Sara’s Harmony Way carries on New Harmony, Indiana’s 200-year tradition of being a worldly outpost of well-crafted living on the banks of the Wabash River in Southern Indiana. Both the town and Sara’s bridge the gap between small town manners and big world tastes. From the New York skyline that lines an entire wall of the bar, the early 19th century photos throughout, and the circus sideshow canvas featuring Nina the Headless Woman, Sara’s manages the rare feat of creating a space where people from different walks of life can come together over drinks and conversation.
“I want anyone to be able to walk in here and feel comfortable,” says Sara Brown who, along with her husband Dan, owns and operates the café, bistro, and wine shop. “I want my customers to know they are in a unique place where they are welcome.”
Sara’s is definitely unique. Located in a historic building at the corner of Church and Main streets in New Harmony, it is a large space split into a café on one side and a bar and wine store on the other. Outside the bar is a comfortable patio that is heaven in nice weather and where bands perform nearly every Saturday night. The four major elements — the decor, the beer, the wine, and the food — all are crafted by Sara and Dan, organically contributing to the greater whole.
Perhaps the word craft is overused these days, but the idea that an individual with skill and ingenuity produces something resulting in a unique experience defines Sara’s. The decor, the art on the walls, and the furniture all came together haphazardly, most of it either picked up by Sara and Dan at auctions over the course of many years or donated by townspeople who felt it should be on the walls. The tables and chairs in the dining room and the barstools were designed and built by Curt Schmitt of Curt Schmitt Cabinetry and Fine Furniture in New Harmony, a renowned master carpenter, because he wanted it done right. Sara’s inspires that kind of care and loyalty, from locals and visitors alike.
The bar is dominated by a sideshow banner featuring Nina the Headless Woman, painted by Fred G. Johnson who is considered the “Picasso” of sideshow circus art. Occasionally, a patron will find it appalling, but most customers fall in love with it, as did Sara.
“If I love something, I will find a place for it,” says Sara, summing up her strategy for interior decorating. “People just give me stuff all the time and I just use it.”
“I walked in for coffee and thought ‘Oh my god, this is magical,’” says Katherine Thomerson, a professor from Cal State San Bernardino in town for the Fifth Annual West of the Moon Writer’s Retreat. “As a writer, you walk into a place like this and just say wow. I get ideas for writing just from looking at the walls; the glass lamp made out of bottles, the Barbie doll being eaten by a shark, Nina the Headless Woman, and everything else.”
Diane Adams, also a Cal State professor and popular author of children’s books, echoes that sentiment. “I feel refreshed every time I walk in here,” she says. “It’s so easy to find ideas and inspiration.”
“I like to sit here and listen to all the conversation,” says Thomerson. “There are people from all over the world, and all over the United States. Sara seems to know everybody. She even remembered me from when I came in a couple times a year ago. She has a creative spirit and she’s made this a place for creative spirits.” While Sara’s spirit is creative, her foundation and principles are strongly rooted in New Harmony’s history and Utopian traditions.
“I’m from near here and have worked here since I was a kid,” she says. “When we started Sara’s Harmony Way, we wanted it to be rooted firmly in New Harmony’s traditions, and more than that, we wanted to contribute to the future.”
One of the first things she and Dan did was research what kind of beer the original Harmonists, who were from Iptingen, Germany, brewed and drank. Harmonie Bier was Indiana’s first commercial beer, brewed in New Harmony in 1816, and now is resurrected by Sara’s. Harmonie Bier is a dark lager, or Scharzbier, which is brewed specially for Sara’s according to the original settlers’ recipe, and in accordance with the German Purity Laws. Sara’s has a great beer, made with five different kinds of malted barley, and much fresher than similar bottled beers imported from Europe. Sara’s has become something of a destination for beer enthusiasts, especially those who keep an account of all the different beers they’ve tried, and value high quality biers that are not widely available. In addition to Harmonie Bier, Sara always keeps three other craft beers on tap, and a wide variety of bottled beers are available as well.
The wine bar is unique in that it offers quality wines at liquor store prices. Prices range from just over $10 a bottle to around $60, with $20 to $40 being the sweet spot. Wines include reds, whites, dessert, and sparkling wines from the world over, including the major California winemaking regions, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, and South America. Sara goes to great lengths to let customers taste her wines before they buy, and there is no uncorking fee if you purchase a bottle and want to drink it in the bar, on the patio, or even take it home. Sara delights in seeing customers look up her wines on their phones, as they invariably find they are getting a very good wine for a very good price.
“I like the selection of beer and wine,” says Jim Pulliam, a retired teacher from North High School in Evansville and a Sara’s regular. “They have good craft beer. There’s always someone worth talking to. It’s a great place to come sit down and relax and have a conversation — usually an intelligent conversation. A lot of people come in here from different backgrounds and different parts of the country. Contractors, oil workers, people from other countries. I’ve met people from Austria and Czechoslovakia. It’s just a great place for getting out of the house, having a nice drink, and some conversation.”
The café offers an eclectic variety of foods, snacks, and nonalcoholic drinks, including, of course, a nice coffee. Paninis, quiche, salads with walnuts and goat cheese, great soups, sweet treats, and scones are made fresh daily.
“We try to provide a healthy alternative to what other restaurants have in town,” says Dan. “People come here for the weekend, they want to try different things from different places, so that’s what we try to offer. We want them to taste all of New Harmony.”
The recipe may be different every time you have it, as it’s made by different cooks based on how they feel that day and what fresh ingredients are available. There’s also some bar food including a sausage and cheese platter, ham sandwiches, and a Reuben, which was added by popular demand and stacks up well against others in the area.
“These women can cook,” says Sara with pride.
For all the variety in food, drink, and decor, what it all comes down to is Sara and Dan and the type of people they are. They are people who enjoy eclectic quality and good company and conversation. They’ve made Sara’s a comfortable home away from home, not just for themselves, but for all who enjoy those same simple qualities.
Location: 500 Church St., New Harmony, IN
Dining Hours: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mon.-Wed., 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thurs., 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sun.
Adult Beverages: Yes
Cafe Prices: $3 – $12
Payment: MasterCard, Visa, and Discover