On April 25, the fourth anniversary of Hart's Corner Bar & Restaurant reopening on the corner of Mississippi and Sheridan Boulevard, I drove past the old roadhouse — hailed as Lakewood's oldest business — and saw that it had gone dark again, ninety years after it first opened. Over the decades the place has gone through a number of transformations, from the original root-beer stand to a barbecue joint/gas station in the '30s, to diner-style restaurant in the '50s, then to a biker bar and nightclub.
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One of the stops made by stagecoaches, wagons and travelers on horseback was the Old Store's place, Westfield Farm, on the southwest corner of the Sheridan-Mississippi intersection. Because this primitive trail was one of the early routes into present day Lakewood, it gave the intersection of South Sheridan and West Mississippi historical significance. In 1908, Leo Hart and Lena Fischer married and in the early 1920s they bought property on the north side of Morrison Road and South Sheridan Blvd. Hart turned the old root beer stand into a small restaurant and called it Hart's Corner. Built in 1924, this vernacular wood frame structure had additions added on until 1950. The bar and restaurant is an irregular plan, 56' long and 48' wide, with a hipped roof. Deciding to cater to the cars as well as the motorists, Hart's installed four gas pumps in front of the eatery around 1926. By 1929 he was earning a comfortable living and bought 90 acres of land which extend south to Louisiana Avenue to build a brick house. He also put up a grocery store across from his restaurant, with eight cabins with garages for the tourist trade. These later were expanded to 16. Hart also had a 1,000 foot deep well drilled which supplied his home and business with pure water....Leo Hart died in 1939 and Tommy Hart operated the family business until his death in 1978.
That's when the Moustos family bought the building. And in 2011, they took it back over from the couple that had been leasing it. "We spent the last three months tenderly bringing this back to the way it was," Nick Moustos, who'd managed Hart's Corner form 1978 to 1980, told us right before Hart's reopened on April 25, 2011. "We're just bringing it back to what it was: a family gathering place, where families would come in with their kids and feel comfortable. And that's what it's going to be."
For a while at least; old photos on the wall documented the various stages of the spot, and regulars would gather to eat dinner and listen to the fancy new jukebox. But then the Moustos passed the place on to new owners, and it began collecting police reports. Lots of police reports, as well as liquor-license violations. One evening a few nights before I last stopped in, one customer bit off a piece of another customer's ear. In February 2014, a man was shot outside the bar. The last Facebook post was made on August 2014, when the owners surrendered the liquor license rather than face a hearing, and the place has been closed up tight since then. It's back with the Moustos family, its next phase uncertain.
But one thing is certain: In a town where institutions are quickly disappearing, the ninety-year-old Hart's should beat again.