Martha’s midway Tavern is a local tavern and dancehall that was established in 1924 and remains, hardly changed, today. I have a deep interest in American social history during the early to mid twentieth century, so I chose this historic treasure in Mishawaka, IN as a project with which I could challenge my research and creative web skills. The owner, Albertina, is delightful to talk to and the history of her place is entertaining and interesting. This project stems from an independent research project I completed in the summer of 2009 during which I compiled a significant number of primary sources regarding prohibition in South Bend/Mishawaka, as there was not a comprehensive collection. My research was provided to the Center for History as a beginning for a future research project on the subject of prohibition.
The original owners, Martha and Cyriel Antheunes, purchased the Midway in 1924. Located on a quiet side street in Mishawaka, it continues today, under the leadership of their daughter, Albertina. Albertina Wassenhove: Yesterday and Today Martha and Cyriel Antheunes
The neighborhood, looking east, yesterday and today.
The neighborhood, looking West, yesterday and today.
Yesterday: Prohibition was in effect, so The Midway offered a variety of items to stay in business, including chicken, soda, cigars, and near-beer. Today: Unassuming from the outside, it looks deceivingly small and one may not guess the amazing music to be discovered inside.
Today: Through the front door lies a typical local pub with dusty floors and chrome-and-leatherette stools at the original mahogany bar. But the place feels instantly friendly and homey and you can sense immediately that it has an interesting history. Yesterday: Interesting details send customers back in time, such as the original cash register still used by the bartender today.
Since Prohibition was in effect when Martha and Cyriel took over, they called it “Midway Lunch” and offered a large variety of products including chicken, soda, cigars, and near-beer in order to keep the business going. However, they did also have to sell beer and whiskey to get by. Martha’s brother and friends made ‘hooch’ for her and she would keep it in the garage behind the restaurant. Martha always wore an apron and, after determining if the requestor was a legitimate customer, she would put a glass in her apron, go to the garage to fill it, and put it back in her apron until she made sure there were no unknown customers upon her return. Albertina also tells of the day she was sitting in the dining room of the home that is attached to the bar, when an ornate wood panel fell off the wall. Startled, she told her mother that it had broken. However, Martha explained to her daughter that the panel was placed over a hollow spot in the wall in which she kept the whiskey. Yesterday: Cyriel and Martha toasting…note the apron Martha always wore to conceal glasses of beer and liquor. Today: Martha – still toasting in 1988!
Although they were not big-time bootleggers, they did occasionally brush elbows with one. Al Capone himself used to drop by the Midway. Martha is quoted in People Magazine (February 1988) as saying, “He was just like any other customer. A nice guy, nice looking and good-hearted. But then later, well…he got in that bootleg business.” After that statement, she concedes to having gotten into it “small-time,” herself, but that it was out of necessity in order to put food on their table. A group of loyal customers and friends behind the original dance hall.
Martha and Cyriel ran the lunch counter and their bootlegging business successfully from 1924 until 1930, when they were arrested on liquor law charges. The place was padlocked and they were in exile in Belgium for almost a year, when they returned to Midway, opening again as a lunch counter until Prohibition was finally repealed in 1933. The Antheunes family returns to Mishawaka after their exile in Belgium.
Once they were legally allowed to serve liquor, the Antheunes remodeled the dance hall, adding wood floors and creating the atmosphere of an outdoor Belgian beer garden. They brought in musicians from all over and ran the Midway Tavern together until Cyriel died in 1946. Martha then continued the business, with the help of her daughters Albertina and Toni, until she passed away in 1990 at the age of 91. Albertina works hard at keeping the legacy…and the blues…alive today. Stained glass inset in doors. When these doors are opened….
…you’re suddenly standing in a Belgian beer garden, listening to some of the best blues in the Midwest. The Belgian-influenced décor from Martha’s remodeling in 1933 remains today, including antique Belgian lamps.