Facelift the latest in a long line of changes

Elmira’s only watering hole, the Central Tavern, has joined the wave of construction downtown.

Changes to the façade of the Arthur Street building had been a long time coming and all the recent activity downtown may have influenced its owner, Nagi Kulafofski, to join in on the fun.

LIGHTER AND BRIGHTER The Central Tavern’s Lori Page in front of the new façade, the latest change to a building with a long history in downtown Elmira.
LIGHTER AND BRIGHTER The Central Tavern’s Lori Page in front of the new façade, the latest change to a building with a long history in downtown Elmira.

“I wanted to do it for quite some time. I just figured it was time for a facelift, and with all the other things going on in town I thought it was a good time to do it,” he explained.

The changes to the front wall of the building have given it larger windows and a more contemporary look, said Kulafofski.

Even with the makeover, however, the building still maintains its early- to mid-twentieth century vibe.

The building has a long and varied history in town, having served a number of purposes since its initial construction in the 1860s. The original building that stood at 30 Arthur St. S. was built by Conrad Rau and consisted of a hotel, bar, stable and workshop. The Dominion Hotel stood in the block at which the Central Tavern, Tien Lee, and William Knells are currently located. In the 1890s the saloon was purchased by Thomas O’Donnell and its name was changed to the “O’Donnell House” some time in the 1890s.

A fire destroyed the hotel located on the corner of Church and Arthur Street in 1898, as well as a number of neighboring buildings, but did not fell the O’Donnell House.

But prohibition and another fire eventually destroyed the establishment; in 1919 a new owner, Albert Gents, rebuilt it.

Due to prohibition, however, the new building was re-opened as a grocery store. This is the same building that still stands today. Local lore reports that one could still procure a drink during the prohibition days with a secret knock to get into the “back room.” Alcohol was made legal again in 1927 and the grocery store was converted back into a bar and the “Gentz Hotel” was born.

Under new ownership, the building was completely renovated a few years later and the front façade remained virtually intact until the most recent facelift last month. In 1946 the bar changed its name to the Central House, again under new ownership. Several more proprietors purchased the bar in the successive decades and in the late 1960s a rear addition was added, including new men’s and ladies’ bathrooms – the original men’s room in the front was retained, which is why there are two  men’s and only one ladies’ bathroom.

The Central Tavern came to be owned by Azem Kulafofski in 1988. In 1992 Kulafofski renovated the bar area and installed a modern solid oak bar that still stands today. Kulafofski conducted business with the help of his family until 1994, when his son and present owner Nagi Kulafofski took over.

In 2002 the patio was added at the rear of the building when the Region of Waterloo introduced a smoking ban. While that smoking ban saw a number of competing businesses in the area fold, the Central Tavern persevered to this day.

“We’ve been in the business for quite a while. We’re not new,” said Kulafofski, noting that experience and location may have helped the watering hole survive so many changes over the years.

“I think the location that we have helps quite a bit.”

Prior to last month’s renovations, in 2005 all three bathrooms were gutted, renovated and modernized.

The most recent renovation has already proved popular with its patrons, said Kulafofski.

“It’s amazing the response we’ve got. Everybody’s coming up to me saying that they really like the change.”

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