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Oldest bar in Athens has been in operation for more than 100 years

Morris Wein / For The Post

While spending the usual Saturday night out on the town, watching students slur their words, dance on tables and make general fools of themselves, it is easy to forget the rich history that lies within the sticky floorboards of Athens’ bars.

Many bars on Court Street have been around for decades, but of all of them, The CI has been open the longest, according to records at the Southeast Ohio History Center.

Originally referred to by its full name, the College Inn, the CI was founded by Steve G. Tatalos in 1917, making the bar just over 100 years old. The dainty old college bar has seen more history than the majority of people living today.   

“They would have seen a lot of changes,” Jessica Cyders, curator and assistant director of the Southeast Ohio History Center, said. “They would have seen things like the end of Prohibition, the Great Depression, the changes of the 1960s and ‘70s and a lot of changes at OU.”


The CI in 1979. (Provided via Phil Zarney)

Tatalos opened his restaurant-bar one year after moving to Athens from Turkey. He was 16 years old.

“In the 1940s, actually earlier than that, you see a lot of Greek families coming in to Athens and a lot of them owned restaurants,” Cyders said.

Given that Turkey is so close to Greece, Cyders believes Tatalos was part of a larger migration of Southeastern Europeans who moved to Athens in the early 1900s.

Tatalos owned and operated the College Inn for 50 years. He died on Dec. 18, 1969, two years after his retirement.

After a change in several owners, the College Inn was shortened to The CI in the 1960s. At about the same time, many fires were happening on Court Street, a darker side of Athens’ history.

“Athens saw a lot of fires uptown, especially in the ‘60s and ‘70s,” said Cyders. “But The CI is one of the only bars that — knock on wood — has not had a major fire.”

Those fires throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s were mostly due to faulty wiring throughout the older buildings on Court Street. The building The CI is in has been around since the 1820s, but it did not fall victim to old wiring.

The CI’s owner, Don Pepper, started working at the bar in 1976, while he studied organizational communication at Ohio University.

“I started as a bar back in 1976, started running it in 1979, bought it in 1979,” Pepper said.

Pepper enjoys the history behind his bar and likes its “rustic appeal.” Although he does not know what The CI was like back in the early 1900s, he said that not much has changed about the bar since he started working there in 1976.

“It was more mellow back in the day, but kids are more motivated now,” he said.

Pepper also mentioned that the type of alcohol he sold at the bar has changed since he first bought the bar. He said that when he first started, approximately 85 percent of what he sold was beer and 15 percent were drinks with liquor. Nowadays, approximately 20 percent of what he sells is beer and 80 percent of what he sells are drinks with liquor.

“That is really amazing that The CI has been open so long,” CI patron Joana Rittmayer said. “It’s amazing to think while standing in the bar buzzing with conversation that the same thing has been happening for decades.”

Development by: Megan Knapp / Digital Production Editor

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