Familiar tavern owners carry on the legacy of Pavle’s Lounge

Familiar tavern owners carry on the legacy of Pavle’s Lounge

When longtime bar owner Pavle Zekovic passed away last August at the age of 68, the future of his tavern, Pavle’s Lounge, 1724 52nd St, was in doubt.

During his life, Pavle wasn’t the only Zekovic bar owner in Kenosha. His brother, Petar Zekovic, was the owner of Pete’s Place, 4520 Eighth Avenue. In 2017, Angie Cook and Ben DeSmidt were looking to open their own tavern, and jumped at the opportunity to purchase Pete’s Place. A few years later, they renamed it Union Park Tavern, a throwback to the name the bar had throughout most of the 20th century.

After the unfortunate passing of Pavle, Cook and DeSmidt began looking into the future of Pavle’s Lounge and decided to jump at the opportunity to open a second location in Kenosha.

The new Pavle’s Lounge will have their grand opening on Friday, January 20th with live music by Tail Dragger and Patio Daddio’s and will continue to be open Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 5pm through the season, with possible additional hours in the future.

Cook and DeSmidt sat down and delivered us the exclusive scoop on why they decided to carry on the Zekovic tradition — operating two fine taverns in Kenosha that each carry their own distinct character.

Congratulations on the purchase of Pavle’s Lounge! With all the success you’ve had at Union Park Tavern, what make you both decide to purchase a second bar?
We were at Pavle’s maybe six or eight months ago, watching our friend David “Elvis” Kirby’s show. Pavle was so warm and welcoming when we were there, we started talking about how great it would be to have a lounge like he ran. After Pavle passed away suddenly, we were talking with Pavle’s brother Pete, from whom we bought Union Park Tavern six years ago, and he asked if we were interested. It all came together really quickly after that.

What can people expect when they stop in at the new Pavle’s?
I think people will find great music and drinks in a warm and welcoming environment, just like Pavle offered for so many years. We want to capture some of the classic, rat-pack, mid-century vibe.
The layout of the bar and performance area will be very similar, but we made some updates to the barroom decor and bathrooms and also equipment and electrical, much of which is behind the scenes. We will still be offering live entertainment on Fridays and Saturdays and karaoke on Sunday nights.

What kind of vibe will the new Pavle’s Lounge have? And what kind of personal touch will you both be adding?
Pavle’s will definitely be a lounge, but we’re taking it back to what it was like a few decades ago, a classy cocktail lounge.

Was the plan all along to keep the name “Pavle’s Lounge” or did you contemplate a name change?
From the start, we planned to keep the name “Pavle’s Lounge.” But as time goes on things change. When we bought Union Park Tavern in 2017, we kept the name Pete’s Place for several years, but eventually our customers expected a change as the bar became more identified with us. Who knows what the future will hold at Pavle’s?

What are your short and long term goals for Pavle’s?
Initially, we are aiming to build up a customer base around live entertainment and excellent drinks and service. In the long term, we hope to spend time developing the large outdoor area.

Union Park Tavern is known for all the great live music and entertainment, is that something you are also looking to do at Pavle’s Lounge?
We will definitely offer live music and entertainment, but Pavle’s will allow us to explore how to tailor those things to the lounge environment.

What will your new hours of operation be at Pavle’s be?
To start, we will open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 5pm to legal bar closing. We may add Thursday nights as well and also host private events in the space during the week.

What will your cocktail menu look like?
We’re planning on being old school and traditional.

Will you be hiring a new staff or migrating your current staff at Union Park Tavern?
We will be migrating some staff from UPT to Pavle’s, but we’re always advertising for new staff and happy to accept applications.

After buying the bar did you find anything interesting left behind?
There’s a great old article written by Bill Robbins about the history of Pete and Pavle and how they were running two different bars in Kenosha. We plan to keep that in the bar.

Any plans for a 3rd bar?
No immediate plans. But never say never… right?

From crooked to cosmopolitian:
How a little brick building became one of Kenosha’s chic cocktail lounges

The 99-year-old building which sits on the northeast corner of 52nd Street and 18th Avenue has a rich and interesting history involving bootlegging operations, family betrayals, fights with city officials, and more; eventually evolving into one of Kenosha’s most posh cocktail lounges for the last thirty years.

The brick, single story structure was built in 1924 and originally operated as a Wholesale Grocery Company outlet operated by young Lithuanian immigrant Alex Marcinkus  (1896-1977) with the early address of 672 Grand Avenue (in 1927, Kenosha changed from a named street system to numbered).

Although this was in the height of prohibition (1920-1933), the store did feature a small bar area even in its early days.  And it appears that the bar might have gotten its share of illegal use. The grocery store was used as a cover for a bootlegging operation run by Marcinkus’ business partners Joseph Neu and Paul Brassel throughout prohibition. During the roaring 20’s, Anna Marcinkus (wife of Alex), Brassel, and Neu were all cited, raided and arrested numerous times for their involvement with bootlegging out of this location.

“It’s getting to be a regular thing in the records of the police department to enter some sort of violation against (this location) every once in a while,” the Kenosha News reported in August 1925.

Perhaps due to legal troubles, the Marcinkus grocery did not last long. By 1927, the building, now with the 1724 52nd Street address, was rented out to Frank Forte who ran an A&G Grocery out of it. A&G were a very popular grocery chain, with hundreds of locations, including over 20 in Kenosha in the late 1920’s.

Kenosha News. August 15, 1929

Marcinkus will attempt to try to sell the building with no luck for many years, first in 1927. An ad ran in the Kenosha News stating: “GROCERY STORE — Good going business, three living rooms in rear, brick corner building, will sell or trade for small home.” The building would remain in the Marcinkus family for several decades with multiple attempts to sell.

We’re not sure exactly what business was in the location throughout the 1930’s, but whatever it was, Alex Marcinkus was the owner and operator.

Even though alcohol has been made legal two years earlier, Alex Marcinkus still found ways to get in trouble. In 1935, he got cited for violating his Class A liquor license at this location.

By 1939, it became the home to Ann’s Hamburger Shop, operated by Alex’s wife Ann Marcinkus. Ann served up delicious food throughout the 1940’s.

In 1949, the restaurant became Wally’s Lunch. Although the name has changed, the business remained in the Marcinkus family. Walter Marcinkus (1922-2000), son of Alex and Ann, recently returned from serving in the US Army during World War II. Just prior to joining the service, he married Margaret Mary Korbel in 1942.

In 1953, Kenosha residents Janet and Bill Engleson leased the space from the Marcinkus family and opened Engelson’s Lunch where they also lived in the apartment in the back of the building at the time with their three children. Janet typically ran the restaurant as Bill provided additional income with his full-time job at Dynamatic (a manufacturing company located at 3307 14th Ave).  For unknown reasons, the business would not last long.

Janet and Bill Engelson. Kenosha News. November 16, 1955

By early 1956, the young couple Herbert J. (1931-1997) and Bea Rommelfanger opened Herb & Bea’s in this location. This business venture would be marked by family troubles and tragedies. 

In April of 1956, Herb’s father, Herbert Rommelfanger was working at Coopers, Inc (Jockey) when he attempted to hold back a truck which had broken loose in the shipping room. He was pinned between the vehicle and a steel post. Rommelfanger suffered severe groin injuries and died the following day at the Kenosha hospital.

Sadly the other son of the elder Herb, Donald Rommelfanger (1935-1989), was very well known to the Kenosha Police as a local troublemaker. But with his brother owning a new business and his own recently widowed mother (Mildred Rommerlfanger, 1912-1983) helping to manage the place, Donald crossed a line when he targeted his family business as his next victim.

Although he recently was released from Green Bay Reformatory after 22 months, on March 4, 1957, Donald broke into the family restaurant and stole money from the juke box and a coin machine. Donald would not learn his lesson, he continued to cause trouble, and eventually returned to prison for forgery.

Their personal troubles were most likely one of the reasons why they closed around 1957.

Both of the Rommelfanger boys seemed to be less than savory individuals. Herbert J. would be charged with assault and battery by his wife in 1958 and they would divorce in 1961. He would marry at least twice more before his death in 1997.

In the early 1960’s it seemed pretty quiet on this street corner. The dwelling in the rear of the building was now the home to Earl Walton (1906-1978) and his wife Bertha.

For many years, Earl had an interest in tinkering with technology and had a shop just up the street at 1828 52nd St before moving Walt’s TV & Radio Service closer to home where it operated in this location until at least 1963.

In 1965, the Marcinkus family put the building on the market once again: “A good brick building which can be used for almost any type of business… this property has a 4-room apartment in the rear of the store, but the entire 1168 square feet can easily be used for all store. Good buy at only $14,000”

With no one interested in buying the building, Walter Marcinkus decided to try his hand again at running a business and was looking to open a tavern. But he was having trouble garnering a liquor license. He tried to take over the liquor license of the Lawrence J Reilly’s Tavern, which was at 6210 14th Ave, and had recently closed. A big legal fight ensued because the city would not approve the transfer because the building was less than 300 feet from the Vogue Theater, which was hosting church services at the time. Walt lawyered up and fought the city. Finally, on June 16th it was approved and the building became Walter’s new place – The Paris Club.

The Marcinkus family may have finally landed something successful that didn’t involve breaking the law. Throughout the late 60s and 70s, The Paris Club was the place to be. They were champions in the tavern leagues: basketball, pool, softball, etc… for over a decade! 

Kenosha News. August 27, 1971.

Although The Paris Club was a happening joint, they had a rough month in August 1970. On August 16, someone broke in while the bar was closed and stole several jars and a box continuing about $75. Then, just over a week later on August 26, the bar was robbed again, this time they pried open a jukebox and vending machine and stole their liquor and the color TV.  The bar would have several other break-ins and armed robberies (as did many other businesses in Kenosha during this era), but two in 10 days seemed a bit noteworthy.

In 1973, Robert Kressel (1942—1995) takes over operations of The Paris Club and Marcinkus attempts to transfer the liquor license to Kressel. Robert’s father,  Ed Kressel, (1914-2007) already worked part time as a bartender for Marcinkus and would later become the 5th district Constable for Kenosha.

Robert Kressel barely obtained the permission to take Marcinkus’ liquor license. The police department at the time recommended his license be denied to due his “past history.”  Back in 1962, the then 19-year-old Kessel was found guilty of moral charges after he was found in a parked car with two 15-year-old girls in Carol Beach. He was ordered a 60-day psychiatric examination.

While defending his past and trying to assume the liquor license, Robert assured the committee that his father, at the time also a captain with a private police force in Racine, would help maintain law and order in the place.

Perhaps order was kept, but law? Ed was arrested in April 1974 on a unlawful betting charge after giving a prize to a customer who played a bowling machine.

By December 1975, building owner Walter Marcinkus may have had a falling out with Paris Club operator Robert Kressel. In lieu of attempting to buy the liquor license back from Kressel, he re-applied for a new one, and was granted a license to operate effective January 1, 1976. The Marcinkus family was once again running the show at The Paris Club.

But it would not last very long. In 1978 a new family looked to lease the building. The Farmer brothers: Robert, Joel and Charles, opened The Romper Room Tavern under their professional business name Tri-Farm Associates.

On April 19, 1981, just a few hours after Robert Farmer closed the bar up after a Saturday night, a mysterious blaze caused $40,000 in damage. The fire appeared to have started in the basement and broke out at 4am, spreading until the floor caved in. Investigators suspect that the fire may had been caused after a suspected break-in.

In 1983, realtor James A. Warzyn had interest in owning his own tavern. His bar, J.W. Brandy’s Lounge opened in 1983, but did not last long. His lounge would close a year later and Warzyn was soon back to reality, becoming a successful property dealer with Century 21.

Kenosha News. August 11, 1983.

It appears that when Frank Widmar (1929-2016) took over the location and opened Widmar’s Lounge on September 7, 1984 we begin to see the tavern evolve to its current state. Widmar was concurrently the owner of Wid-Co Motors, 1225 60th St, and looking for something else to keep him busy. With his new business venture he wanted to create a relaxed atmosphere – somewhere people can stop in and enjoy a cocktail before a fancy dinner.

Widmar called his new place “a friendly, subdued place where conversation comes before loud music.” They even advertised “Mellow Time” every Friday from 4 – 7 pm.

While other bars were taking in the new sounds of punk and metal music at this time, Widmar’s Lounge had a “No Rock” policy – playing the classic sounds of Sinatra, Bennett, and other Big Band favorites. He started slow, but built a faithful clientele.

By 1986, Pete Revelle, a local piano player, would tickle the keys while patrons enjoyed their drinks — and it wasn’t long before Frank would join him on stage to sing a few tunes. They would soon form their own little duo, called The Sid and Emil Show, and perform at the lounge on Wednesday and Saturday nights.  By the next year, Widmar would add additional entertainment including “Impressions by Franz” (we are betting a nickel that Franz is Widmar) and “Obscene Francine.”

In 1990, he alters the name of his business to “Widmar Show Lounge” to focus on the entertainment aspect.

Kenosha News. April 7, 1990

Pavle Zekovic (1953-2022) and his twin brother Petar Zekovic arrived in Kenosha in 1974 from Yugoslavia and they were intrigued with the American taverns. The two landed “real jobs” at Macwhyte for Pavle and AMC for Petar, but both also tended bar at Chris’ Tavern, 2724 Roosevelt Road, which was owned at the time by their uncle Milun Zekovic (1918-1989). Chris’ Tavern was one of the longest operating bars in town, having opened in 1918 by Chris Christiansen and purchased by Milan in 1964.

Without much fanfare, Widmar sells the business to Pavle who renames the place Pavle’s Lounge and opens in the first week of January 1991. Pavle holds his official grand opening party on January 26, 1991. Zekovic continues Widmar’s tradition and welcomes Pete Revelle to return to play the piano.

Happenings Magazine. January 10, 1991

Zekovic was very proud of his stylish cocktail lounge that boasted etched glass mirrors, hanging plants, tables bedecked with tiny fuel-oil lanterns, artsy photographs, and female bartenders clad in white tuxedo shirts, bow ties, and black slacks or skirts.

Although Widmar had cleaned up the joint from its seedier elements in the 1970s and early 80s, Zekovic took his vision even further, spending about $30,000 in renovations.

For nearly thirty years, Pavle Zekovic welcomed all to his cozy stylistic lounge and touched so many people with his kindness, understanding, and generosity.

Kenosha News. April 13, 1994.

On August 29, 2022, Zekovic passed away at the age of 68. Many people who enjoyed a relaxing drink at Pavle’s Lounge were at a loss when they heard of his death, with hundreds of tributes pouring in on social media of Kenoshans recounting their wonderful memories of Zekovic.

The future of Pavle’s was in question. In the 21st century, 52nd Street has become littered with “used-to-be’s” — empty buildings which housed not much more than memories. It appeared that what once was one of Kenosha’s classiest cocktail lounges would become nothing more than another “used-to-be.”

However, in January of 2023, Angie Cook and Ben DeSmidt, current owners of Union Park Tavern (formerly Pete’s Place, owned by Pavle’s brother Petar), have re-opened Pavle’s with the intention of keeping the lounge spirit alive for both new and old customers looking for a chill place to have a drink.

Q&A and 2023 photos with Angie Cook and Ben DeSmidt by Donny Stancato
Historical story written by Jason Hedman, with invaluable research assistance by Rachel Young-Sipos

Follow Pavle’s Lounge on Facebook HERE
Learn more about Angie & Ben by checking out some of our archive stories.
Kenosha Eats w/ Union Park Tavern
Support Local at Union Park Tavern
Holiday Memories w/ Union Park tavern
Also check out Angie & Ben’s appearance on the Ktown Connects Podcast
Apple Podcast
Follow Union Park Tavern on FACEBOOK & INSTAGRAM