Shannon Russell remembers going to Colonel Hart's with her family after basketball games.

She was in middle school then, completely unaware the neighborhood bar and restaurant would one day be hers.

In fact, even when she started working there in her mid-20s, she had no inkling she was even interested in that kind of professional life.

'I didn't want to be in the business immediately,' Russell admitted. 'But I enjoyed it greatly.'

So, after a few years, and a few daydreams of opening her own place, Russell asked about buying her own little share.

The rest is local watering hole history.

And Russell, now mid-30s and expecting her first child, said she feels lucky to be part of a line that stretches back to the 1970s, when the bar opened as Pep's Place.

It became Colonel Hart's in 1985, a name Pat Modl kept when he bought it in 2004.

'It's a village bar,' Russell said. 'These days, everything has a kitschy theme. But we're definitely the neighborhood bar. It's a family atmosphere during the day. You can show up at 6 o'clock on a Friday night and get a fish fry. Some people joke and say it's like Cheers, because it's rare if you don't know the name of every person at the bar. But, even if they don't, you're going to be welcomed. It is kind of like a family.'

A family that includes nearly a dozen employees, some of whom have been there longer than Modl and Russell.

'I think it says something about the whole establishment,' Russell said. 'I'm sounding corny, but we've all worked together for so long and with the same customers for so long — you get so comfortable with everybody. It's just so interesting the way it all comes together to make this experience.'

The only down side seems to be figuring out how to share that experience with new customers.

'There is an ability to do more things online, but I'm not good at that,' Russell said. 'I'm trying to get all the limes cut for the day, so I forget to go on Facebook. We don't tweet. But social media has changed the way people go out. People don't just find bars anymore.'

Especially without a sign, a giant relic Modl and Russell took down several years ago to make room for more patio seating.

'We could get two more tables by taking it down,' Russell laughed.

Technically, a small sign on the side of the building does light the path to the out-of-the-way bar. But, Russell said, no one ever notices it.

Not like they used to.

'When we had the sign, no one noticed if it was off. And, now, we don't have a sign and people say, 'Where's your sign? You need a sign.' But we're here. You'll find us if you're looking for us.'


BUSINESS: 7342 W. State St.

PHONE: (414) 476-3070

CO-OWNERS: Pat Modl and Shannon Russell


TYPE OF BUSINESS: bar and restaurant

PEARLS OF WISDOM: 'I always joke about us being Tosa's best kept secret because we're kind of hidden away.'

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