Bert Irslinger, owner of the Second Amendment Sports shooting range in downtown McHenry, said he felt like the city was missing something from its nightlife scene and decided to change that earlier this year.
He came up with a plan to open an upscale, after-dinner cocktail lounge featuring live music performances at the former First Midwest Bank building at 4502 W. Crystal Lake Road that had been vacant for years.
It will serve mainly drinks and little to no food – perhaps only snacks or finger foods – and also sell cigars. Plans also call for a designated outdoor smoking area that can be enclosed by garage doors when the weather is cool or at night when performers are playing.
The music won’t be multipiece rock bands but likely solo performers.
“Think about a lounge singer or someone on a keyboard in the corner,” Irslinger said, adding that he wants to help showcase local talent.
He thinks such a spot could attract consumers from across McHenry County when they’ve had an evening out and are looking for a place to extend their night while still dressed to impress.
“We’re always open to either ideas or concepts that we think could be not only good for us but good for the community and good for the area,” Irslinger said. “We’re really excited.”
He hopes to open the place, which has yet to be named, by next summer.
But there still is work to be done to transform the building from a bank into a bar.
The area that used to be teller and ATM drive-thru lanes will be converted into a patio, and the overhang will be equipped with sliding doors to allow the strip to be converted between an outdoor patio and an enclosed hangout.
Before the tavern opens to the public, a hefty safe inside the bank – there is no vault, to Irslinger’s dismay – that weighs an estimated 8,000 pounds will need to be removed, likely by a crane through the front door.
Irslinger and his co-owner and father, McHenry optometrist Bertram Irslinger, are making their first leap into operating a hospitality-based drink service business, although the elder Irslinger has invested in taverns before without playing a direct role in their management, his son said.
They are in talks with architectural designers and contractors about the site’s needs and expressed optimism that the new spot will prove to be a viable location for a place to grab a drink.
“There is some trepidation, of course,” Bert Irslinger said. “Anytime you’re planning and opening up a new business, there is a lot of risk that goes into the investment. Finding staff and employment in this day and age is not easy. We’re excited, yes, excited to see it come to fruition, absolutely 100%. But none of that is without some nerves.”
McHenry County records show an entity known as Bank Storage LLC, of which Bert Irslinger is registered as a manager with the Illinois Secretary of State’s Office, bought the property from First Midwest for $250,000 last month.
The parcel also includes a 4,000-square-foot warehouse building behind the brick bank structure, which Bert Irslinger plans to use for storage for his shooting range business. But the primary use of the property will be the tavern.
In a 6-1 vote last month, the McHenry City Council granted zoning changes and a conditional use permit that will allow the property to operate as a tavern, with 2nd Ward Alderman Andy Glab casting the only no vote.
Some residents raised concerned with having a bar near the McHenry High School’s Upper Campus, which is just to the south of the site, and others felt a tavern wouldn’t jibe with the surroundings because of the number of homes.
But Bert Irslinger noted the busy nature of Crystal Lake Road, which he said he feels is more like a thoroughfare than a residential road. He added he thinks it carries a high enough volume of traffic to lure passers-by in for a drink.
The tavern will have to meet certain requirements regarding the volume of music and limits on when performances can be hosted outdoors or in the enclosed patio.
“I think the Planning and Zoning Commission did a great job tailoring this business request to that location,” 7th Ward Alderwoman Sue Miller said. “I think what we have in front of us is the best use for that location at this time.”