Kozy’s Bar on the west end of Yankton is no stranger to the locals.

The welcoming gathering place has been there for generations. I had the opportunity to cozy up with Lawrence Kozak and his granddaughter Kristen Kozak about the transition of the business over the years. Lawrence, nicknamed Kozy years ago and now 88 years young, explained to me how the bar began.

“Well, it was waaaaaay back,” he laughs. In the 1930’s, Kozy’s uncle, Frank Kozak, opened up a gas station west of Yankton. Kozy remembers the price of gas at that time around 8-10 cents per gallon.

Frank Kozak wanted to move the station closer to Yankton, paying $75 total for the two acres of ground where Kozy’s Bar now sits. Gas at that time was sold for 10 cents per gallon. When Frank passed away in 1969, his brother Charlie took over, renting the station. Kozy purchased the property from Charlie in 1971 paying $5,000 for the two acres and the gas station. August 5, 1972, Kozy opened up Kozy’s Bar under his ownership, with the removal of the gas service. He added on the station in the early 1990’s.

Over the next 28 years that Kozy owned the bar, he also hauled water, sold cars, hauled livestock and grain. He worked night and day, but still found time to have fun. He recalls his days delivering water, before rural water lines were installed. He bought three brand new commercial water trucks for the business in 1976 from a dealer in Sioux City, setting him back $16,000 for all three trucks. His request – he wanted a red one, a white one and a blue one. He had a couple of drivers that helped him with deliveries.

The drivers would fill their trucks at the water plant in Yankton. He recalls the slow process of filling the tank, putting in one quarter at a time until the truck’s 1,500-gallon tank was full.

He recalls one winter day, they had 21 orders and the temperature outside with wind chill was a bone chilling seventy degrees below zero. Due to the extreme cold, his drivers couldn’t help that day. Kozy started on deliveries himself and he got six orders competed before calling it quits for the day.

Growing up in that area, I recall times visiting Kozy’s; the regulars would play cards together while their kids played. I asked my mom, Rose Schwarz, for a memory of Kozy’s bar.

“Kozy would greet you by your name and usually had a joke or two to tell. Sometimes, by the end of the night, everyone knew the joke by heart. Kozy is one of a kind, a friend to everyone who walked in the door.” She recalls how they played cards and sometimes played a friendly poker game. Rose was usually the only woman playing, and they actually named a game “Rosie’s game” after her, a seven card draw with 2’s wild. The same group usually played, so if they lost a few bucks, they got it back next time.

“Kozy’s was always the friendly place to go. Everyone was welcome and if you were a stranger, you weren’t one for long,” she explained.

Aside from friendly card games, Kozy would often host birthday parties. One Sunday a month, he would play polka music from 4-8 PM and he would often have country western bands as well.

Kozy himself provided great entertainment in telling the customers his jokes and stories.

I asked Kozy if he had a favorite memory. He laughed his contagious laugh and said, “Oh boy, I tell you, I could tell stories.” He explained one night, years ago, they were sleeping in his mobile home behind the property. He heard a noise outside, looked out the window and someone was trying to break in to the bar, using a crowbar to pry the front door open. Kozy stepped out on the side porch, where there was no yard light and yelled at the intruder, asking him what he was doing over there.

The intruder mumbled several things, then “BOOM!” Kozy shot his 20-gauge shotgun into the air. “I tell you what,” Kozy continues as we’re laughing, “that guy in the car, he took off and left a trench (about 6 inches deep) until he hit the concrete out there. And (the intruder), he’s hanging on the door and his feet are flying out there like this!” Kozy was laughing so hard he could hardly finish the story. This is just one of many entertaining stories in his archive.

Kozy sold the bar in June 2000 and the bar left the family for 18 years and exchanged hands twice before being bought back into the family. His granddaughter, Kristen, was thirteen when her grandpa sold the bar and she remembers how sad he was about it. He often felt regret in selling it and just couldn’t shake the sadness that it wasn’t in the family anymore.

Kristen, now in her 30’s, explains that she heard a rumor that the bar was for sale and contacted the seller. She and her boyfriend Casey Weverstad looked at the property and purchased it, surprising her grandpa with the news a week later. Kozy beams as he explains that the news made him feel. “Good! Yeah, they did a wonderful thing for me.”

Kristen explains that it took about a year to reopen the bar as they did some major renovations to the inside of the place, tearing out the walls, floor and ceiling. Though her grandpa was apprehensive about the changes taking place, he does like the way it turned out. They joke about how he got the shingles during the renovation from being so stressed out about the changes.

Kristen explains that pretty much everything with the bar has changed since her grandpa owned it. “It’s just crazy how times have changed in that period of time.” Cost of a beer went from 25 cents per can to $3.00 over the years. Kozy recalls selling quarts of beer for 50 cents. When Kozy owned the bar, he had one room converted to a bunkhouse, to keep those who shouldn’t drive off the road. Though the bunkhouse is now gone, Kristen keeps customers off the roads if needed with their van service that will pick them up and take them home.

Some things haven’t changed, the charm of those running the bar and the welcoming atmosphere are still the same. They still offer live music three to four times per month, though the music is geared toward the new generation; polka dances are a thing of the past. Kristen explains that there are about a dozen regulars from around the area that still come in, even though they’re a bit older. Some of the “kids” that Kristen grew up with stop in, now they’re adults like her.

Kozy is still a daily visitor to the bar, this time as a guest. He enjoys talking with the customers and telling his stories. His regular spot is at the West end of the bar, sitting in the same spot as he and his wife sat at for years. Kristen even kept that section of the bar top from the old bar just for her grandpa to sit at.

Kristen explains what surprised her the most. “The amount of people and support I had.” She was surprised that, with no liquor license, sales went so well when they opened. The most challenging was getting the food for their menu figured out and gauging how much to order.

If she had to do it over again, she wouldn’t change a thing. She smiles, “I think it’s going pretty well. Way better than I ever thought.” She and her grandpa both agree that the best part of the business are the people.

She invites you to stop in to meet some friendly people or listen to some live music on a band night. You can find them on Facebook under “Kozy’s Bar.” They open at 3:00 PM Monday through Friday and at noon on weekends. The bar closes in the evening whenever the crowd leaves.

As I sit with Kozy and Kristen, I can see the similarities that run through the family. One thing I see for certain, Kozy’s Bar still has its welcoming charm and fun atmosphere. It’s run by family and when you walk in the front door, you feel like family.