Historic Club Tavern Owner ‘Moose’ Passing the Torch

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MTT News's picture
Cameron Bren
bar is one of the oldest bars in the state which remained open though Prohibition; Patrons can dinein the original part the building more than 100 years old.

MIDDLETON–James ‘Moose’ Werner who’s owned the Club Tavern at 1915 Branch St. for 39 years officially sold the business Monday. The Club Tavern is known for live music, Cajun food, volleyball and supporting local charities.

The bar was purchased by Dale Beck, who owns the restaurant and bar North of the Bayou, on Madison's East Side, and two other bars. Moose plans to continue catering at Club Tavern and Beck’s other bars.

He said Beck will be doing some remodeling and repairs, but the staff and operations will stay the same. Long standing employee Mike Hart will take over for Moose.

“He’s been my righthand man forever and he’s the one that is going to be taking over the operation,” Moose said. “It’s going to become Mikey’s place and that man is going to make them forget about Moose in a heartbeat.”

Moose said he is confident any change will be for the better.

“The community is going to love him, this operation will continue to do a lot of the same things it has always done only they are going to do them a lot better,” he stated.

The Club Tavern is one of the oldest continuously operating taverns in the state, originally opening in the late 1800s and remaining through Prohibition. Moose said there are a few bars in Milwaukee or Green Bay that might be a little older but not by much.

“We don’t know exactly when but somewhere in the 1870s to 1890s it opened as a bar originally called Ye Old Tavern,” Moose said.

Ye Old Tavern served as a hotel for the Stamm House down the street and also a less swampy place to keep horses, he added.

“When the bar opened it was a stop for the stagecoach line,” he said. “It would stop at the Stamm House and if you were going to stay overnight at Pheasant Branch, which this area was called, you’d come up here and stay at the rooming house.”

The area was mostly unaffected by Prohibition, according to Moose. 

“I think they kept a low enough profile and they were out in Middleton which was the sticks, so no one really cared,” he speculated. “The other thing is down at the bottom of the hill was a brewery and they stayed open too for most of prohibition.”

Moose got his start in the business working at Poole's Cuba Club, a revered Madison supper club on University Ave. that closed in 1988. He worked there beginning in high school and through college.

Feeling like he was in a rut he decided to leave town. He took a job in Yellowstone National Park where he worked for four years returning each winter to work in the supper club. 

Moose said at the end of the four years he realized he wanted to go all in on the restaurant business. He took the best paying job he could get at the time working as a general manager at Perkins Cake and Stake on University Ave. 

After a few years doing that Moose said he wanted to move up and run his own supper club with a country theme. He offered to buy the Poole’s Cuba Club, but the owner Lyle Poole turned him down saying he planned to turn the business over to his sons.

After a couple more failed attempts at purchasing supper clubs Moose expanded his options. He said his realtor friend and later business partner brought the tavern to his attention.

“It was a pretty front room, it was going for a nice easy price I could afford, and I said, what the heck, let’s do it,” he recalled.

Moose has been just one of a handful of owners of the building and the second longest running. He said he is happy with the direction in which the area is moving.

He said JT Klein’s Stagecoach Trail apartment on Century Ave. is tasteful, he is excited to see the cafe Common Ground doing well and praised the restoration of the Stamm House. 

Moose made his own changes to the site with the addition on the back of the building and remodeling to the exterior. He also had to fill cisterns that were more than 160,000 gallons. 

Moose said one of his fondest memories with the tavern was when they held an event to raise money to replace toys that had been stolen from a US Marines trailer for Toys-for-Tots. 

He said while few attended the event because of a blindingly thick fog, the fundraiser went took to the radio waves on WJJO the next day and raised more than $28,000. 

Farm and Fleet agreed to sell toys at cost and Moose said his kids got the unforgettable experience of filling shopping carts with $28,000 worth of toys.

The Club Tavern has been a great experience for his family he added and was successful enough to put his two kids through college. Moose said he is thankful for the community he has built and the support he has received.

Moose has been preparing food for several years for Middleton’s public safety workers at the National Night Out event and has catered annual cook outs for UW Health System clinics and hospital employees for nearly 20 years.

“That’s what the bar business is all about, is meeting people and being a part of their lives,” he said. “This building is a lot of people’s living rooms.”

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