From a general store to a gas station, from a brothel to a bar, the Kelly’s Little Nipper building has been through the wringer.
Built first in 1908, Kelly’s started off as a general store. When Prohibition hit, Kelly’s kept their soda bar…and the beer. You can still see the hole in the floor where they would hide the kegs.
And the upstairs? Well let’s just say there used to be five rooms up there for the ladies.
In 1940, the building officially became Kelly’s Inn. Bar, grill, brothel and, believe it or not, church. Every Sunday, they’d close the pool table, put a blanket over the liquor and host a service for anyone who felt like coming.
But when did the Little Nipper get added in?
Well once upon a time, back in 1981, a card game was going on. Rumor has it that the man who owned the bar put it all on the line. Unfortunately for that guy, Ernie got the upperhand. Ernie’s winning night earned him enough to take over the bar.
Ernie was known to be quite the character. He hosted pool tournaments, golf tournaments, and even had a charitable streak.
Over time, Kelly’s Little Nipper became a hang out for people from the Statehouse, offered a variety of Mexican dishes and became filled with Nipper’s famous ink drawings.
At the end of Ernies reign,
Iowa banned gaming
machines in taverns and it got harder to compete with the casino. He eventually sold the building to Les Brewer and exited to the printing industry.
After bouncing around a few owners, Jeff Stark bought the business in 2016. Starting with two full time and two part-time employees, Jeff has grown the bar to a full 18 person staff, cleaned up the facade, and is continuing to build upon the basics of what Kelly’s is – a place for the community to come together, grab a bite, and enjoy a cold beer.