James Ritty, the inventor of the first cash register, opened the Pony House Restaurant in 1882 when a stein of beer was a nickel and a bucket cost 15 cents.
The inventor commissioned woodworkers for the Barney & Smith Car Company, a Dayton manufacturer of railroad cars, to carve a bar for his Dayton establishment on South Jefferson Street. Today that bar stands as the centerpiece of Jay’s Restaurant in the Oregon Historic District.
Crafted from 5,400 pounds of Honduras mahogany, according to the restaurants’ historical narrative, the 32-foot-long bar has a storied past.
History has it the frontiersman and showman Buffalo Bill Cody burst through the saloon doors on horseback and rode up to the bar and legendary gangster John Dillinger, a regular at the establishment, added to the patina.
The Pony House transitioned through the years from a saloon to the Pony House Stag Hotel and then to the Pony House Restaurant and Café before it closed in 1968.
The threat of a wrecking ball prompted William H. Eicher to purchase and store the massive bar he remembered from his childhood. “I had no idea what to do with the bar when I bought it,” Eicher told the Dayton Journal Herald in 1968. “I just knew I wanted to preserve it.”
Eicher’s forethought saved the heirloom for future service. The bar found a new home in a former grist mill built in the 1850s when Jay Haverstick founded his seafood restaurant in 1976.
According to Amy Haverstick, Jay’s daughter and the owner of the restaurant, her father “paid $10,000 in cash and $10,000 in credit for the bar,” which was moved to the restaurant in “500 pieces.”
“The bar is a piece of Dayton history. When you first walk into the restaurant that is the first thing you see,” Haverstick said.
Bob Moats has worked behind the bar at Jay’s for 33 years and keeps the past in mind as he tends to the restaurant’s patrons.
“I feel privileged to work here. I think about the history and all of the people who have worked behind this bar that are no longer here,” said Moats. “It reminds me of the old West, but I haven’t found any bullet holes.”
Have a seat at the bar and you’ll notice that Ritty, a sporting enthusiast, had the Barney & Smith woodworkers carve a baying hunting dog at one end. Two wide-eyed owls were sculpted across the span and a griffin, a mythological creature with the head and wings of an eagle and the body of a lion, is etched at the center.
The elegant and ornate back bar looms toward the ceiling and creates the “ambiance of the whole place,” said Moats.
The ceiling joists were notched to allow the pediment, which measures 12½ feet-tall, inside the restaurant. Ritty had his initials intertwined at the peak, and today a painting of Jay Haverstick, who died in 2009, rests below them.
Above the gleaming beveled glass that flanks two mirrors, flowers, birds and grape vines have been hand-tooled into the leather coves.
Though many colorful tales surround the bar, one is cherished by Haverstick. “My favorite story from the bar is simply all the memories I have sitting there with my dad discussing business over a good glass of wine. I always looked forward to sitting down with him after a long busy night.”