Wise Boxer upgrades food, beer at former BlackFinn site in Naperville
The lineup of beers on tap is one of many operational and menu differences between the pub now at 16 W. Jefferson Ave. in downtown Naperville and the saloon operating there six weeks ago.
The Wise Boxer Pour House is putting the finishing touches on its logo, and owner Jim Bergeron says he's ready to conclude a soft opening and market the venue as an upscale pub featuring handmade food and craft beers.
"We're ready to start having the place take off," he said Wednesday.
The appearance of the three-story restaurant and pub hasn't changed much from its days as BlackFinn American Saloon.
But Bergeron said he has stepped up employee training, improved service standards and introduced a new menu for lunch and dinner since taking over the restaurant from BlackFinn, his former tenant in a building he has owned since 2004.
"The cool thing about the menu is we simplified what we're doing versus before and we went much more high quality," Bergeron said.
Burgers are now handmade, steaks are hand cut and chicken kebabs follow the recipe of the former Mediterranean restaurant Raffi's on 5th.
Taps at two bar counters in the first-floor pub offer brews such as Anti-Hero IPA from Revolution Brewing in Chicago, Bell's Oberon ale, Brooklyn Lager, a West coast IPA called Green Flash and Leinenkugel's Summer Shandy. Bergeron said he wants to expand the selection of about 30 bottled beers to 50, and is working on a wine list and a selection of scotches and bourbons.
When Bergeron received a late-night liquor permit in May, he told the city council and Mayor George Pradel, who serves as liquor commissioner, that he would make better use of the building's two kitchens and focus more on food than alcohol sales.
BlackFinn's sales were about 70 percent alcohol and 30 percent food, but Bergeron said that ratio could flip for the Wise Boxer because of the ability to host private parties and eventually start catering. Instead of aiming to hit a certain ratio, Bergeron said he is focusing 80 percent of his efforts on his new menu of upscale pub fare and letting the bar crowd come when it will.
"The bar business will always be there in downtown Naperville, you just have to run it safe," he said. "It's kind of like the icing on the cake."
Concerns about safety in downtown Naperville's night life scene arose after a series of violent incidents at BlackFinn, which operated at the site for about three years.
The bar surrendered its liquor license for three days during Thanksgiving week last year, paid a $1,000 fine and was required to install security cameras and an electronic ID checker at the door. Police also increased officers patrolling downtown on weekend nights, doubled the number of security cameras in the area and worked with the fire department to enforce building occupancy limits.
Bergeron said safety issues all are "very easily correctable," with the service standards and training he and about 60 former BlackFinn employees are implementing at the Wise Boxer.
The pub's name aims to convey an atmosphere along the lines of English-style pubs that often include pigs or goats in their names.
"But nobody does Boxers," Bergeron said.
The "Pour House" element implies the location is a pub, but it doesn't indicate a return to an emphasis on drinking.
"It talks to the fact that we are definitely more craft beer-centric," Bergeron said. "You want to have a name that splits the middle."