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Billy's Corner Bar & Grill re-opens in Vergas

After 77 days of locked doors and dark windows, Billy's Corner Bar and Grill in Vergas is opening back up.

Thursday, the historic spot on the corner will once again see the busy summer hustle and bustle it's experienced since the late 1800s.

Fire destroyed the first building in 1918, with the current building being erected in 1928.

Since then, names, faces and ownership have changed a few times (including the 1990 name change when Vergas man Billy Day bought it) but it appears to be a place townspeople refuse to let die.

One of those people is new owner Kurt Sleen and his son, Jordan Sleen, who will manage the business and daughter Vanessa Sleen, who will work as the assistant manger.

Together, the family fully intends to open the bar and grill back up the way they remember it years ago.

"We just want to get it back to the way it was --the more old-time, nostalgic feeling," said Vanessa, who worked at Billy's a few years back when it was owned by the original Billy Day's son, Brian Day and his wife, Shelly.

"But about five years ago it they sold it contract for deed, but it was foreclosed on and so it ended up going back to Brian and Shelly," said Jordan Sleen, who had once been a manager for the Days and had worked as a bartender under the most recent owners.

When Billy's shut its doors on April 5, Jordan didn't just lose his bartending job, but the entire community felt it.

"We've had people from other businesses in town tell us that things have been way down for them too, since Billy's closed," said Vanessa.

Puzzled motorcyclists were seen driving by the darkened building -- a spot that has always been a favorite pit stop for them.

But when Jordan heard that the Days were planning on selling the place only a few weeks ago, he quickly recruited his father and sister.

"I pretty much knew right away that I wanted to do it because we had talked about buying a bar a few years ago," said Kurt, a retired construction worker who now operates his own small farm west of Vergas.

It took only three days and the Sleens were the proud new owners of Billy's Corner Bar and Grill.

And although the three of them knew there was a great deal of cleaning and repairs to make on the place, they quickly realized they weren't alone.

"The community got together and donated a bunch of stuff to put up on the walls," said Jordon, adding that the previous owners had cleaned almost everything out, "except the mounts on the walls because they belong to community members," he said.

The Sleens say people in Vergas also donated time and effort to do repairs to the old building.

"It's the kind of place where either everybody knows you or they're related to you," smiled Kurt, as Vanessa added, "I think pretty much everybody in this town has worked here at some time too," she laughed.

This small town bar where 'everybody knows your name' is still home to the same old, original bar from its 1928 open ... the same elk its had on the wall since then ... and the same small-town feel it's undoubtedly had for generations.

"And it's going to stay the same, except we plan on changing up the menu just a little," said Jordan, who says they'll be eliminating some of the more time-consuming menu items that slowed down the kitchen.

"We're concentrating on making the food quicker and really getting back to good hospitality," said Jordan, who says they get their meat ground fresh daily from Ketter's Meat Market & Locker in Frazee.

"And our buns are made fresh every day too -- that's what Billy's is known for ... the burgers," said Jordan.

They're also recruiting back some of the bars old employees, who may have worked there as recently as when it closed to five to 10 years ago.

The Sleens are also planning on getting all the usual activities back, including bingo, poker, trivia, dart leagues and live entertainment.

"I know that's something everybody here really likes ... always having something to do," said Jordan.

Billy's Corner Bar and Grill swings its doors back open to the public Thursday at 11 a.m.; closing time is 2 a.m.