German heritage revived at Ye Olde Trail Tavern
Story and photos by Ashley Bunton
Ye Olde Trail Tavern in Yellow Springs is one of the oldest taverns in Ohio.
The original log cabin sits at 228 Xenia Ave. along State Route 68. Built in 1827, the tavern’s history is reflected in its worn wooden tables and custom benches and rustic knick-knacks along the walls beneath an exposed beam ceiling.
The tavern even has a few ghost legends to go along with it. According to local legends, an apparition known as the Blue Lady has made appearances over the decades in the the nearly 200-year-old building.
Without seeing a ghost, the tavern’s historic presence can also be seen throughout its German-American menu: die Vorspeise (hors d’oeuvres), Salat und Suppe (salad and soup), Seitenteil (side items) include homemade German potato salad, potato soup, sauerkraut and kraut balls, and bier cheese and pretzel paired with sandwiches like corned beef, goetta, Reubens and traditional breaded pork schnitzel.
The inspiration behind the German menu is drawn from a man who expanded the building into what it is today.
According to current owner Christine Monroe-Beard, a 19th century German immigrant named Francis Martin Hafner purchased the plot of land, the log cabin, and a separate house in Yellow Springs and then moved the house onto the plot of land beside the cabin.
Today that house sits as the front entrance to the tavern, and inside is where the bar is located. When visitors come into the front entrance of the tavern on Xenia Avenue, they must take a couple steps up into the building. Past the bar, patrons must step down one step to enter the log cabin, which is the main dining room of the tavern.
Hafner lived and worked as a baker by trade and once he died the building was opened as a restaurant and leased to different people over the years. It’s changed hands a few times, with Monroe-Beard herself just taking over ownership of the tavern in January 2017.
She said that the front of the tavern — the house — had been moved by Hafner from its original location in what is now Glen Helen Nature Preserve. The house, said Monroe-Beard, belonged to a wealthy pig farmer in Cincinnati who used it as his summer house extending invitations to well-off friends and visitors from far away who came to experience the rumored healing benefits of the “yellow spring.”
“We thought it would be nice for the menu to take on a German feel to pay homage to the tavern’s history and Hafner,” said Monroe-Beard. “And, it’s hard to find any German-style food in this area.”
Not anymore. Monroe-Beard created the tavern’s German-American menu upon taking ownership of the building. She makes traditional cabbage rolls served as a special on Wednesdays. Popular on the menu are brats covered with sauerkraut on a pretzel bun served with mustard and sides of homemade cole slaw, mashed potatoes or sidewinder fat fries.
Hofbrau is the tavern’s most popular brew and Monroe-Beard said it’s always on the bar’s tap, along with seven other beers, some of which rotate. Ohio-brewed Warped Wing (Dayton) and Rhinegeist (Cincinnati) are two local breweries that are popular with the tavern’s customers.
Sometime near St. Patrick’s Day this year Monroe-Beard said she will debut German street fair dishes to the menu that will include German doner kebabs made with chicken, beef, lamb or falafel.
“In Germany, in the 1980s, they had an influx of Turkish people so it’s this combination of Turkish and German cuisine,” said Monroe-Beard. “A doner kebab is like this big pita and it’s purple cabbage and green cabbage and lettuce, red onion, tomato, cucumber … it’s kind of like a gyro but more. It’s what they call doner meat, which is a lot like kebab meat. It’s basically gyro meat but with all of the extra fixings and sauce. You either have a yogurt-based white sauce or a spicy red sauce. Each kebab shop always has its own signature special sauce so yeah, we will.”
Aside from German cuisine, the tavern serves cheeseburgers, specialty pizzas, and has changed its spaghetti special to being served once a week Thursdays.
Ye Olde Trail Tavern
228 Xenia Ave., Yellow Springs
Open daily 11-10 p.m.; closes at 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays April-September
Visit oldetrailtavern.com to see what they’re cooking.