A Near East Side bar, which likely reigns as the longest-running bar under the same owner, is closing Jan. 5 and reopening as a new version of its former self.

Bob Hanson, known as "the grandfather of Atwood Avenue," has owned and operated Mr. Robert's Bar & Grill, 2116 Atwood Ave., for more than 42 years. He's selling it to the owner of Chief's Tavern on Cottage Grove Road.

Brian Mason will take it over with Kevin Miller, the manager at Chief's, calling it the New Mr. Robert's and making only subtle changes.

The men are keeping the things Mr. Roberts is known for: live music and the homemade roast beef lunch specials on Thursdays.

In 2012, Mason took over Chief's Tavern at 300 Cottage Grove Road in what used to be the Packer Inn. He's not sure how long the remodel of Mr. Robert's will take, but expects to have it shut down for at least a month.

He just plans to give it "a little facelift," like he did in turning the Packer Inn into Chief's. "We're not knocking down any walls," he said.

Mason said it may not look the same as Chief's, but he wants it to have the same feel.

Chief's offers pizza from nearby Buck's, which they can't do at the New Mr. Robert's, but he intends to offer other Chief's menu items like its BLT with smoked trout called the TLT. The new place will have a fryer that Chief's doesn't and allow him to expand the menu a bit.

A former meat cutter at Oscar Mayer, Hanson has long cooked Mr. Robert's signature Thursday pot roast lunch special with black Angus boneless chuck. He prepares the 20- to 23-pound roasts from scratch, along with mashed potatoes and gravy. "The whole ball of wax," he said.

Hanson usually has the special ready at 11 a.m., but it's often gone by noon, said Deanna Ellestad, who has tended bar at Mr. Robert's for 25 years.

In a neighborhood that's seen a lot of revitalization, Ellestad calls Mr. Robert's one of the few, original bars left offering a variety of live, local music.

"Of course, when Bob started it, there wasn't much around there. He sort of built that neighborhood up to have a very friendly atmosphere," she said.

She's stayed a long time, as have her counterparts at nearby Wilson's and Players bars, because the Atwood Avenue area is a great place to work, Ellestad said.

Hanson, 77, opens the bar at 6:30 a.m. every morning except Tuesday, his day off. He leaves around 10 a.m., but often comes back in the afternoon to play cards with the customers.

Because of his 17-year career as a meat cutter, the last 10 at Oscar Mayer's, he understood the need for third-shift workers to have a place to unwind after work, Ellestad said. Pool leagues used to start at 7 a.m. These days, mornings aren't as busy, but a handful of regulars still come in early.

"That crowd and generation has grown older and died off," she said. "Back 10 to 15 years ago, you'd come in on a Saturday morning and you had a full bar. There was never a dull moment."

Wanda Greenfield, a bartender at Mr. Robert's for just two years, uses the word "comfortable," to describe Mr. Robert's.

"You come in here, you know everybody," she said. "It's been here so long that it's like automatic to some people. They leave their house and come straight here. That's just what they do and what they've done for many, many years."

All the bartenders are staying on, and Greenfield said she hopes they can keep a lot of the same customers, too.

There was a party to say goodbye to the old Mr. Robert's Saturday, and despite the cold, snowy weather, the place was jammed. There were close to 400 people during the course of the night, Greenfield said.

Hanson said he decided to sell the bar because his girlfriend of 16 years has stage 4 cancer and he wants to spend more time with her.

"Even after all the time I've been here, I never get bored with the place," he said about his run with Mr. Robert's. "I always enjoy the people immensely. It's really been a good education for me, meeting all the people throughout the years. It's been phenomenal."

Hanson said Mr. Robert's has booked live bands with no cover charge at least four nights a week for the past 15 years or so because it brought in a crowd. "It was worth it to have the bar full of people," he said.

He bought the bar in July 1974 when it was called Mac's Bar, and said he believes Mr. Robert's took the mantle of the longest-running bar under the same ownership from Le Tigre, when its owner, Steve Josheff, died in August 2015 and the business was passed on to Josheff's son.

The younger Steve Josheff said his father started the business in the 1950s as the Fireside Lounge on Regent Street and moved it to its current location, 1328 S. Midvale Blvd., in the 1960s, when it became Le Tigre.

Mr. Robert's has also been known as a sports bar, in that Hanson sponsored local touch football and baseball teams for about 20 years. He also supported archery teams, bowling teams, pool teams and dart leagues. Everything he could sponsor, he sponsored, he said.

Hanson has also helped a lot of underprivileged people, particularly buying them food at Christmastime, even taking meals to their homes.

"If anybody needs anything he helps them out," said Mick Dempsey, a retired police officer who hangs out at Mr. Robert's. "He always helps the underdog. I think he came from the underdog, that's why. The people at the bottom and the top, they all know him and all respect him."

Read more restaurant news at go.madison.com/restaurantnews.

0
0
0
0
0

Wisconsin State Journal food writer Samara Kalk Derby brings you the latest news on the Madison area's eclectic restaurant scene.