Union Park Tavern co-owners Angela Cook and Benjamin DeSmidt (in masks) are flanked by members of the band Rhythm Dog's Blues Jam (from left) Jim Roxworthy, Robert Sellers and Terry James.

Union Park Tavern welcomes back patrons with live entertainment

Sweet sounds of music return in full force at UPT

By Daniel GaitanKENOSHA.COM

Gaitan is a proud Kenosha native who has covered his local community for much of his professional career. The DePaul University graduate served previously as an award-winning writer for the Kenosha News.

The owners of one Union Park area bar are heartened to see more and more area residents venturing back out for drinks and meals at local establishments. 

Union Park Tavern, 4520 Eighth Ave., is working to ensure folks are comfortable and entertained when they finally go out after months of social isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“It just feels good to be on the way to normalcy, whatever that may mean,” co-owner Angela Cook laughed. 

Cook and partner Benjamin DeSmidt purchased the tavern formerly known as Pete’s Place in 2017. Business was brisk before the pandemic struck the area in early 2020. It forced the tavern to temporarily close during the city-wide shut down and then limit many services and programs in the following months. 

Cook said “she felt lost” during some of the most difficult pandemic months because customers dried up and live entertainment was too difficult to host at times. Still, she persevered. 

“It felt empty in here,” Cook said, “but we took it as an opportunity to redo our bar because we were shut down and we knew that if we were able to be open we would never have had the time to do this work.” 

Cook said they removed the drop ceiling in the bar area to make it more spacious, replaced some of the large front windows and put in a new back bar. 

“We did stuff to improve the place while we were shut down,” she said. “We’re survivors and we didn’t want to lose our business or house. We had to carry on.”

The tavern, which boasts a popular fish fry, also offered curbside carry out to patrons and offered live entertainment via Zoom for folks unable to visit in person. 

Helping folks feel comfortable 

Cook said customers are returning after months away, and the dine-in experience is back in full swing.

“I think it’s because people are getting their vaccines,” Cook said. “A lot of our old customers, our pre-pandemic customers, are coming back vaccinated and it’s just great. I love it. I’m so glad that things are looking up!” 

Cook said she understands some customers may not feel or act the same way they did pre-pandemic. She said some may not be used to large crowds or maskless conversations. 

“No one’s going to judge them,” Cook said, adding the tavern still takes hygiene very seriously. 

“Some people have to reacclimate to a crowd and I understand that. I am grateful that me and Ben and our staff that even during the lockdown got to see each other. I couldn’t imagine being by myself for a year. I keep that in mind,” she said. 

Live entertainment

Cook, who said she managed tg’s Restaurant & Pub, 4120 Seventh Ave., for 13 years, said she’s always prioritized live entertainment. 

“I did all the bookings there and it was natural for me to bring music here,” Cook said. “It was a natural transition for me to start booking music here.”

For folks hoping to sip a pint and hear live music, Union Park Tavern has plenty of options.

The tavern brought back Tuesday night karaoke, Wednesday night Open Mic nights with Mark Paffrath, Thursday night Open Mic jam sessions and Sunday evening piano jams, among other events. 

“We have music, if you consider karaoke music, almost every day we have live music. We have music Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and most Fridays and Saturdays, and every Sunday we have our piano jams,” Cook said. She said Paffrath still operates the oldest Open Mic program in town. 

The entertainment schedule can be viewed at the tavern’s website

“We don’t focus on one type of music because we want to have an eclectic crowd,” Cook added.