LAKE LEMON — Eight years ago, brothers Tom and Robert Sands bought the Port Hole Inn because they wanted to keep the local treasure where it’s been hidden for decades.
This year, the restaurant and bar is celebrating its 60th anniversary of serving up food and fun for Lake Lemon residents and visitors.
“It’s sort of like a little hidden gem out in the middle of nowhere, but once people find it and realize the camaraderie and atmosphere and how fun it is in there and how nice the people are, I think that’s probably what appeals to people the most,” Tom Sands said.
“I have all walks of life walk in there, and you get to have a beer with anybody.”
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Tom Sands moved to Lake Lemon in 1988 and built a cabin in 1989. The brothers bought the Port Hole from Karen and Richard Hollcraft, who had owned it for about 26 years.
One change they made was adding a pier, so you can either park your car or motorcycle out front or your boat out back.
“(It) brings in a lot business from lake — people being able to obviously come from the lake, hop off and come to the Port Hole. That’s never ever happened. That’s been a huge add-on,” he said.
They also opened up the bar to make more room in the family dining area; and they brought in different foods and beers, like barbecue pork, ribs and steaks from local Indiana farms. Adding outdoor dining is also in the plans.
The Port Hole Inn is probably best known for its catfish. Former owner John Hays added it to the menu decades ago, Tom said.
“We’ve got people coming from Muncie or Anderson just to come eat our catfish,” managing owner Deana Kohen said.
Pizza was added to the menu with the help of former managing partner owner Travers Marks, who owned Max’s Pizza in Bloomington.
The Sands brothers also built a cabin behind the Port Hole Inn that visitors can rent through Airbnb.com.
Two years ago, Kohen, her husband Joel and Donny Knopp became managing partner owners. Deana has been working at the Port Hole for nine years and Donny has been there for 16. After the two-year contract is up, the three will have the opportunity to take everything over from the Sands brothers, Tom said.
“They are great people who come down there and drink and have fun. It’s my favorite place. It’s close to my home and it’s a great place to be,” Deana said.
“If you’re boating, come back in eat and drink, have fun.”
The Port Hole Inn also features live music on Fridays and Saturdays with no cover charge. Shows begin at around 8 p.m. and depending on the time of the year, they can go until midnight.
The live music definitely is a draw for customers, Tom said. It can be anything from country to rock to bluegrass to jazz, Tom said.
“We support local talent,” Deana said.
Locals, the atmosphere and having a spot on the lake are what’s kept the business open for 60 years, Deana and Tom said.
“You’ll have a good time, especially the regulars. The local lake people come every weekend and support us very much,” Deana said.
Photos of smiling faces holding up drinks, plates full of catfish and people dancing to live bands are some of the images captured on the Port Hole Inn’s Facebook page.
“People come there and have a good time. They tell everybody else. It’s reasonably priced. It’s not too cheap and it’s not too expensive,” Tom said.
On Friday nights you’ll likely to find 20 or 30 locals sitting at the bar or at a table enjoying or dancing to live music. Saturdays are more of a mixture of out-of-town visitors and locals, Deana said.
“If they walk in and we know what they’re drinking we’ve got it ready as soon as we see them pull in,” Deana said.
“It’s pretty much a ‘Cheers’ atmosphere,” Tom said. “That’s a good way to describe it. Everybody knows your name.”
In 1957, Nick Innan opened Nick’s Italian Villa where he served Italian food and ice cream. His family lived in the spot where a rental cabin stands now behind the Port Hole Inn, owner Tom Sands said.
John Hays and his wife, along with Leon and Etta Benson, bought the establishment from Innan in 1973, the Bensons’ granddaughter, Jodi Boyd, said.
Leon Benson is the one who named it the Port Hole Inn when it opened in 1974. He was a cook in the United States Navy, Boyd said.
Boyd said she remembers her grandparents and the Hayses hanging up photos in the Port Hole Inn when she was young. There is also picture of Boyd sitting on the Port Hole Inn bar with her first birthday cake, she said. Children and grandchildren from both sets of owners all took their turns working at the Port Hole Inn, Boyd said.
Under that ownership, the now famous catfish was added to the menu. That is also when the business received a three-way liquor license, allowing the Port Hole Inn to serve beer, wine and liquor.
Hays took over complete ownership in the 1980s when he bought Leon and Etta’s shares, Boyd said.
According to an advertisement in the Brown County Democrat that ran in 1981, the Port Hole Inn had live music on Friday and Saturday nights when Hays was the sole owner.
Richard and Karen Hollcraft bought the Port Hole Inn from Hays and ran it for 26 years.
The Hollcrafts sold it to the Sands brothers eight years ago under the umbrella of Sand and Sand Properties.
“We bought it as a way to keep the property and liquor license at Lake Lemon, because we didn’t want somebody to sell it off,” Sands said.
A fire in 2007 almost destroyed the Port Hole Inn when the Hollcrafts owned it. “They rebuilt it to where it is now, pretty much, and we’ve just kind of cleaned it up from there,” Sands said.
Location: 8939 East South Shore Drive, Lake Lemon
Hours: Mondays, closed; Tuesdays through Thursdays, 4 to 9 p.m.; Fridays, 2 p.m. to midnight; Saturdays, noon to midnight; Sundays, noon to 10 p.m.
Online: Search “Port Hole Inn” on Facebook or visit PortHoleInn.com. A menu is available on the website. Check Facebook for live music schedules.