If you’ve ever gone to a bar and ordered a shot of Angostura® Bitters, we can bet you have a funny story about how the bartender or server looked at you when you asked for the uncommon shot. If you never have, you may be missing out! Either way, you can be sure you have a seat waiting for you at Nelsen’s Hall & Bitters Pub, located on beautiful Washington Island in northern Wisconsin.
Owners Robin Ditello & Doug Delaporte and their staff love serving upwards of 10,000 shots of Angostura Bitters every year. But why? The original owner of the bar was a man by the name of Tom Nelsen – a man who loved Angostura Bitters. “Tom Nelsen drank a pint a day – that’s 16 shots,” says Ditello. “He lived until he was 90.” So, when Nelsen’s nephew Gunnar inherited the bar after his uncle’s passing, he began serving up shots of Bitters to patrons which got the Club started. Ditello & Delaporte have kept that tradition going since they took over the bar in 1999.
Did we mention this awesome little place is also the oldest legally continuously running tavern in Wisconsin? This is because Nelsen wasn’t about to close when Prohibition (1920 – 1933) hit. Instead, he applied for a pharmacist license in order to dispense bitters as a “stomach tonic for medicinal purposes.” Even though it really does help with some ailments, Angostura is still 90 proof – so we’re sure it was used for more than just to cure stomach aches.
How do you join the Bitters Club, you ask? Simple. Just let one of the super friendly bartenders know you’d like to join and they’ll pour you a dark shot of Angostura aromatic bitters then issue you a Bitters Club member card which reads: “This certifies that [new member’s name] has taken “the Cure” by consuming the prescribed medication of bitters and as such is a fully initiated member of the BITTERS CLUB. You are now considered a full-fledged islander and are entitled to mingle, dance, etc. with all the other Islanders.” It’s only official when the bartender dips their thumb into the empty shot glass to mark the Bitters Club card with an Angostura thumbprint.
Next, you’re invited to sign the book – a log of all those who have joined the Bitters Club and their short stories about where they’re from and why they came to visit. All previous books have been saved and are safely stored in the owners’ office.
During our visit, we met many regulars and visitors, including a foursome: two of which had returned to “renew their vows” to the Bitters Club, and two of them joined for the first time that day. One of the regulars worked at the lumberyard and insisted on drinking Angostura bitters neat. We met a man who goes by the name of “Trouble” and found that he and the bar owners are quite good friends due to the amount of times he and his girl, Pam, have visited. Another man we met was a former bartender at Nelsen’s and told us some stories – stories that you’ll have to hear yourself when you go. One thing’s for sure: you simply must put visiting this great pub on your “to do” list!