After 65 years of private membership, East Dundee's Anvil Club opens to the public
David Hansen of Naperville was a teenager in the mid-1970s when his parents threw a leisure suit on him and took the family to the private Anvil Club in East Dundee.
From the moment he walked in the restaurant, Hansen was hooked.
There were the doors relocated from an old Chicago brothel with a bullet hole meant for Al Capone, and another door with a sliding speakeasy-style window. Everywhere he turned, it seemed like an ambient piece of history welcomed him.
"There are so many things to look at while you're enjoying a meal," Hansen said. "My dad had a gun that he built in the early '50s that's a replica of a Kentucky long rifle, flintlock. I loaned it to the club because I didn't have a place for it here at the time, and we're able to sit in (the room) where they have it on the wall."
In December -- after 65 years as a private club -- the Anvil Club opened its doors to the general public. And, with COVID-19 pandemic dining restrictions easing, more and more people soon will be able to enjoy the historic surroundings while feasting on the many menu items headlined by the steaks and seafood.
At its peak, the club boasted about 8,000 members but, over time, the new model became necessary for the Anvil Club to survive.
Owner Tom Roeser, a local developer who owns several buildings in East Dundee and runs OTTO Engineering in Carpentersville, and Anvil Club General Manager Joe Robinson made the decision to open to the public as they navigated the tricky COVID-19 dining landscape.
"We're a club for everyone now," Robinson said. "The reaction has been wonderful. The members understand why we made the decision. I've heard from many of them that they'd rather have an Anvil Club open to the public than no Anvil Club at all."
Members like Hansen are fine with the switch, especially if it means long-term success for the restaurant.
Forty-six years after his first visit, Hansen can rattle off a long list of Anvil Club memories that started when his parents became members in the 1960s and continued when he became a member more than 20 years ago. Whether it was celebrating his 18th and 21st birthday or proposing to his wife, many of the biggest moments in his life were spent there.
At least once a month, Hansen still makes the 60-mile round-trip trek to East Dundee from his Naperville home.
"There's definitely a connection there," he said. "I'm happy to see new people in the club. It would be very hurtful to me if the place didn't exist anymore because of all these memories that go back to when I was a teenager."
The original structure at 309 Meier St. in downtown East Dundee was built in 1872 as a blacksmith's shop, hence the future name. It opened as a private club in 1956 when 10 prominent local businessmen wanted a place for quality food and drink without driving to Chicago, and they partially furnished the building with artifacts discovered during their travels.
Through the years, there were additions to the building, which deteriorated over time.
Roeser bought the Anvil Club in 2013 and immediately began a renovation that cost more than $1 million. His team addressed every need while still maintaining the historic feel.
Even as they replaced all the mechanicals in the three-story building, the Anvil Club closed for only a week during a four-month job when new flooring was installed in the classic bar that was brought in years ago from the Oriental Theatre in Chicago.
Knowing how much the Anvil Club means to the region, Roeser felt a duty to save it.
"I'm an engineer, and I don't take on projects that I don't think I can do," he said. "Every floor, every wall and every ceiling was redone. We tore the whole place apart. It was a lot of work but we made sure not to destroy any of the historic nature of it."
Robinson and Roeser are committed to maintaining the integrity of the club, starting with the requirement of business casual attire. They'll still have the wine lockers where patrons can store bottles and bring them out when they visit for a $2 charge.
Between the nine separate seating areas, including Sparky's Lounge downstairs, there are six rooms available for banquets or parties and a total capacity of about 300, including the outdoor veranda, when gathering restrictions are completely lifted.
"People immediately fall in love with the building when they walk in," Robinson said. "I can tell if someone's been here or not just by their reaction when they walk in the front door. You can see it in their face and their eyes. Their neck is on a swivel because there's so much to look at."