New owners restore century-old Union tavern
UNION – The new owners of Clasen's Tavern hope to breathe new life into the more than 100-year-old establishment.
When husband and wife team Jim Hennig and Alison Briginshaw took over the tavern in May, they wanted to keep the spirit of the Clasen family – who owned the bar for 91 years – alive.
Right away, they understood the tradition the bar had as a village mainstay. When Hennig briefly took down the exterior sign to have it refinished, he caused a local "uproar."
"Everybody was so afraid we were changing the name," he said, laughing. "It's been 113 years, we're not changing it."
In fact, Hennig has gone to great lengths to maintain the atmosphere of the original Clasen family-owned bar.
The space at 17628 Depot St., originally was a general store, but in 1900 William Clasen turned it into a tavern.
"He wanted to play accordion and do a little partying," Hennig said.
Hennig wanted to bring the music back. So a pool table soon gave way to a restored baby grand piano, circa 1898. Now, on some weekend nights, local and regional players take to the keys.
"Nobody has a piano bar, at least not in Union or Marengo," Hennig said. "You can go play pool anywhere."
The Clasen's had the tavern in their family for generations. With input from family members still in the area, Clasen's Tavern is now decorated with some black and white photographs of patrons past and the family that started it all.
"They're looking at us, and we're looking at them," Briginshaw said of the photos.
Above all, Clasen's has a rich tradition of being a friendly atmosphere. In fact, this interview took many pauses as Hennig and Briginshaw stopped to greet their guests, typically by first name.
"When piano players come out they have to be able to play [the theme song to 'Cheers'] because that's the kind of bar this is," Hennig said.
But nothing is more signature to Clasen's history than a piece of decor that's hung on the wall since the beginning. A large stuffed moose head that's sure to have witnessed a lot, but tells no one.
The moose head is said to have been a gift from Union's undertaker to William Clasen when he opened the bar in 1900.
For 113 years it was a moose without a name, until Hennig and Briginshaw had a naming contest on their opening night. Patrons chose to call him Stanley in a nod to the Blackhawks 2013 championship season.
With a business rooted in history, there's bound to be spirits of patrons past, and Briginshaw says she can feel them.
"Things just fell into place. Silly things like the stove lit up for the first time in 20 years," she said. "It's like the old spirits of Clasen's came back and are wishing us well."
What: A recently reopened 113-year-old tavern serving food and drinks
Where: 17628 Depot St., Union
If you go
McHenry County's Original Turkey Testicle Festival
What: There will be live music, food and T-shirts for sale. The $10 entry fee includes two free deep-fried turkey testicles. All proceeds go to the Union Fire Department
Where: Clasen's Tavern, 17628 Depot St., Union
When: 4 to 11 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 27