When a F2 tornado ripped through Posey and Vanderburgh counties in May 2011, the historic Nisbet Inn restaurant suffered serious damages.
The roof needed repair and the entire second-floor front porch had to be replaced. Despite the cost, Becky and Jim Harl, owners of the 104-year-old tavern, employed the help of Fehrenbacher Wood Specialties and Vintage Woodworks in Quinlan, Texas, to return the building to its original state.
“We hope to be good caretakers of the building, and one day, turn it over to someone else who will do the same,” says Becky, who has owned the Nisbet Inn, located at 6701 Nisbet Road in Northern Vanderburgh County, with her husband since October 2004. “Sometimes people come in and want to change everything and ruin the good stuff. We have not changed the ambiance. We have a responsibility to keep it as original as we can to still be functional.”
In 1912, George Maurer built the Nisbet Inn, named after a crew supervisor named Nisbet who helped build the Evansville, Mount Carmel, and Northern Railway, opened two years earlier. The restaurant, built to service passengers, has the second oldest liquor license in Indiana.
In the early years, the Nisbet Inn also had a stable. The owners would rent out horse and buggies to peddlers who would come on the train. John Stickler managed the restaurant under Maurer’s ownership. Several owners including the Elpers, Sundermans, and Salats have helped keep the tavern running, each adding their own personalization. At one time, the Nisbet Inn has served as a grocery and hardware store.
“We want this place to have the feeling of all the people who have been here in the past and all the things this place has seen,” says Becky.
Jim, who works for Whirlpool and handles the administrative side of Nisbet, attended Central High School and the University of Evansville. As a young boy, the Darmstadt, Indiana, native rode the school bus by the restaurant when a previous owner, the Sundermans’ daughters, lived on the second floor. It became his longtime dream to one day purchase the tavern with a rich history.
“We came over and had a beer one day, and he gave (the owner at the time) Jeff Salat his business card with ‘wants to buy tavern’ written on the back,” says Becky, who grew up in New Harmony, Indiana, and graduated from North Posey High School in Poseyville, Indiana. “Years went by, and I was pregnant with my youngest Amelia when Jim came home, and said, ‘Guess what’s for sale?’ Amelia was 15 months old by the time we finished up with the sale.
“We surrounded ourselves with a couple people who had experience. It has taken a while to figure it all out.”
Today, the Nisbet Inn draws locals and visitors from all over the country who wish to enjoy its delicious tavern lunches and dinners, the atmosphere of the historic setting, and a sip of “the world’s coldest beer.”
“The Salats started that tagline with their sign,” says Becky of the seven beers on draught and large selection of bottles. “We always joke that it’s because my husband is a Whirlpool engineer. We freeze the fishbowls and I believe because our walk-in cooler is right there the beer doesn’t have to run through many lines making it colder.”
On a Tuesday afternoon, the tavern was bustling with activity as diners filled every seat at the bar and multiple tables in the dining room were occupied. The upstairs, which once housed many owners of the past, are now two apartments with tenants. The Harls live nearby in St. Joseph, Indiana, an unincorporated community in Vanderburgh County, with their four children Anna, William, Joseph, and Amelia.
“We have many loyal customers, but also so many of our customers come here from far away,” says Becky. “We had a couple in from Atlanta last weekend. They were here Friday, then out and about, and came back again Saturday because they wanted it again. Historic taverns like this are hard to find anymore.”
Pair an ice-cold fishbowl with the Nisbet’s most popular appetizer Beer Cheese or bierkaese. The German tradition is made with Wisconsin cheese and has an earthy, full bodied taste.
Next, order a full slab of the extra meaty Baby Back Ribs, smoked over hickory wood and sassafras lumber by Becky, and complemented by German Potato Salad.
“If it gets smoked or baked, or if it’s a soup, I make it,” says Becky, who also works with 15 part-time employees to operate the restaurant. The owners credit Bob Beaven, the bar manager, and Dana Thornburgh, a cook, who have both been with the Nisbet Inn for 11 years for their hard work and dedication.
Another popular entrée is the Nisbet Steak Sandwich with thick sliced German bologna, pepper cheese, pickle and onion, all served on grilled Texas toast. “It’s yummy,” she says.
A favorite soup is the Rib Gumbo, which was concocted using leftover rib shavings. The Southern Louisiana stew is made with onion, green peppers, celery, and tomato.
Becky also is the chef behind two homemade desserts — the Better Than Robert Redford, made with cream cheese, sugar, chocolate and vanilla puddings, chopped nuts, and a walnut crust, and a coconut cream pie.
The restaurant’s menu is so extensive — with smoked chicken, pork chops, ham, tilapia, barbecue, burgers, and more — that Becky and Jim have considered trimming an item or two.
“Every time I think about cutting something from the menu, I can’t find anything to take off. It’s all good,” she says.
Location: 6701 Nisbet Road, Haubstadt, IN
Dining and Bar Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tues.-Sat.; noon to 7 p.m. second Sunday of the month with a limited menu.
Adult Beverages: Yes
Payment: All major credit cards accepted.