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Wunderbar nearing completion

Oct 27, 2017 09:40AM ● Published by Editor

Left: Family members (and friends) involved in the business are L-R: Rebecca Ratnam, Terri Downing, Shannon DuChien, Kurt Anderson, and Jennifer Trowbridge. Above: This is just one of several imaginative art pieces created by Jeff Nielsen that will be featured in the Wunderbar. Staff photos/Brian Larsen

By Brian Larsen of The Cook County News Herald - October 27, 2017

Music fills the establishment when you walk in. Workers scurry about their tasks with a smile and bounce to their step. This is a place where positive energy fuses with art and nature. Work is nearly complete on the former Harbor Light Supper Club, and the results are stunning.

Local carpenters, electricians, plumbers, painters, and artists have joined Chris and Terri Downing, the primary owners of the newly named Wunderbar, and the Downings’ considerably talented family members who also have some ownership and sweat equity in the business, to transform the building. But it isn’t just a physical change the Downings are after; it’s a cultural change as well.

“This is going to be hard to call this just a restaurant,” said Terri. “We want this place to be all about community. We will start with planting little seeds, music for kids, organic food for those with illness, an open mike for those who like to sing or are learning to perform. We will be free to cater, for birthday parties, special events. We plan to have a space for artists and a collaborative meeting space for the community. We will be fun, funky, silly. We will be supportive of the community who has been very supportive of us. There is more, but we will start small and grow.

“My husband and I drove past this building for 12 years, and every time we would go by it I would tell him, “‘I am going to own that bar someday,’” said Terri.

Terri’s dream came true on August 14 when the sale of the business closed.

Inside the building, the old U-shaped bar is still there, although it has new countertops. The stage in the back is right where it always was, but it has been entirely redone. The wooden floor has been sanded and covered with clear coats of polyurethane and looks great.

A middle section is adorned with big comfortable couches, and an electric fireplace hangs on the wall. It will be a meeting place to sit and relax and play games or chat. The back room is large and will be used for groups. A wine bar will be installed on one end of it.

Food will be served in “small bites” on Pitzari boards. Organic beef will be purchased from Peterson Farms in Wisconsin and prepared by chef Malcolm Kaplan, who hails from the Twin Cities. There will be a lot of soups, fish, flatbreads and fresh organic vegetables on what at first will be a simple menu.

The walls are covered in art picked out by Abbey (Hedstrom) Toftey. Jeff Neilsen’s imaginative paintings adorn bathroom stalls. Betsy Bowen woodblock prints hang throughout the building. Old pictures of Halloween parties held at the Harbor Light are in the lobby. Locals have come by and seen their former selves all decked out in a costume.

There is space to fit 277 people in the Wunderbar. Plans are to serve breakfast, lunch, and supper, but they will open with a limited menu.

Family members and staff involved are Chris and Terri, Elizabeth Kubricky, a daughter, will be the event manager. A second daughter, Rebecca Ratnam will assist her sister. Jennifer Trowbridge, a cousin, is the project manager. Another cousin, Kurt Anderson, is the resident gnome. Jason Baumgarth will be the bar manager, and Malcolm Kaplan will be the executive chef.

“We will have 16-17 people working at any one time,” said Terri. “Eight in the front of the house and eight or nine in the back of the house.”

There is talk of turning the old icehouse located behind the restaurant into a poker house, with the proceeds from the game going to charity. There are plans to build hiking trails in the back on their property that link up with the current trails. And already there are two tents set up for camping and two retro trailers from the 1950s-1960s that are set up for guests. More trailers will be brought in, said Kurt.

“We have been coming up here our whole lives,” said Jennifer. “This has been my happy space since I was little.” 

There will be a Halloween party on Saturday, October 28. Not everything will be done, but the detail put into the deck outside, the pictures of the original post office, the peace treaty, local fishermen, the light fixtures, wall art, all of the work done to now, it’s well worth seeing. And the family behind it, well worth getting to know and celebrate.

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