Barta remembered for service to city, downtown

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Glasses clinked together among a standing-room-only crowd inside the Nice Ash Cigar Bar downtown as Waukesha residents and community leaders raised toasts Monday night, Aug. 8, to Jeff Barta, who died late that afternoon following a long illness.

Barta, who co-owned the Nice Ash, 323 W. Main St., with his wife Joette since 2006, was remembered for his dedicated service to the city – in particular the downtown – and his love of poker. In addition to owning the Nice Ash, Barta ran his own real estate appraisal business, Jeff Barta Valuations Inc., since 2005.

"I knew Jeff before I became alderman as a friend, and he always provided valuable insight, business knowledge, and listened, studied, when discussing anything," said Alderman Erik Helgestad, whose district includes downtown.

A downtown voice

"Jeff was an advocate and fixture not just for downtown Waukesha, but for the entire city," Helgestad added.

He served on the former Waukesha Business Improvement District board and sometimes was the de facto voice for downtown business and property owners.

One of those property owners, Vicky Hekkers, said in an email that her "heart and soul aches for the loss."

"(Jeff) was  a tireless supporter of fairness and equality for all of the downtown entities," she added. "We feel honored to have known Jeff and to have worked alongside him to promote and improve downtown Waukesha."

Alderman Aaron Perry released a statement highlighting Barta's advocacy for the city Monday evening.

"Jeff was a tried and true advocate for the city of Waukesha, especially the downtown. To say he will be missed just doesn't cover it," Perry said. "Jeff was aware and involved in city issues, something I always respected and admired.

"I often had long conversations with him on issues relating to city policy and downtown. I respected his level-headed opinion and understanding of the political process. He simply wanted what was best for Waukesha."

Cigars and poker

Several other people posted public memorials on Barta's Facebook page, mourning his death, and several thanked Barta for his gregarious spirit and for sharing his love of poker with them.

The Nice Ash, just west of the Five Points intersection, has become a downtown institution and is one of the few true cigar bars left in the state. The bar is notable for its expansive whiskey collection and features a walk-in humidor stocked with hundreds of cigars.

Barta hosted weekly poker tournaments at the Nice Ash and often donated proceeds from those tournaments to veterans groups.

Poker was a lifelong passion of Barta's – he made one impressive run at the 2012 World Series of Poker in Las Vegas and referred to no-limit Texas Hold 'em as "his specialty" – and one he was happy to share with those around him.

Friend Krissy Leubner thanked Barta for showing her how to play in one of the Facebook memorials.

"Thank you for teaching me poker," she wrote. "Thank you for being patient when I stank at it. I'll miss your face forever, Mr. Barta."

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