Weekly Feature



2017-12-06 / Front Page

Bar Bill plans expansion into Red Mill Inn site, mindful of restaurant’s rich history

by ETHAN POWERS
Editor


The Bar Bill Tavern, located at 185 Main St. in East Aurora, is set for a second location at the site of the former Red Mill Inn at 8326 Main St. in Clarence. The popular restaurant closed its doors in 2015. 
Photo by David F. ShermanPurchase color photos at www.BeeNews.com The Bar Bill Tavern, located at 185 Main St. in East Aurora, is set for a second location at the site of the former Red Mill Inn at 8326 Main St. in Clarence. The popular restaurant closed its doors in 2015. Photo by David F. ShermanPurchase color photos at www.BeeNews.com Since its conversion into a restaurant in the 1960s, the Old Red Mill Inn stood for decades as one of Clarence’s finest eateries, as well as its most recognizable landmark.

The establishment’s closure in 2015 left a void for the restaurant’s most loyal customers, who had walked past its red mill wheel for more than 50 years, and while its distinctive color might be relegated to photos and memories, the historic structure at 8326 Main St. may again serve hungry residents by the end of next year.

Clark and Katie Crook, owners of the beloved Bar Bill Tavern in East Aurora, closed on the property early last week and plan on expanding their renowned pub fare into a second Bar Bill location that will occupy the former Red Mill Inn site.

According to Clark Crook, Clarence residents and preservationists can breathe a sigh of relief; there are currently no plans to demolish the existing structure, which he says will be restored as fully as possible.

“The goal is to get it stripped down to its bones, and then we will begin to work on design, once we get a feel for what kind of shape the original structure is in,” Crook said, adding that he hopes for a grand opening in late 2018.

The Crooks will look to incorporate the communal, neighborhood atmosphere that has made the Bar Bill Tavern an anchor of the East Aurora community, and the tavern itself is not without a history worthy of remembrance. The building at 185 Main St. has stood for more than 150 years, though the tavern was not established until the ownership of Barb and Bill Korzelius.

When Joe Giafaglione bought the bar in 1977, he soon boasted a kitchen and pub fare menu that became the talk of foodie circles throughout Western New York. Even as the Buffalo area became saturated with pubs and restaurants, each one more than ready to issue itself a “best wings” designation, Bar Bill consistently tops area lists in an increasingly crowded and competitive field.

Crook, who served as East Aurora mayor from 2008 to 2010, bought the bar in 2011 with his wife, Katie, Giafaglione’s niece. The couple now run the bar with their sons, John and Harry.

“We’re really excited about it,” said Crook. “It’s part of the Bar Bill brand to be in a historic location, and we’re looking to bring that to Clarence.”

History, says Crook, will not need to be factored into the building’s renovation costs. There’s plenty of it.

The original building, which housed the restaurant, dates to 1858 when it was the center of a 100-acre dairy farm that reached Sheridan Drive. It first opened as a restaurant in the 1960s and later added both the restaurant’s famous mill wheel and the antique train cars. At the time of its closure, the restaurant’s bar area was the farmhouse’s original kitchen and still featured a hand pump that was the house’s only source of water in the 1800s.

Doug Kohler, Erie County historian and Clarence Middle School history teacher, noted that ironically, the building was never a functioning mill and obtained its most identifiable elements only after it became a restaurant.

“It was a farmhouse for almost 100 years, dating back to the 1800s,” he said. “That’s what makes it important, but the other additions, like the mill wheel and the train car, are what makes it notable. That’s why people recognize it.”

Crook said there’s currently no estimate on what the renovation and repairs will cost, but the building’s needs are significant. In addition to its age, the structure has been vacant for two years.

“It’s rough. It needs a fair amount of love,” he said. “The game plan is to first understand where we’re at, and then we’ll design from there.”

Kohler believes that an arbitrary cost estimate cannot compare to what might be lost should the building need to be demolished.

“I think one of the great strengths of Clarence is that ‘road-front image’ — that idea of preserving the look of old Clarence. That’s hugely important,” he said. “These are buildings that have character from the road and are historically significant. We need to maintain an awareness of why they’re important and how they came to be.”

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