Their name says it all. Well, not all, but a lot.
Riverfront Wine Bar offers wine, spirits and beer in a way that keeps patrons coming back for more.
Roy and Bonnie Pullam purchased the building at 227 Front St. about 10 years ago, but it wasn’t until three years ago that they finally decided to create a wine bar, which they opened about a year ago.
“It was totally gutted when we bought it and we had to put everything in here,” Bonnie Pullam said. “First we did a lot of wine bar hopping to get ideas. Then we took it slowly, doing as much as we could ourselves and waiting for our builder, who works full time, to come when he could.”
The building has a storied past, having been built late in the 19th century. Tenants over the years included Beaver Dam Laundry, Witt’s Auto Supply, Wash & Dry Laundromat, Kester’s Vacuum Service, Aqua-Land and Lee’s Hobby Shop.
The couple made their own wine for about 20 years. Following a failed plan to establish a wine making and home brewing supply store, a friend suggested they open a wine bar.
“After spending a few sleepless nights, we decided to go ahead with it,” Bonnie said. “We had no idea what we were doing, but we got started and moved ahead with it.”
Family and friends joined in, helping where needed.
Bonnie (Will) grew up in Beaver Dam, and later worked at the downtown Kentucky Fried Chicken (now Park Plaza Pizza, next door). Roy Pullam, who retired from military service, was a frequent customer there.
After the couple were married, they both moved to Roy’s hometown of Watertown. Roy worked at Johnson Controls, and at various other locations after the company closed its doors. Bonnie worked at Kohl’s and at other places as well. Roy started at Dodge Correctional in Waupun and Bonnie eventually followed him there.
They moved to Beaver Dam to cut down on the commute.
When they retired, the wine bar became their main enterprise. They learned as they went.
“I never tended bar a day in my life,” Bonnie said. “At first, my thought was that we would only do wine. I wanted people to come in, have a glass of wine and relax. It is different than most bars and has a very comfortable atmosphere. Then our distributor suggested we add more wine varieties, craft beer and spirits as well. Now we are making mixed drinks!”
The menu changes periodically, but currently includes 11 assorted house wines, 12 reds and eight whites available by the glass or by the bottle, three wines by the bottle only, two sparkling wines by the glass, two types of port, 22 spirits in 2-ounce pours, seven cocktails (mixed upon request) and 14 beers.
Liquors, wines and beers are both domestic and imported.
Prices range from $4 to $12 for a glass of wine, $6 to $15 for spirits and $3 to $4 for beers.
“We’ve got something for everyone to enjoy, including soda,” Roy said. “We try to keep some things the same, but some things are changing all the time. There’s always something new to taste, for those who want to be adventurous.”
A regular Sunday feature is a Bloody Mary bar, with many of the 15-or-so pickled vegetables prepared by Bonnie.
“We’ve got everything from pickled carrots to cauliflower,” she said. “If it can be pickled, I do it.”
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There is also a selection of shrimp, sausage sticks and cheese.
The new bar is the centerpiece of the front area, as suggested by an architect. A wall mural is currently in progress in the front space. Comfortable seating is available at the bar and at comfortable chairs and tables arranged around the rest of the room. Crafts created by local artists and wine-related merchandise are arranged on the walls and displays.
“People can walk around the room with a glass of wine, look at the merchandise and maybe find something they want to take home,” Bonnie said. “Everything is chosen to be fun and affordable.”
She also prepares a secret snack mix that is put out periodically for customers, and invites everyone to bring their own snacks or to order food in from area restaurants.
A back room is in the process of being renovated to hold private parties, along with a kitchenette and another bathroom. Long-term plans include installing a patio with seating to overlook the Beaver Dam River.
“One idea is to install a garage door at the back to open up the space to the river,” Roy said. “We’ll have to see if that’s even possible, but it would be great if we could.”
The upstairs apartment has also been completely renovated, giving a lucky tenant the opportunity to enjoy an attractive new downtown loft space.
A very long-term project is opening the vast basement as, predictably, a wine cellar.
“That’s way out there because we have so many projects already,” Roy said. “That will be a nice thing to do when we get that far.”
Both owners thank the city for helping along the way, insuring that codes are met and offering useful suggestions as the project moves forward.
“They’re very welcoming and work hard to insure that this project will succeed,” Bonnie said. “It’s also gratifying to see all of the other revitalization projects that are happening around us.”
Special events are also held there – whether they are wine and art events, or group meetings or nail and/or makeup parties.
There is plenty of lot parking only a short walk away.
“It’s a very Blue Zones (a county-wide health initiative) thing to walk a little bit every day, so it’s a good habit to get into,” Roy said.
Hours are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 4-9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday from 4-1 p.m.; and Sunday 11 a.m. to 3 or 4 p.m., depending on the crowd. The bar is closed Mondays.
“We don’t just shut the door and say, ‘OK. Get out,’” Bonnie said. “The majority of our customers, young or old, are pretty much done by those hours.”
“After all, we’re officially retired,” Roy said.
“We’re having a good time, and we’re very proud of what we have done here,” Bonnie said. “Everyone’s invited to stop in and see what we’re all about.”