Flavor on tap

Published 1:15 am Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Story by Dawn Nolan | Photography by Shannon Shank

Barboursville, West Virginia has a special place in Jason Beter’s heart. He’s lived in the small town since he was 14, and he was a member of Cabell Midland High School’s first graduating class. He also opened his first restaurant, Oscar’s Breakfast, Burgers and Brews there in February 2017. 

“It’s home,” Beter said. 

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Prior to opening Oscar’s, Beter, a married father of two, had done outside sales for State Electric Supply Company for more than a decade. 

“My oldest son [Lukas, now 25] had shown an interest in the restaurant industry, and I’d always wanted to open a restaurant,” he said. “So, we came with the concept for Oscar’s and gave it a go, and here we are five years later.”

Though he ventured outside of the village for his second restaurant, The Corner Hoagies & Hops, which he opened in August 2021 in downtown Huntington, Beter knew that Barboursville still had a lot to offer. He opened two more businesses, Orbit’s Record Shop (see story on pg. 20) and 1861 Public House there in November and December 2021. 

Orbit’s might have opened first, but Beter had the idea for 1861 brewing for a while. 

“I had been thinking for a couple years that I would like to put a little tap room/pub/bar in the Village of Barboursville — actually in the village — but I just couldn’t find a spot to do it right,” Beter said. “I was driving through one day, early last year, and I saw the for lease sign in the window of this building, and I immediately called the owner. We worked things out. It was supposed to be quick, go in and gut it, but it didn’t turn out that way. It turned into a massive undertaking.”

During the middle of 1861’s construction is when Beter said The Corner “fell into their lap.”

“That took up the bulk of our time for a few months, and then when we started back up again, we got the record store,” he said. “It all ended up falling in line at the same time, but it eventually turned out exactly how I wanted it.”

The space that 1861 occupies on Central Avenue used to house a similar establishment called Elliott’s Tavern. 

“I like history, and it was there when I was growing up, so I thought it’d be really cool to put another neighborhood bar back there.”

Beter’s interest in history also played a part in deciding on the tap house’s name.  

“Some say that the first land battle of the Civil War was in Barboursville in 1861. But even if it wasn’t the first it was one of the first so there’s some significance there,” Beter said. “And also  I’m told by multiple people that 1861 is the year that the troops started switching from Bourbon to beer because of the new German style of brewing in Pittsburgh.”

With limited bar seating and just a few tables, 1861 is cozy, which Beter said is by intentional. 

“If anybody knows the history of Oscar’s, they know that we started in a very small location, too, and I like that feel — it’s almost like it’s got an exclusivity vibe,” he said. “I mean, I obviously want everybody to come and enjoy it, but it feels like you want a neighborhood bar to feel. It’s a nice, safe, comfortable place.”

When designing the pub, Beter decided to incorporate a few different aspects — brick walls, visible ductwork and a garage door — giving the space an industrial look.

“I like things to look unique, and as we were working on it, we kept discovering pieces that I thought would be cool to incorporate,” he said. 

1861 has a full bar and offers a classic (think Cosmos and Old Fashions) and signature (the Pink Elephant, named after the Rt. 60 roadside attraction has Blanco tequila, mezcal, simple syrup, lime, pineapple and raspberry) cocktail menu along with a small selection of wine. 

“We didn’t want to go overboard on wine because Main Street on Central, which is right next door, has a really great wine selection,” Beter said.  

But what’s a pub without beer? 1861 keeps 20 beers on tap.

“They’re mostly craft, but we have some imports, too. We try to keep some German and Belgian beer,” Beter said. “Obviously, though, we support our local West Virginia breweries. If you’re serving beer here and not serving beer made here, then, in my opinion, you’re doing it wrong. I like to support anything homegrown.”

There are also domestics as well as other imports and craft beers available in bottles and cans. 

And if you’re hungry, you can pair your beverage with one of 1861’s personal pizzas. There are a few signatures; such as The Elliott, a pepperoni pizza with tomato sauce, shredded provolone and mozzarella; The Angelo, with pineapple, ham, bacon, jalapeños, tomato sauce, shredded mozzarella and provolone; and the Wing T, featuring grilled chicken, onion, buffalo sauce and blue cheese crumbles. Or, customers can fill out a card to create their own.

“Food is our background, and so I wanted more than just chips and pretzels and peanuts, but I also didn’t want an overwhelming menu,” Beter said. “I had visited a place in North Carolina the past couple summers, and I really liked their concept and how they did things. I mean, it’s by no means original to them, but they just had a simple, quick pizza menu of personal size, 10-inch pizzas that people can eat by themselves or share.”

When it came to the pizzas, affordability and timing were important. All of the pizzas, unless customers choose a cauliflower crust (an additional $3) are just $10, no matter how many toppings you select, and they come out of the kitchen in a matter of minutes. 

“I invested in rapid-fire ovens to get them out quick, and as it turned out, we made them pretty good,” Beter said. “We do have people that come, and that’s their dinner.”

One thing Beter wants to make clear, however, is that while the food is good, and families do stop in to eat there, 1861 is not a restaurant.

“There’s been some confusion that we are a restaurant, and we are not a restaurant,” Beter said. “We are a bar/pub that does serve a little bit of food, but we are not equipped to be a full-service restaurant. We can’t accommodate the volume to deliver. It was just designed as another reason for you to want to stay for another beer or hang out longer with your friends. It’s also preventing people — we get a lot of them that walk to our bar — from having to find a way to go somewhere else for food after they’ve maybe had a few drinks. We’re just trying to get people to understand that we are a bar, and while we’re completely cool with you coming in and eating pizza, we want you to understand that you’re coming to a bar to eat pizza.” 

When asked to describe the experience of opening 1861 along with two other businesses and maintaining his flagship restaurant during a pandemic, Beter summed it up in two words: “crazy” and “challenging.” 

“I felt like it was crazy, and I still feel like it was crazy. And it was challenging. But, we took on the attitude early that we were going to get through this one way or another, and we would come out better on the other side of it in spite of it all,” he said. 

And thanks to the community, they persevered. 

“Oscar’s was heavily supported during all of this by our customer base, and I can never thank the people of this area enough because they made sure that Oscar’s made it through just fine, and that, in turn, allowed growth,” Beter said. “We actually grew at Oscar’s, and that allowed us to grow outside of it and branch out a little. So, it was crazy and it was challenging, and it’s still crazy and challenging, but we made it through thanks to our community.”   

1861 Public House is located at 650 Central Avenue in Barboursville. Current business hours are: Monday-Thursday from 4–11 p.m., Friday and Saturday from noon–midnight and Sunday from noon–10 p.m. Call 304.948.6140 or find it on social media: @1861PublicHouse on Facebook and @1861ph on Instagram.