HENNEPIN — For almost two years, a popular riverfront destination in Hennepin has been closed. However, Ray's Place, a fixture of Hennepin for six decades, is now re-opening under new ownership and a new name, Waterfront Tavern. It's sure to be a popular attraction this summer with boaters, bikers and anyone looking to enjoy Hennepin's scenic view of the Illinois River.
New owner Greg Waldorf, a Putnam County native, has made many changes, but he's kept what made it popular, and he's added or will be adding several changes which will only make it more appealing. Waldorf, along with his family, has been a part of the tavern/restaurant business for 38 years. His parents own Jim and Jane's Tap in Peru. Jim and Jane's is well known for their fried chicken, as was Ray's Place, and Waldorf made an interesting discovery after the purchase of Ray's.
"It's the same exact recipe as my grandpa's (recipe). All the old Italians had the same wet batter recipe," said Waldorf.
The interior of Waterfront Tavern has undergone some updates, but it's maintained its classic, early '50s charm. The bar area is now a deep red, and the dining area which was salmon pink is now a distinguished gray, and Japanese screens have been placed in front of the full salad bar. Behind the scenes, the kitchen is undergoing a remodel. Traditional tavern-style dinners will be served on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights.
"We'll have a Bluegill platter, gizzards and livers, fried chicken, pastas and the salad bar," Waldorf said.
"I installed a television in the dining room, so if there's a meeting being held they can do a Power Point presentation or whatever they need," said Waldorf.
There are also two new televisions above the bar. Waldorf has doubled his draft beer selection as well.
Waldorf has plans for entertainment as well as food. Along with hosting live music, there will be a back room with five video gaming machines, a video golf game and dart boards. He has additional plans for a fenced rear patio with bags games, and a front patio with tables and chairs, so guests can relax outside and enjoy the weather and view of the river.
"We plan on catering to the boats and bikes crowd," said Waldorf.
Waldorf was quick to acknowledge all the help, support and encouragement he's received during the entire re-opening process.
"My wife and sister-in-law did most of the painting, and Ken Lamchik of River Valley Chiropractic donated the art work and animal displays. Everyone in Hennepin and Putnam County has been fantastic and very supportive," said Waldorf.
The tavern is opening on Friday, Feb. 19, and the restaurant is expected to open within a couple of weeks. Until the restaurant portion is open, hours of operation will be 10 p.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday and 10 p.m to 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. For more information, call 815-925-3055.