Luck O’ The Linehan: Dintemanns celebrate 20 years of owning Johnnie’s Bar

By Greg Peters
Posted 3/20/24

RIVER FALLS – According to American folklore, Thomas Jefferson was sitting at the Indian Queen Tavern in Philadelphia one June evening in 1776. With a pint of freshly poured ale resting in one …

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Luck O’ The Linehan: Dintemanns celebrate 20 years of owning Johnnie’s Bar


RIVER FALLS – According to American folklore, Thomas Jefferson was sitting at the Indian Queen Tavern in Philadelphia one June evening in 1776. With a pint of freshly poured ale resting in one hand and a quill pen in the other, Jefferson began to scratch the words, "When in the Course of human events...."

By the end of the evening, the parchment paper pub scribble would become the Declaration of Independence.

Freedom can be a glorious feeling; however, with the freedom of choice comes a responsibility of actions and their consequences. 

River Falls' lifetime residents Dave and Cheryl Dintemann earned their work freedom in March 2004. They have a great bar story to tell of their own. 

This week marks the 20th anniversary the Dintemanns have owned Johnnie's Bar in River Falls.

The "Johnnie's Bar" Facebook page has been blowing up recently. Cheryl Dintemann has been pouring pints of energy into sharing the history of not only the building itself, located at 116 N Main St., but also about the original owner's family.

"These people were the Linehans and they passed along their business to us," said Cheryl, "and it's just my way of saying thanks."

Elvira Scales hired masons in 1878 to construct the building for $1,500 (about $46,000 in today's money). Good ole' Elvira had some giddy-up and sold hats and women's wear. Elvira also used the space to hold pie sales for local churches. The building survived at least one fire when a large group of women formed a bucket line from the building to the Kinnickinnic River.

Johnnie Linehan bought the building and opened Johnnie's Bar in 1946 with an $8,500 mortgage. Johnnie's everyday work attire, a white shirt and tie with an apron, was a sign of the times in the late 1940's and early 1950's.

"The culture of drinking was for men and run by men back then," said Cheryl. "It was closed off and discreet."

Johnnie was married to Genevieve and she did the books and also worked at First National Bank of River Falls.

"I've heard the bank paid for the air conditioning unit in the 1950's," said Dave.

Johnnie Linehan sold his bar on a land contract in 1970 but it was returned to him in 1975. His 24-year-old son, Tim, was reluctant to take it over but he did and he owned and operated it for another 28 years.

With any deep-rooted bar entrenched in traditions, if the walls could talk, the stories they could tell would number more than the dented bottle caps in the trash cans.

One of these stories involves Shelia Raak. Raak was an art student at UW-River Falls in 1974. She spent 120 hours painting "The Full Moon Saloon" mural to the left of the bar area in Johnnie's. Each caricature in the mural represents actual patrons of Johnnie's in 1974. Two years ago, every person represented in the mural showed up for a reunion. Only two were not in attendance as they had passed away.

Fast forward to 1997 and Dave Dintemann was managing Johnnie's Bar. He and Cheryl were looking into buying "The Hillside" bar in Dairyland, Wis., in the early 2000's, but Tim talked Dave into buying Johnnie's instead. In November 2003, at the age of 53, Tim Linehan passed away from surgery complications to fix a heart aneurysm. The Dintemanns bought Johnnie's in March 2004 from Sandy, Tim's widow.

"When Tim died, I had over 100 people tell me he was their best friend," said Dave, "and I looked up to Tim kind of like a father figure. I wanted to be respected in the community like he was. That's what I wanted to live up to."

Freedom to own your own business can be a fickle foe. One must live with the consequences of actions.

"When we first bought the bar," said Dave, "we were partying. The first few years, I thought I had to be drinking if others were drinking. We were promoting fun, so I thought I had to have fun."

Cheryl shakes her head and exhales in disgust, "We have found a way to make a living out of a business without living the business."

There can be an inverse correlation between raising a successful family and owning a bar. According to Thomas Jefferson, we each have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Dave Dintemann finally decided to pursue his family instead of alcohol. He has been sober for over 13 years.

"People here are part of my family and when it gets to the point they need to stop, I help them stop," said Dave.

"I like to say everybody's welcome but not everybody needs to stay," said Cheryl. "It's meant to be a social gathering place."

Cheryl was volunteering for the Assistance Resource Center (ARC) years ago and there were plenty of parking lot bake sales to raise money.

"Selfishly, I was tired of standing in a parking lot for three hours at a time and offered to host 50/50 raffles at Johnnie's," said Cheryl.

At first, some in the group felt it didn't seem right to hold their fundraiser in a bar, but over time, the attitude has drastically changed.

Now, Cheryl's idea has Johnnie's Bar holding a non-profit 50/50 raffle every Friday evening and it switches organizations every six weeks. 

"The River Falls Youth Softball Program can't thank Dave and Cheryl enough," said former president Paul Adermann. "Our group has such camaraderie from all those raffle nights and it helped us buy so much needed equipment for the kids and helped us get the word out about there being youth softball. It was a good place to advertise our mission."

Johnnie Linehan was always a sports fan and trained boxers in the basement. Tim Linehan sponsored more softball teams than there are Green Bay Packer paraphernalia on the walls. The Dintemanns have continued the community tradition by hosting more fundraisers than there are brilliant ideas concocted at the "Corner of Knowledge" (the name of the end of their bar). For youth sports teams, non-profit groups, and families dealing with tragedy and needing financial help, Johnnie's Bar has been the community gathering spot for the past 20 years with Dave and Cheryl Dintemann hosting.

"It's come full circle for sure," said Dave. "It's had its ups and downs like any job, but we've really enjoyed it. We really have."

"It's taken a lot from us," said Cheryl, "but it's given us just as much."

As the interview was finishing, they were in the back room and Dave's back was facing the main part of his bar. Like Jason Bourne in the movie "The Bourne Identity," Dave, the business owner, was glancing into a mirror during the entire interview noticing if bartenders were waiting tables effectively. 

"One thing we've improved on is better table serving. Bailey's been to that table back there two times since we've been talking," said Dave.

"Our business has matured in the last 20 years," said Cheryl, "and so have we."

I was sitting at one of the Johnnie's Bar front tables quite a few years ago meeting some friends after work on a Friday. It was a couple weeks before Christmas and the mood was festive. In walks Father Jerry Harris, the priest at St. Bridget's Catholic Church at the time. Father Harris had been a classmate of Tim Linehan's.

"What are you doing here?" I asked Father Harris with a surprised, almost comical, look.

"Well, Greg," Father Harris replied, "this is where my flock is on Frida's after work, and I need to tend to my flock."

Father Harris proceeded to have a glass of beer with me and ask about my family. It wasn't a joke. He was tending to his flock.

As I told this story to Dave and Cheryl, Dave let forth his effortless cartoon-style chipmunk giggle laugh and said, "I always felt like I was doing something right when Father Harris was down here on a Friday night."

St. Patrick's Day has been a 78-year tradition at Johnnie's Bar in River Falls since opening in 1946. For Dave and Cheryl Dintemann celebrating their 20th year of ownership, the shamrock in the company logo has been the Luck of the Linehan. 

Johnnie's Bar, anniversary, Dintemanns, Linehans, River Falls