FOUNTAIN CITY, Wis. - The Monarch Tavern and Preservation Hall may illustrate a classic case of thinking all experts come from out of town and all the special places are somewhere else.
in 1894 as the Odd Fellows Hall, the Monarch Tavern draws travelers from across the Midwest and around the world.
"It's a little place in Fountain City according to the local market, but a really neat place according to the national market," said John Harrington, who has owned the business with his wife, Laurie Ahl, since 1995.
The couple promotes the business so well that tour planners in England send people over. The Monarch attracts travelers of the Great River Road, and the Wisconsin Department of Tourism sings its praises.
"They like us, and we like them," Harrington said. "We've had people here from all over - England, New Zealand, Japan.
Besides being cited in "The 101 Best Things to Do on the Wisconsin Great River Road," the Monarch Tavern has been featured in "Eating Your Way Across America," "101 Things to Do on the Mississippi River," and "Wisconsin's 101 Best Taverns." Discover Wisconsin recently completed shooting a profile of the business.
"It's a beautiful establishment, and they are interesting people, very nice people," said Jim Kafer, of Fountain City. "(Harrington) brings a spirit, an Irish spark."
Another resident, Jan Northam, says the business has a hometown homeyness, and "it kind of envelops you."
"They are very interested in restoring what's there," she said. "You can see their life is in the business."
Ahl says the Monarch has three or four clienteles. The first is people from Fountain City and surrounding areas. The second is Fountain City visitors, including summer tourists,and River Road travelers.
"The third I call irregular regulars who somehow found us and come back every year to see what's changed," Ahl said. The fourth category are people who discover the Monarch on the Internet, or through travel guides and tour planners.
What visitors find on arrival is the culmination of 71/2 years of work in restoring the building, with its 16-foot ceilings and ornate back bar. Personal touches and design decisions are evident everywhere.
All foods on the menu are prepared without grease. The Monarch sells house brands of exotic mustards, beer on tap, and wine.
Ahl is responsible for the mustard creations, which include pineapple jalapeno, apricot bourbon and kumquat cilantro.
Long after the original brewery disappeared from the scene, the Fountain Brew beer brand was restored when Harrington unearthed the original recipe, dating back to 19th century Germany. He contracted with a southern Wisconsin brewer to make it for him. A Wisconsin winery bottles "proprietor's reserve" wines for the Monarch.
Harrington describes the business as a niche between a typical Wisconsin supper club and bar. It has just now reached the point "where we can do what we always wanted to do-the whole Monarch concept," he said.
The next phase of the concept includes offering bottled Fountain Brew Beer, converting the spacious second floor of the building into a "upper scale" supper club and opening the Absolute Rock Bottom Pub in the basement.
The Pub is operational but, to date, has only been used for parties and special gatherings. It features the stuffed "original albino buck" that supposedly sired others in the area, a huge ball of string collected by a paper boy, and various curiosities donated by area farmers.
"It's a Mississippi River Guy's museum," Harrington said.
In other basement space, near the bar, the couple plans to create a shop that will feature hot pepper sauces from Louisiana and gift items from Ireland. Harrington and Ahl are planning a buying trip to Europe in February.
Long term plans include a deck, and shelter on the roof for viewing "the staggering views."
While such ambitious development might prove daunting to beginning entrepreneurs, both Harrington and Ahl had business experience in Green Bay.
Ahl worked 17 years as a process engineer and quality manager for a paper company.
After studying music in college, Harrington traveled for years as a professional musician. He subsequently was president of a credit union, created a telemarketing firm, operated a sports complex and started the first urgent care, walk-in clinic and HMO in Green Bay.
After selling the latter business the couple discovered the Monarch Tavern and Fountain City.
"It's been a diverse life. Everything I did led me to this point and success," Harrington said.
They have been methodically developing the "Monarch concept," one step at a time since 1995. Nearing the end of phase one, Harrington sees it coming together and isn't shy about pressing on.
After all, he said, "My visions have a way of becoming reality."
Contact reporter David Krotz at email@example.com or call (507) 453-3524.