those who come inside keep coming back. Many joined in the celebration, sporting Kuhnle’s 100th T-shirts.
JoAnn “Momma Jo” Kuhnle, former owner, tipped back a Bud Light, her wrist adorned with a colorful corsage. The party was in her honor, too. She and her husband, Kay, ran the bar for decades after he bought it from his parents, the founders. Kay died in 2006.
“We loved our people and everybody who came in,” she said. “People loved us back. It wasn’t a one-way street.”
Buttke, 58, is usually behind the bar, not dancing on it. And she usually wears a Montana ballcap and jeans, not a flapper dress with red-and-white striped stockings. (As a cheerleading member of the Sauerkraut Band, she was pulling double duty.)
Buttke and another longtime bartender, Gloria Phillips, 73, bought the business in 2011.
“We wanted Kuhnle’s Tavern to stay alive,” Buttke said.
Neither intended to make a career out of Kuhnle’s.
Phillips was a customer before hiring on in 1976, as a way to make some extra money when her kids were little.
Buttke needed a job in 1989 after moving here from Montana; she was drawn to Kuhnle’s by the pool tables.
“Our boss told both of us that we were never going to make it as bartenders,” Buttke said. “Maybe he just knew we were stubborn.”
“Kay would buy my son’s baseball shoes and babysit if I needed,” Buttke said. “I met my second husband here.”
After taking ownership, Buttke and Phillips added more TVs and polished the numerous trophies from bar-sponsored ball teams.
Everything else is pretty much the same. Rips on a vinyl-topped bar stool add to the charm.
The bar has five employees, three pool leagues, free popcorn and a payphone that works. Calls are 50 cents. Pull-tab tickets are $1. Raffles are a dime for goofy prizes.
As far as alcohol, it’s beer and wine only. A glass of red wine is $4.50. There’s a discount on Wino Wednesday.
Grub is chips and jerky sticks. A sign behind the bar warns “No pissy attitudes.”
It’s busy from morning coffee to last call. At 8 a.m., the coffee crowd gathers to read the paper. There’s an afternoon it’s-always-5 o’clock-somewhere camaraderie, pool one-upmanships and nighttime jams.
Even with no Kuhnle running the show, the new owners never once considered changing the name.
“They treated us like family and that’s what we tried to continue,” Buttke said.
After all, a bar is only four walls. It’s the human connection that endures.
This isn’t a place where people fixate on their cellphones. They talk to each other, and maybe tell the same story over and over.
They sing karaoke, shoot pool and yell at the TV when the Seahawks play.
“I come here to have fun,” said Dean Johnson, owner of Vi & Glynn’s Tavern, about three miles north on State Avenue. “We have a good time.”
Carol Biegler and her husband of 52 years, Ron, have been regulars since the late 1970s.
“It’s comfortable,” she said. “We know everyone sitting here at these tables. You don’t see any rowdiness.”
Well, except when the Sauerkraut Band plays.