When siblings Niki Bauer and Ray Bozicnik purchased the Little Bar Restaurant forty years ago, it was a grocery store/bar, with an apartment in the back. They took turns making sandwiches, and Niki, with a crockpot from home, sold chili. Fishermen would drink coffee at the grocery store counter.
At one point, Ray invited a local Goodlander in for a drink who was accompanied by a horse. The horse, of course, joined Ray’s guest inside the bar. In the bar, the pool table took up most of the floor space, so the cue sticks were sawed in half to play. A grill was set up outside, until a kitchen was eventually constructed. Slowly, Ray started renovating the little bar and grocery store, using wood and assorted fixtures from his family’s homes and businesses. Most famously, what is now known as the “Boat Room” in the back of the restaurant, previously the apartment, was transformed using the wood from Billy Oliver’s boat, Star of the Everglades. The boat was featured in the movie “Wind Across the Everglades,” starring Burl Ives. The Little Bar’s neighbor, Bud Kirk was portrayed in this film.
Over the years the Little Bar has become rather famous for many events and accomplishments. The Little Bar is likely most well-known for “Spammy Jammy.” But the Little Bar has achieved other accomplishments in its storied history, including being the largest champagne distributor in Florida during the late ‘70s through the early ‘80s.
“It doesn’t seem like forty years,” explained Niki. “We learned everything from our dad, who owned and operated Arley’s Restaurant in Downers Grove, Illinois and Andy’s Steakhouse in Oakbrook, Illinois. Little Bar became a local gathering place, and we would work seven days a week, sixteen hours a day. We made it fun and everyone pitched in.” When asked about what she likes most about owning the restaurant all these years, Niki mused, “Recruiting musical entertainment for the bar, which allowed me to meet all sorts of people from every walk of life. I also love celebrating Spammy Jammy, which is the ‘last call’ celebration that happens in June before the Little Bar closes down for the summer.” The Spammy Jammy festival celebrates pajama-clad participants creating art and sculptures made out of Spam (yes, the canned meat product), in an effort to ward off hurricanes.
Jamie Bozicnik, daughter to Ray and Amy Bozicnik, is heavily involved with the restaurant’s day to day operations. Jamie said she is most proud of growing up surrounded by the Little Bar’s staff family. “Several employees have worked at the Little Bar for over twenty years. It makes me very proud that so many have worked with us for so long. Customers are part of the family as well. We have had guests who come and give the kitchen staff $100 each during the holidays. Some even bring their favorite waiter/waitress birthday cards. The relationships we have with the community and customers are heartwarming,” explained Jamie.
I was privileged to have a private tour of Little Bar’s “Papa Ray Room” by Amy Bozicnik, Ray’s wife. Local Goodland carpenter Jared Kelly made all the tables in the dining room, and the sconces adorning the walls were taken from Arley’s Restaurant. The doors that make up the wainscoting in the bar room were originally the doors from the Windblown Farm located in Downer’s Grove, Illinois where Ray and Niki grew up. The arched door is Ray’s grandmother’s door from her home. The back bar is over one hundred years old, and from Cicero, a Chicago neighborhood. Lots of memorabilia decorate the walls, including an 1880 mantel from Ray’s aunt’s first home. Most notable are the wooden pipe organs that make up the wall between the bar and hostess station. The pipe organs are from a 1924 Moller organ, built in Hagerstown, Maryland and were part of the historic Mentone Springs Hotel in Alabama which was destroyed by fire in 2014.
Being successful restauranteurs for forty years is quite an accomplishment. But perhaps more importantly is their giving spirit that they have shared with their staff and the people of Goodland. “The Little Bar owners, Ray and Nicki are extremely generous to the community of Goodland. They donate sausage to our pancake breakfast events and are always offering to donate gift certificates for our raffles for events which are done throughout the year. Little Bar is very involved with our community, employing many Goodland residents and the prime contributor to the Goodland Scholarship fund which is available to all children for college education,” commented Greg Bello, current President of the Goodland Civic Association.
If you’ve not yet visited the now famous and historically significant Little Bar this season, it’s time for you to make the trip. Stop by and see Niki, Ray, Jamie and the entire staff, enjoy the great food and entertainment, and wish them a Happy 40th Anniversary!
For more information on the Little Bar, visit www.littlebarrestaurant.com or pick up a flyer at the hostess station for more information on their historic building.