On trips away from the Smoky Valley we are
sometimes asked where we are from. More than
one good soul has drawn a blank at “Lindsborg,”
but now and then one will begin to speak, stop
and catch a breath. He or she takes on a thoughtful
squint, as if trying to recall an old telephone
Eyes widen. “Yes … there was this bar.”
With that the stories of Öl Stuga begin. They
had heard about this great old place in a charming
town, they stopped for lunch and stayed ‒ and
stayed. There have been tales of great celebration,
moments that recall the phrasing on Öl Stuga
Times we can’t always remember,
with friends we’ll never forget.
There was this big man behind the bar, blond
and bearded, eyes the color of a bright sky, and
his voice carried over the place, a man with the
glistening kindness and certain authority of a
Öl Stuga and Mark Lysell, the man behind the
bar, have become an iconic presence at 119 S.
Main. On Nov. 7, Lysell marked 40 years of owning
the place, and over the decades it has become
kind of nourishing anchor for the community and
much of its psyche. It is a place of food and drink.
It is often filled with lively people, interesting
The Stuga episodes and encounters have echoed
over the decades, a boundless oral history and
anthology that reaches the globe’s far circumference.
Even Mikhail Gorbachev, the former Soviet
president, must remember that evening 12 years
ago, in October, when the crowds parted and he
settled in at a large table for a few rounds of vodka
and cranberry juice – a drink christened immediately
as Öl Stuga’s signature “Gorbatini.” Gorbachev
and his daughter Irina headed a Russian delegation
in Lindsborg commemorating the global initiative,
Chess for Peace; their friend, the world champion
Anatoly Karpov, had recently opened his international
chess school in Lindsborg.
Stories like that.
Lysell bought the establishment in 1977 because
he was looking for a pontoon boat. “You know
how it goes,” Lysell chuckled, “you say ‘I’ll take
the boat if you throw in the bar,’ and the owner
says fine. I got the bar and missed the boat.”
He didn’t change much. “The place had been set
up like it is – the tiny grill and kitchen station in the
corner at the end of the bar, perfect for whoever’s
working. They can see everyone, everything from
The Stuga, as natives call it, is alive with artifacts
and mementos along the shelves, on the
walls, even the ceiling with currency tacked to the
tiles (a ritual involving Bethany College students).
Regulars of many years continue to study the laminated
tabletops for their countless photos, each its
own story. There are old high school pennants,
football helmets, trophies, beer steins, sculptures,
gifts, neon of many shades and sizes, photographs,
and the many letters from presidents, celebrity athletes
and other stars who have graciously declined
Lysell’s invitation to play in the annual Öl Stuga
Invitational golf tournament (Arnold Palmer, Jack
Nicklaus, Gerald Ford, among others).
Lysell and his older brother, Larry, spent their
early years in Lincoln, where his father Maurice
was principal of the high school. His father moved
the family to Colorado Springs where he would
teach, and both boys graduated high school there,
and they each returned to Kansas for college at
Bethany. The Lysells have a devotion to their
Swedish heritage, and a passion for the Democratic
Party and Denver Broncos football.
At Öl Stuga it is one thing to sate the hungry and
relieve the thirst-laden. It is quite another that even
Norwegians, Republicans and Chiefs-lovers are as
apt to frequent the place as Swedes, Democrats
and Broncos fanatics
And there is the food. Lysell has a conviction
about sandwiches, and it goes to the message he
imparts to new employees. “Our sandwiches are
pretty basic, but you must put a lot of meat on
“Don’t think our sandwich is like the one your
mother put in the lunch box. Use more meat.” A
couple of inches is about right. It is why some
regulars often order the half-sandwich.
The “Brent Nelson,” a sandwich that has been
in more than one magazine and featured on ABC’s
Good Morning America (2010), is Lysell’s most
popular. And it began as an accident.
“Customers sometimes order a ‘Trust Me.’ This
is a sandwich I’d make out of the blue, on the fly.
One day several years ago the real Brent Nelson
came in and asked a ‘Trust Me.’”
Lysell went to work: Polish sausage. Smoky
super-sharp cheddar. His special hot pepper cheese
(“not pepper-jack”), onions, barbecue sauce – all
on large bun. Heat.
Nelson began telling friends about the sandwich.
“They’d come in and say make me one just like
you made for Brent Nelson,” Lysell said. “And
they’d tell someone else and more would come in
asking for the same, and it grew until I had to put it
on the menu.” The Stuga prepares between 22,000
and 23,000 sandwiches a year, he said, and a fifth
of them are Brent Nelsons.
“If Brent Nelson had kept his mouth shut, I
wouldn’t have a cabin in Colorado,” he said.
There are no burgers or fries here. Lysell said
he did not want to spend Sundays cleaning out
grease traps. And there are other places for burgers
and fries. “We’re a little different. It’s better to
do one thing and do it well, like deli sandwiches.
And do it the same way, every time. Consistency
People have been known to come a long way for
the Stuga’s Reuben.
Lysell is long vested in the community. Eight
years (1979-87) a city councilman, 25 years singing
(bass) in the Messiah Chorus; he has served on
his church council, and the boards of the hospital
and golf course. His golf tournament (first weekend
after Memorial Day) has drawn as many as
256 entrants from across the country; his cribbage
tournament in February a tenth of that. And he is
glad to say that the Stuga has been a wildly popular
draw for countless Bethany College students.
Some have been among the 200 Stuga employees
over the years, most part of its larger family; some
were family, actually. Daughters Margo and Erika,
now rearing their own families, have worked
And the grandchildren? Lysell sidesteps gracefully.
“Most people remember a grandfather who
took them fishing, or showed them woodworking
or something,” he says. “Mine say their grandpa
had quarters and pop.”
Öl Stuga has acquired the status of landmark.
Lysell the proprietor has become its enduring
force, magnetic, a keen observer, father confessor,
psychologist, community booster, an advisor who
when necessary becomes a virtuosic questioner.
He knows the virtue in silence, the averted glance,
the kept secret. His towering presence alone can
diffuse the awkward scene. “Or, I give someone
that ‘Really?’ look – the teacher-coach look as in,
‘You really think you need another drink when
your wife has called three times already?’”
None of the magnificence has come easily.
There have been years of heavy lifting, long days,
vacant spells, vicissitudes, the crush of neverending
crowds and the silence of an empty store.
Through it all he has inspired an intense loyalty
among regulars, even the affection of those who
have been there once. There is a nobility to this
place, its simplicity, its unalloyed amiability.
And after 40 years the question looms, like a
dark bank gathering on the horizon. How much
longer? It is out there, pregnant, but few are willing
to bring it out through the mists because Mark
Lysell might well have an answer – and not many
people would want to hear it.