Tavern owners turning back the centuries

Green Room

In restoring the front of their Indiana Avenue tavern to its original look, Mike and Sally Klein aren't just turning back the clock, but the centuries.

The Kleins, owners of Cops & Robbers Tavern, 911 Indiana Ave., plan to start the project this month. It will change the face of the building to resemble how it appeared in 1894, when it housed the J. Behrens grocery store.

The project will cost about $46,000, with roughly a fourth of that paid for with a federal grant administered by the city for historic redevelopment in key commercial areas, including downtown, Harbor Center and the business districts along Indiana and Michigan avenues.
The new design, featuring floor-to-ceiling windows, scalloped wood shingles and rectangular trim along the roof line, was inspired by a photo from the era, obtained from the Sheboygan County Historical Research Center.

The photo shows a family posing in front of the store.

"Some of those details you can see on buildings on Eighth Street looked like the ones in the photograph we had," said Sally Klein, an art teacher in the Kohler School District. "We (thought) we could probably look that good, too."

The Kleins enlisted LJM Architects for the design, and the opportunity thrilled Jennifer Lehrke, the project architect.

"It brings a new life to the building," Lehrke said. "It brings an intensity that's not there right now."

City officials consider the grants important to improving business retail space, bringing back the integrity of historical buildings and inspiring other owners to consider upgrading their properties.

"It shows the city would like to get involved to help local businesses," said Peter Fullerton, city planning and development deputy director. Over the past 10 years, several downtown businesses have used the grants, he said. About $75,000 in grant money is set aside per year for the historic improvements.

The outside redesign at Cops & Robbers dovetails with an ongoing project to remodel the interior of the tavern, which the Kleins have owned for about seven years.

A new oak-topped bar and knotty pine walls have been installed, and the gangster "wanted" photos from the '30s will be replaced with pictures of turn-of-the-century desperados to match the new look. The name of the place comes from Mike Klein's former occupation as a Sheboygan County sheriff's deputy, a job he retired from two years ago.

Many of the interior changes are so subtle, Klein says even the regular customers don't notice.
"I have so many projects going at once," Klein said. "Each one gets a part of my day."

The bar itself is true "mom-and-pop." Sally whips up the food entrees while Mike makes the soups -- such concoctions as shrimp and cherry tomato and Asian chicken and watercress are on the menu.

There's a half-empty jar of pickled turkey gizzards behind the bar, at a buck-fifty a pop.
"People shock me with their desires," Klein said.

Dozens of dollar bills signed by customers and given to the Kleins are tacked to the ceiling for good luck.

"One of these days I'll need that to help pay for this remodeling," Mike Klein said. "But somehow, I don't think that's enough."

Petrie, Bob. “Tavern owners turning back the centuries.” The Sheboygan Press. February 5, 2003, page A3.