Traer’s Junkyard Bar marks one year in business

Halstead family reflects on St. Patrick’s Day

The Junkyard Bar bar manager Madonna Madorin listens to a customer as she works behind the bar on March 17, 2022 – Saint Patrick’s Day – on the one year anniversary of the business her daughter Channing Halstead and son-in-law Martin Halstead opened in downtown Traer. –Photo by Soren M. Peterson

Any novice small town bar owner who would purposefully choose to open the doors to their establishment for the first time on Saint Patrick’s Day might be called a lot of things including adventurous, intrepid, and maybe even brilliant – it’s Saint Patrick’s Day, a day of indulgence! – but the word ‘dedicated’ is the one that matters the most to Channing Halstead, one half of the ownership of downtown Traer’s The Junkyard Bar which celebrated its first anniversary this past Saint Patrick’s Day.

“We approached it as an investment and we’re giving something to the community because we really like it here,” Channing said of her and her husband Martin Halstead’s decision to relocate to Traer from the Van Horne area several years ago, purchase the building located at 538 Second Street in downtown Traer in early-2020, and then renovate the former bar space completely before reopening as The Junkyard Bar on March 17, 2021.

“We’ve always been welcomed and supported [in Traer],” Channing continued, “so it was kind of one of those things – it’s not like we’re making a whole lot of money here – it’s for the community.”

Both Channing and her husband – neither of whom had ever owned or operated a bar before – have full time jobs outside the bar. Halstead has been employed as North Tama’s junior high/high school music teacher for over a decade while Martin owns and operates Halstead Doors, a residential and commercial garage door sales and service company.

In addition to being the parents of two young children – Stella and Gabe – Channing also works as the North Tama High School girls volleyball coach and helps facilitate the off-season North Tama AAU club volleyball program along with her mother, coach Madonna Madorin.

Channing Halstead (center) works behind the bar on December 3, 2021, at her business The Junkyard Bar in downtown Traer. –Photo by Ruby F. Bodeker

It’s not like Channing and her family were in desperate need of one more thing to add to their to-do lists, but it had long been a dream of Martin’s, Channing said, to own a bar.

“When [Martin and I] first started dating, he mentioned once in passing that he wanted to own a bar someday and I was like, whatever, never happening,” Channing said. “[Years later] we moved to Traer, and Martin was talking about wanting to buy a building … we were approached with this one and it was a pretty good price and we were like, well, why not? Martin had always said he had wanted to own a bar.”

Despite the building having previously been a bar – complete with a front kitchen – the building was completely gutted when the Halsteads took over ownership in the late spring of 2020. The plan was to begin work on the space quickly.

But cue August 10, 2020 – the day the Midwest Derecho, one of the costliest severe thunderstorm events in U.S. history, tore through Iowa – and the Halsteads’ plans changed in an instant.

“We were literally in [the building] when the derecho went through,” Channing said. Both she and Martin had been standing in their new, empty space working with a contractor to come up with a plan for the new bar when the hurricane-force winds descended.

Stella Halstead (right) smiles as her brother Gabe Halstead (left) plays with the letters in a sign displayed in their parents’ business, The Junkyard Bar located at 538 Second Street in downtown Traer on Friday, March 11, 2022. The bar recently celebrated its one year anniversary. –Photo by Soren M. Peterson

Being the owner of a garage door company, Martin quickly found himself inundated with post-derecho work which meant the building’s renovation got pushed back.

Fast forward to today – a year on from its opening – and the bar is an extremely popular place in Traer particularly among those who like to watch North Tama high school sports and Iowa athletics on the big screen.

While Channing and Martin own the business, Channing’s mother Madonna works as the bar manager and “does 90 percent of the work,” Channing said.

The space is best described as modern industrial with exposed brick walls, metal furnishings and decorative elements, and pretty colored twinkle lights illuminating both vintage and new items the Halsteads have collected from various breweries across Iowa and the upper Midwest.

Although the bar does not have a full kitchen, they do serve appetizers including cheese balls, onion rings, mozzarella sticks, fried poppers, french fries, pizza, and more using an air fryer and a pizza oven.

The entrance to The Junkyard Bar located in downtown Traer pictured on Wednesday, March 16, 2022. The front sidewalk was chalked in bar manager Madonna Madorin’s whimsical style in preparation for the business’s one year anniversary celebration slated for the next day, St. Patrick’s Day. –Photo by Soren M. Peterson

In terms of alcohol, the most requested is the Iowa favorite Busch Lite, Madonna said. Several popular beer brands are also stocked in the cooler including Coors, Michelob, and Leinenkugels. Mixed drinks are available, as well as energy drinks and occasionally cookie shot cups and other specialties.

And, of course, green beer was on the menu for Saint Patrick’s Day.

The bar also features a rotation of area food trucks with five trucks already lined up for the summer months beginning in May, Channing said, including Cedar Valley Fish based out of Waterloo and Beast and Bird based out of Vinton which is owned and operated by Channing’s brother Logan Merchant.

Featuring more food trucks as well as beefing up their own food offerings is a goal for year two of the business, Madonna said.

But like any bar that stays open until “close,” there have been challenges.

The Halstead family including (l-r) Channing, Gabe, Stella, and Martin pictured in November 2021. Channing and Martin are the owners of The Junkyard Bar in downtown Traer and recently celebrated the business’s one year anniversary this past Saint Patrick’s Day. –Photo courtesy of Madonna Madorin

“Trying to get people to [not miss] the toilet and to pay their tab at 1:00 a.m.,” Channing said in all seriousness before breaking out into laughter alongside her mother.

“But the best part is getting to know the people of Traer,” Madonna said, which is something Channing wholeheartedly agrees with.

“We’ve always been pretty lucky to be well supported in [Traer],” Channing said. “We’ve always felt like we fit in.”

Asked if Martin feels equally as content in the decision to open a bar as his co-owner and bar manager do one year on from all his bar ownership dreams finally coming true, Channing laughed before cheekily responding, “Well, if he enjoys drinking beer and hanging out with his mother-in-law every night, then, yes!”

Dedication, indeed.

Traer resident Jean Novotony gives a thumbs up on Saint Patrick’s Day last week Thursday while enjoying a glass of green beer at The Junkyard Bar in downtown Traer. –Photo by Soren M. Peterson

The Junkyard Bar is located in downtown Traer at 538 Second Street in the former Sunnyside Tavern and is open regularly Thursdays and Fridays from 5:00 p.m. to close as well as Saturdays and Sundays from 12:00 p.m. to close. Check out The Junkyard Bar Facebook page for specials as well as additional hours and periodic earlier opening times.

The Junkyard Bar bar manager Madonna Madorin works behind the bar preparing a drink on March 17, 2022, Saint Patrick’s Day, the one year anniversary of the business her daughter Channing Halstead and son-in-law Martin Halstead opened in downtown Traer. –Photo by Soren M. Peterson

The Junkyard Bar bar manager Madonna Madorin chats with customers from behind the bar on March 17, 2022, Saint Patrick’s Day, the one year anniversary of the business her daughter Channing Halstead and son-in-law Martin Halstead opened in downtown Traer. –Photo by Soren M. Peterson