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'It gives a little bit more back to the community'

Zoe Greszler • Oct 27, 2018 at 2:00 PM

MILAN — The Wonder Bar in Milan once was known for being a “hole-in-the-wall bar.” The renovated location though has gotten more than a face lift to bring in more patrons. 

Gary and Donna Gilbert purchased the 48 E. Front St., Milan, business Aug. 9, 2013 and have made the most of their time — and dollar — there.

The Gilberts completely renovated the inside of the restaurant, fixing areas, replacing equipment and making aesthetic changes that Gary Gilbert said “have accented the age of the building” and brought its rich history back to life. 

Built in 1828, the building has served as The Wonder Bar since 1933. As the the second oldest building in Milan, Gilbert said it also previously was used to be a bakery, grocery store and dance hall. 

Two of The Wonder Bar’s biggest changes in recent years went hand-in-hand — redesigning the atmosphere and the menu.

“We got it to where food was our primary (focus) here,” Gilbert said. “That’s really what we’re known for now at The Wonder Bar, in today’s times with us, is that it’s all about the food, the specialty drinks. We even have pizza now that we do with a stone-oven.”

While the previous owner of 32 years featured “more carnival-type foods,” the focus now is on a full-blown menu, with burger specialties, Glibert saud. The restaurant hand-packs its own burgers and creates new specials each week. Gilbert also said they try to make changes or additions to the menu regularly “for creativity, so it doesn’t get boring.”

“We’re very creative and my wife is very involved with all the food and presentation and what we want to be,” he said. “My thing is about curb appeal, bringing in and marketing the product and doing something nice for Milan. We didn’t know this in the beginning, but this ended up being more of a community effort.

“We’ve made it a speak-easy place for families to meet up,” he said, adding that the business keeps a family atmosphere until about 9:30 p.m. when it gets more of a bar-like atmosphere.

“I’m going to throw some names out and I don’t mean them any disrespect, but, I’m not running a Charlie’s Bar. I won’t run that kind of place and I won’t have it here. And we do have live entertainment about once a month. You don’t necessarily make any more money, but I found that it gives a little bit more back to the community if they want to come here.”

The Wonder Bar also features 18 draft beers, including IP, craft and domestics on tap.

The changes have served the business well. Gilbert said while under the former management, the business brought in about $4,000, he and his wife average between $12,000 to $15,000.

“We take a lot of pride in it,” he said.

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