Maybe not a love story in the full length feature meaning of the word, but it is a complex love story, following several generations of one well known family. Here’s how it starts.
Grandpa Pat Deau opened Pat’s Tavern on Brown Street in downtown Rhinelander in 1930. Then Pat’s son, Delore ran the bar, followed by Delore’s son Pat. About a year ago, when Pat decided he wanted to retire, it was time for another family member to step up, and keep the business in the family. Cousin Dennis Hooker, whose mother is a sister to Delore, felt drawn back to Rhinelander and the Tavern.
“Pat’s two daughters were not interested in taking on the business,” explained co-owner and Rhinelander native Pam Bronk. “Dennis had been coming here in the summer the past few years to help out. When Pat wanted to get out, Dennis felt a strong family connection. He thought of his grandmother and this is where the love story comes in, he thought of his grandma, and really wanted to do it for her.”
Ah, but the love story does not end there.
Pam Bronk and Dennis Hooker are 1980 Rhinelander High School graduates. They knew each other growing up, but that was as far as the relationship went. Fast forward thirty years to a class reunion, held—where else, but Pat’s Tavern. And the rest is history.
“That’s how we got here,” Pam said with a laugh. “We took over New Years Eve, 2013. We didn’t make a splash, because we were keeping the bar in the family; keeping things pretty much the same. We live in the apartment upstairs; everyone has lived here from one time or another. Delore, and Dennis’ mom lived up there at one time growing up.”
Dennis and Pam are making subtle changes, while keeping the iconic Tavern’s recognizable and comfortable feel. “Updating the building is a challenge, but we did some things to insulate and make the back room warmer,” Pam said, “So groups have been having parties back here again.”
The couple are looking forward to St. Patrick’s Day and the downtown parade again this year. And next summer Pat’s will host the RHS class of 1980 reunion once again.
Pat’s is also a great place to get a bite to eat. The food, while considered “tavern food,” is the best that’s out there, according to Pam.
“We have the best hamburgers in town; we get the burgers fresh every day from Trigs. We of course have our popular Taco Wednesday, featuring Pat’s original ground beef tacos, but now we also have chicken tacos and shredded beef tacos.”
Plus, Pat’s is serving a new menu item– a smoked pork chop from Trigs, served with baby red potatoes and side of applesauce.
“It’s been fun because we are Hodags, and after being gone for so long, we’re able to reconnect with people we knew, and people who knew our families and it’s such a really great thing to be home,” Pam said. “And another big thing – it is SO much fun to be back in Packerland and Badgerland and be back in Wisconsin with Wisconsin teams… back with our people.”
Add a little ‘all things Wisconsin love’ and it’s the perfect ending. And…. that’s a wrap.