Arise, Wonder Bar arise

Arise, Wonder Bar arise


To Casperites of several generations the restaurant-lounge at 256 N. Center IS the Wonder Bar.

Despite the fact it has not been called its "world famous" name since the 1980s, many a long-time Casper resident would call Tommyknockers, the Cattleman's Club, Break Time, Bootleggers or whatever name the saloon was called at the time, The Wonder Bar.

And now Casperites can call the place by its proper name without confusing any newcomers to central Wyoming.

The Wonder Bar will open its doors again Monday as The Wonder Bar .

"Just walking into it, we knew that it is The Wonder Bar," Jason Beck, a managing partner with Casper Hospitality Group, the new owner of the bar, said.

Beck's fellow managing partner Pat Sweeney said that instead of having a big celebration for the opening of the bar, they are planning as "quiet an opening on St. Patrick's Day as possible."

"If the front door is open, we will probably be open," Sweeney added.

Monday's opening will only be for the downstairs portion of the bar, the two said, because the upstairs is still undergoing renovation. A full menu will be served all day and local troubadour Chad Lore will provide entertainment to nighttime St. Patrick's Day revelers, Beck said.

He added that a big opening bash may occur on a certain Tuesday during the summer.

"We might have a big bash on Parade Day," Beck said.

According to Sweeney, lunch and happy hour service have been made the top priorities for the bar.

Sweeney hopes to attract the downtown business lunch crowd to the establishment with a full salad bar and "competitively priced" burgers, sandwiches and specialty salads, he said.

Beck is hopeful that same downtown business crowd and others will return to The Wonder Bar from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. for its happy hour, when drinks will be served at special prices and the pool tables will be free, he said.

Current plans call for the bar to close nightly at 11 p.m., but it could remain open later on the weekends if the crowds demand it, Beck said.

He added that he and Sweeney believe that patrons will consist of people who are looking for a "good comfortable bar" and a mellow alternative to the loud, smoky and sometimes raucous spots that currently dominate the Casper night life.

In order to help achieve this, the downstairs portion of The Wonder Bar will be nonsmoking.

"We think there is a larger crowd out there that does not come out to the bars because of the smoke," Beck said.

Around June, Beck and Sweeney plan to open the upstairs portion of the bar where live entertainment will be a common occurrence, they said.

The live music to be played in the upstairs will not be dominated by rap, country or heavy metal, Beck said. Instead, it will consist of music which will make the adult market more comfortable. He is also planning on bringing in some comedy acts.

Sweeney was quick to add that there will be no pyrotechnics allowed by any band playing on the upstairs stage and safety will be a top priority at the bar.

"We are going to write a script and have bands read safety procedures" before they play, he said.

"We have noticed and learned from the last two incidents, which were horrible," he said, referring to recent fatal fires at nightclubs in Chicago and Rhode Island.

Increased safety practices may be one way to help the current owners of The Wonder Bar avoid the "Curse of The Wonder Bar" and the notorious bad luck that has hit the bar over the past 20 years.

The "curse" has manifested itself not only with several gruesome incidents during the 1980s, including a fatal shooting outside its doors and a fatal fall from on its stairs, but also with a string of failed watering holes, under many different names, at the location.

The Wonder Bar's new bar manager, Jimmy Beck, feels that this latest attempt to break the curse will be successful, due to the quality of the management staff.

"I have complete confidence in Mr. Sweeney and Jason," he said.

He pointed to the success the Casper Hospitality Group has had at the new location of Poor Boy's Steakhouse on North Center as proof that the team is capable of turning a location's luck around.

"Previous business that went in there could not do anything since Benham's and that place is doing great. It's all in the management and how things are run," Jimmy Beck said.

The bar manager is also unconcerned about another aspect of Wonder Bar lore - that the place is haunted by three ghosts, a woman and two children.

"You hear all kinds of stories. Someone once went downstairs to shut lights off or to get stock for the bar, and all the lights were off. … They are just silly little stories like that," he said.

The bar manager does suspect, however, that he will be asked about the specters once the bar opens its doors.

But The Wonder Bar also has a happier history, and it is this history the managers plan to celebrate.

According to Jason Beck, the bar will feature seven signature drinks - "the seven wonders" named after some famous folk who have tied a few on there, including Earnest Hemingway, John Wayne and Cletus from Gunsmoke, he said. Hemingway is even featured on the bar's menu.

Plans are also under way to use the brewing equipment on the premises. Currently, Jason Beck is unsure of the exact condition of the equipment, but he said a brewer from Teton Brewing in Jackson will be inspecting it soon.

Plans currently call for hiring a brewer sometime later this year to make some kind of a wonder brew, he said.


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