8 Wonders of Kansas cuisine

An 8 Wonder of Kansas Cuisine

Hays House 1857 Restaurant & Tavern, Council Grove

Address: 112 W. Main, Council Grove, KS 66846
Phone: 620.767.5911
Website: www.hayshouse1857.com

Open Sunday-Thursday 6 a.m.-9 p.m.; Friday-Saturday 6 a.m.-10 p.m.

The Hays House Historic Restaurant and Tavern is one of the 8 Wonders of Kansas Cuisine because it is the oldest continuously-operating restaurant west of the Mississippi River.

First opened in 1857 because of its location on the Santa Fe Trail, you can enjoy fine dining in the oldest, continuously operated restaurant west of the Mississippi River. It's a steak house that earns patrons' raves about its award-winning Chicken Fried Steak, Fried Chicken, Brisket, Ham, Pasta, and Seafood dishes. Some of its specialties include Fresh Strawberry and Peach Pies, and its own Homemade Ice Cream.

Seth Hays, town founder, and great-grandson of Daniel Boone, built a log store in 1847, and a decade later (1857) built this structure.  The primary customers then were travelers along the Santa Fe Trail. This was the main trade route to Mexico. Hays had obtained license to trade with the Indians and Mexicans.

The original structure of the Hays House was a gathering place for meals but additionally it was a district court, a mail distribution center, a popular tavern, home to bawdy theatricals, and on Sundays a sheet was used to cover the liquor bottles so that church services could be held here. Both Jesse James and General Custer are said to have consumed adult beverages here. The original bar that they would have bellied up to is now located in the Cellar.

The Cellar was originally a root cellar with a dirt floor. It was here that perishable foods were kept as cold as possible with meat hung on hooks from the hand-hewn beams. Native stone, and an earlier type of mortar make up the walls. The bricks that now cover the floor are stamped as made in Coffeyville and had been relocated from their original place on Main Street. The Cellar is now a popular gathering place for banquets and meetings.

1886 FIRE
In 1886 the structure caught on fire. As the story goes, because it was their popular tavern, the locals rallied to form a bucket brigade to successfully extinguish the fire. Only the gabled roof was claimed by the fire. The original burnt hardwood beams from that fire have now been placed in their original proximity and can be observed in the Seth Room, adjacent to the modern day Tavern. In the Seth Room, one wall also shows the hand-split Cottonwood lathe without its plaster covering.

Sometime after, the fire damaged gabled roof was replaced with a flat roof, and 10 hotel rooms were constructed on the second floor. These hotel rooms were available for let until the mid-1940's. The claw foot bathtub that all hotel guests shared is still located in the ladies restroom.

In 1974-75, Helen and Charlie Judd retired from teaching school in California to return to Council Grove, where Helen was raised, and to inherit the estate of Helen's wealthy grandparents, the Whitings. The Whitings purchased the building in 1911; they leased the restaurant to various operators over the years. The Crystal Room upstairs contains many of the family's personal collection of amazing crystal, antique dining table, and turn-of-the-century ladies accessories. Helen remarks that her grandmother was a very proper woman; so Helen continues to exchange the display of her grandmother's hats, handbags, shoes, and scarves with those her grandmother would have deemed appropriate for the given season.

This same historical structure is now also showcase to several interesting, one-of-a-kind collections including arrowheads, historical pictures, amazing antique crystal, turn-of-the-century ladies accessories, a White Buffalo, and more. Local, regional, and national artwork is also displayed and is available for sale.