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Published: Thursday, 11/13/2008

Jim & Lou's co-owner was north-end icon

Louis Ratajski, owner of Jim and Lou's, speaks with mayoral candidate Keith Wilkowski in his bar at the corner of Central and Mulberry in 2005. Louis Ratajski, owner of Jim and Lou's, speaks with mayoral candidate Keith Wilkowski in his bar at the corner of Central and Mulberry in 2005.

Louis A. Ratajski, 89, a co-owner of Jim & Lou's Bar, a neighborhood landmark set ablaze in the 2005 North Toledo riot, which in earlier decades was a mandatory stop for campaigning Democratic politicians, died yesterday in Lake Park skilled nursing facility, Sylvania, from complications of a heart attack.

He moved in with his nephew Terry Rybczynski in Point Place after the Oct. 15, 2005 riot, which was sparked by a planned, but aborted, neo-Nazi march in North Toledo.

His nephew spirited Mr. Ratajski away from his building at Mulberry Street and Central Avenue just before a mob broke in to loot and burn down the place he'd worked and called home since the 1950s.

"I don't think I'll ever get over it completely," Mr. Ratajski told The Blade in 2006. "It was the thing that kept me going for all of these years - the bar and the customers. I miss it terribly."

His nephew said last night: "He was devastated. What he worked for for close to 50 years he lost in one afternoon.

"You know what, he was never the same person after that," his nephew said. "I mean, I lived with him, and I saw the side that other people didn't see."

Mr. Ratajski in 1952 was already in the business, tending bar downtown and running a bar and restaurant near Swayne Field, when his brother Harry - everyone called him "Jim" - approached him about buying the bar at Central and Mulberry, across the street from their childhood home.

By 1956, Lou bought the building and he and his wife, Alice, moved in upstairs.

"Everybody enjoyed going there," his nephew said. "You just really had the TV, and people gathered around, and you were able to talk about anything and everything. Nothing fancy. It was a shot-and-a-beer place, and everybody felt comfortable there."

At times, Jim & Lou's seemed like the unofficial annex to Fourth Ward Democratic Party headquarters. Jimmy Carter was a guest, as were former Gov. Richard Celeste and U.S. senators John Glenn and Howard Metzenbaum.

Mr. Ratajski called Art Wilkowski, the late state representative and judge, and former U.S. Rep. Thomas "Lud" Ashley his friends. Actors George Peppard and Leonard Nimoy stopped by on separate occasions. The brothers kept a list of famous visitors.

"It was a who's who," their nephew said. "He loved being behind the bar. Whenever he told a story, it was like having a history lesson - and he had plenty of stories."

The bar was a place for "a nice sociable drink," Mr. Ratajski told The Blade in 1985. "It's not a church, but it's not a place where you're gonna rough it up."

The bar sponsored bowling and softball teams and was host to meetings of a sportsmen's club. A polka band that played at the bar came up with "Jim & Lou's Polka."

Jim retired around 1980. Mr. Ratajski never did.

"I was planning on staying there awhile - at least to 90," he told The Blade in 2006.

A 1937 graduate of Woodward High School, he served in the Army Air Corps in the Pacific Theater during World War II. He was a longtime member of the former St. Vincent de Paul Church.

He and his wife, Alice, whom he married in 1946, died in 1983.

Surviving is his sister, Frances Hundt, 100. His brother Jim preceded him in death.

The body will be in the Urbanski Funeral Home after 2 p.m. tomorrow, with a prayer service at 7 p.m. in the mortuary. Funeral services will be at 10 a.m. Saturday in St. Hedwig Church.

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