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2009 story: 'The best kept secret in Cottage Grove'

Betty Schultz has owned The Boondocks Bar and Grill on Lamar Avenue in Old Cottage Grove since 1987. Last week she was honored for her work at the more than 70-year-old establishment with a historic preservationist award by the city. (Bulletin photo by Jon Avise)

Ask Betty Schultz if she's a historic preservationist and she'll answer with a quick shake of her head -- no.

She'll tell you she's just a Cottage Grove bar owner, just doing what she's done for 22 years: showing up at 8 a.m. and leaving when the customers are gone; serving up beers and burgers and a place for neighbors to converse at The Boondocks Bar and Grill.

That's all good enough for Cottage Grove's historic preservation advisory committee and the city council, which awarded Schultz the Preservationist of the Year Award last week.

It came as a shock to Schultz -- she's just happy to keep running the establishment that she has owned since 1987, and that has been around since it opened as Bahl's Tavern in the 1930s.

"I feel good keeping it up," Schultz said last week while showing off her historic preservation plaque and the Betty Boop dolls that will have to be moved to make room for it behind the bar. "I have a good time at it. I have regular customers, so that's good."

It's been out there for what seems like forever, The Boondocks has, ensconced on a sleepy stretch of Lamar Avenue in Old Cottage Grove. It sits with its stark white 'BOONDOCKS' painted above the front door, seemingly oblivious to the suburban sprawl just a few miles away.

Schultz isn't sure any of those new Cottage Grove residents have any idea her more than 70-year-old bar and grill is even there. And she isn't sure she wants that to change.

"I don't know," she pondered, sitting at a picnic table in the bar's leafy back yard. "I just don't know."

Boondocks is a neighborhood bar like thousands of others -- a handful of domestic beers on tap behind the old wooden bar, regulars gathering for tacos and beers on Fridays, old Schmidt and Pig's Eye beer signs hanging out front.

But in a city where old has been rapidly replaced by new over decades of growth, it's a last bastion of a quainter, quieter Cottage Grove.

The award, senior city planner John Burbank said, is about more than buildings, places or people. The tavern Schultz operates has a historical social importance worth recognizing, he said.

And to Old Cottage Grovers like Theresa Fritze-Nelson and her parents, Wally and Karen, who have been frequenting the place for years, it's unimaginable to think of Cottage Grove without the place.

"This is the heart of the Old Cottage Grove community," Fritze-Nelson said on a sweltering afternoon that saw Schultz kept busy refilling cold beers for 10-or-so customers. "It's the gathering place. It's the way to stay connected."

That's most evident in the morning, Schultz said, when more than a dozen regulars stop by for coffee, cinnamon rolls and conversation. And it's apparent on autumn Sundays, when football fans gather for Vikings games, bowls of Schultz's chili and buckets of bottled beer.

Still, despite the history, despite the half-pound homemade hamburgers and cheap, cold beer, the crowds aren't big out at the old bar on Lamar Avenue.

"I'm the best kept secret in Cottage Grove," Schultz said of her piece of living Cottage Grove history.

And that's just fine with her.