THE HISTORY OF NICK’S ENGLISH HUT IN BLOOMINGTON, INDIANA
Greek Goes English
In 1924, Nick Hrisomalos bought a patch of land where he constructed a small building on a quiet, brick street — Kirkwood Avenue. Three years later, the young immigrant from Rapsani, Greece, opened his self-titled restaurant, Nick’s English Hut, serving simple menu items such as egg sandwiches and fried bologna. After prohibition was repealed in 1933, Nick’s began serving beer and wine, to the consternation of certain vocal opposition groups.
While the establishment was not well constructed and had only a small rudimentary grill, its favorable location one-and-a-half blocks from campus soon attracted Indiana University faculty and students. Many of the students were war veterans who were provided an education under the G.I. Bill. These vets became some of Nick’s original regulars. Over the decades, several generations of regulars would follow. An original “town and gown” meeting place, beer, food and lively conversation became the order of the day at Nick’s.
On Nov. 14, 1949, a young woman named Ruth Collier started working for Nick as a waitress, cook, and cashier — anything that was needed. Though small in stature, Ruthie was a powerful force with customers throughout her 40 years of service.
On March 17, 1953 — the day IU won its second NCAA basketball championship — Nick passed away. He was 62. He left the management of the tavern to his wife, Katina. Their son, Frank, who was attending medical school at the time, was worried about the long hours his mother was putting in at the bar and offered its sale to a friend, Dick Barnes, in 1957. Ruthie was there to aid in the transition.
Owner of a local pizzaria, Dick continued the traditions and close relationship fostered with IU and Bloomington. His vision for Nick’s growth took shape soon after his arrival. He initiated several structural changes to the building over the next five decades:
1961 — The bar moves to the other side of the building
Late-1960s — The Attic opens
1979 — Construction of the Hump Room begins
2000 — The Hoosier Room (formerly Kleindorfer’s bowling alley) opens
While the kitchen has never moved, the food at Nick’s has evolved with the times. The menu items that have made Nick’s so popular over the years — such as pizza, stromboli, subs, and more — now includes fresh fish, organic greens, and local beef.
Original Sports Bar
“Nick’s was a sports bar before there were sports bars,” explains Nick’s manager Gregg “Raggs” Rago. In 1978, there were only three TVs that customers were glued to during IU’s basketball and football games. Currently, there are nearly 40 flatscreen TVs scattered throughout the various rooms.
Nick’s was the place to be during each of IU’s five NCAA basketball championships, as fans rushed to save seats as soon as the tavern opened and hawkishly guarded their tables throughout the day and evening. With each win, Nick’s and Kirkwood Avenue became the celebratory axis for the Hoosier nation.
In the mid-1970s, a private, beer-drinking club was established. Members were the proud owners of tin “buckets” from which they drank their brew. Each of the 120 pales was numbered, and only its owner could drink from the designated bucket. If members moved away or died, their buckets were willed to a new generation of the brigade. In the early 1980s, the Bucket Brigade became so popular Nick’s established the Attic Bucket Brigade, adding 40 more buckets. Nick’s currently sells replicas of the buckets.
Claim to Fame
Nick’s has hosted many famous celebrities over the years, including musicians Roberta Peters, Dominic Spera, Al Cobine, Stan Kenton, Henry Mancini, John Mellencamp, Bix Beiderbecke, and Hoagie Carmichael; writers and actors Kurt Vonnegut, Art Buchwald, Dylan Thomas, Ernie Pyle, Kevin Klein, and Truman Capote; as well as athletic figures Steve Kinser, Fuzzy Zoeller, Bob Knight, and the 1984 Olympic basketball team, which included Michael Jordan.
Cheers to Nick’s
Not unlike the television show Cheers, Nick’s regulars certainly know each others’ names. But Nick’s differs from its fictional counterpart thanks to the thousands of devoted alumni who return to Bloomington and the tavern — home to countless youthful memories. “It’s a place that makes you feel young again. It’s where you may have had your first kiss, met your wife, or played ‘Sink the Biz,’” says Rags. “Nick’s is a happening, an emotion, a living thing, because of the people who come back.”