Taproom opens in renovated, historic barn in Jackson County

The owners of Gehlen House Inn and Barn, Kari Vize (left) and her husband, Don (far right), chat Sunday with customers Rhett and Keller Coatney, of Sabula, Iowa. The historic establishment recently reopened after some renovations. PHOTO CREDIT: Dave Kettering

ST. DONATUS, Iowa — A rural Dubuque couple have given an old stone barn a new role in a Jackson County community.

Kari and Don Vize have reopened a taproom within the historic Gehlen Barn for the season in St. Donatus. The couple purchased the barn and nearby Gehlen House Inn in the summer of 2019. Both were built by Peter Gehlen, an immigrant from Luxembourg who settled in this area in 1846. The house served as a community center post office, hotel and general store.

The house and barn were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, and are included in the Village of St. Donatus Historic District.

The Vizes purchased the inn and barn at the end of July 2019.

“We were looking for some place to have a small microbrewery and saw this in the ads one Sunday and came and looked at it,” Kari said. “It’s a lot bigger than what we had originally anticipated for ourselves. We wanted more of a little mom-and-pop place.”

The Vizes changed their minds about the ideal size of their establishment due to the location of the inn and barn, the historic nature of the barn and its uniqueness.

“They don’t build things like this anymore,” Kari said. “It’s true European craftsmanship.”

The couple began renovation of the barn in the fall of 2019.

“We had water and sewer run in in the fall,” Kari said. “Then, we started the interior renovations in March of last year.”

The taproom was open from September to the beginning of December last year. Then, the couple resumed making renovations.

“We did the ceilings this winter,” Kari said. “We haven’t done structurally, other than replace some beams. There were some rotting beams and flooring. I think we replaced 17 different beams on the west side and then put different flooring down.”

The inn has six guest rooms and an apartment. The barn taproom will have 14 beers on tap.

“We’re not brewing yet,” Kari said. “We want to get all of the renovations done because when we brew we want to brew the right way. We need to have all of our time available to do that. So, now we’re featuring Iowa craft beers.”

Don Vize ran Westside Automotive in Dubuque for 33 years before selling it this year. He still works at that business, and Kari remains a mental-health counselor.

“I work in the schools a lot, so hopefully after this school year I’ll either go part time or quit completely,” she said.

That will give the couple more time to devote to the inn and taproom, including preparing for events. The barn has five rooms available for events.

We’ve got some bridal showers booked for the summer,” Kari said. “We also have several weddings booked.”

Rhett and Keller Coatney, of Sabula, Iowa, were among the taproom patrons Sunday afternoon.

“It’s a job well done,” Rhett said. “I love the construction.”

Keller saw that the taproom had opened on social media.

“We drive by here all the time so I knew we had to stop here,” she said.