Before they were auctioned off and carried out, the chairs and booths at the Bohemian Cafe were filled one final time.
To a crowd of several hundred bidders and nostalgic customers, co-owner Terry Kapoun stood at the hostess station-turned-auctioneer stand and blinked back tears.
“It’s a bittersweet day,” he said. “We hope you can enjoy your memories from whatever you can get here and take home with you.”
The hand-painted wooden plates went first, many bringing more than $200. Then an elephant-shaped Jim Beam decanter made for a fundraiser for then-Vice President Spiro Agnew. With its signed letter, that brought $500. Then the laminated menus. One group of three went for $70.
The polka CDs, the kitchen clock, the beer steins and kegs, the rows and rows of decanters, even the child’s booster seat each carried a piece of the cafe’s 66-year history, the auctioneer reminded bidders.
For Julie Ludlow, those items represented a piece of her family’s history.
“This feels like a home to us,” Julie Ludlow said. “It’s a part of our heritage.”
Her family celebrated birthdays and baptisms with meals at the Bohemian Cafe.
“We brought five generations of our family here,” she said from the spot where she remembers her grandfather once got a vat of liver dumpling soup dumped on him by accident.
“We cried when it closed — it kind of felt like we lost a family member.”
Her son Wes Ludlow won the $50 bid for a memo book with notes from the hostesses. Turned to the cafe’s last day, the final note reads, “No reservations.”
For her other son, she took home a hand-painted wooden plate as a wedding gift.
“These are keepsakes from a place we loved,” Julie said.
Cate Kratville bought some keepsakes of her own. She drove from Milwaukee just for the auction, hoping to get a last look at the place that served the sweet and sour cabbage she missed after she moved from Omaha two years ago. On Saturday she bought painted plates as a way to honor her great-grandfather, an artist who came to Nebraska from Bohemia.
“Having this place gone is a huge cultural loss,” she said. “I wanted to drive those 500 miles to get a piece of it.”
Kapoun’s mother, Mert, said she was told to expect a crowd Saturday, but she wasn’t expecting hundreds. But that’s just a testament to how her family’s place became just that for so many others. She and her husband, Robert, took over the cafe from her mother and stepfather 50 years ago.
“This meant a lot to a lot of people,” Mert said.
For Mert Kapoun’s daughter, Marsha Bogatz, the hugs and stories from customers made Saturday a little easier.
“This is our family’s last time together here,” the former cafe hostess said, her voice cracking. “We saw each other every day here, and we won’t have that anymore.”
Before the auction, Bogatz picked out a plate and a photograph of the cafe.
“It hasn’t hit yet,” she said. “It won’t until we can’t come through the back door and see familiar faces.”