Published in The Lakeland Times
Take a right on Lakeshore Drive in Minocqua and you’ll find an oasis where, upon opening the door, discomfort is left behind in the frigid winter air.
In fact, comfort can’t be overstated when describing this classy but casual, upscale but low-key lounge. Even its name, Divanos, which means “sofa” in Italian, befits the atmosphere.
“We always thought Minocqua and the surrounding area needed something like this,” Dustin White, a co-owner of Divanos, said. “There’s a lot of bars you can go to but there’s not really anything that’s for adults only and is a little low-key.”
The White family, consisting of Laurie and Dan, their sons Ryan and Dustin, and daughter-in-law Salena, has renovated the upstairs lounge piece-by-piece since they purchased the fire-ravaged building five years ago.
At the time, they opened Divanos’ parent establishment, the Minocqua Brewing Company, in the lower, less damaged part of the building, and began to conceptualize the upstairs lounge soon after.
Although the two restaurants may share buildings and owners, each maintains its own distinct flair and set of flavors. In fact, the menus and even the kitchens are separate. While the downstairs restaurant is best known for hearty homestyle cooking, such as the classic Friday night fish fry, Divanos caters to a more sophisticated palate, serving high-end hors d’oeuvres made from scratch.
“There are no friers up here and everything is prepared to order and hand-crafted,” Salena said. “It will also change with the seasons three or four times a year just to keep things interesting.”
“It’s not a typical Northwoods menu,” she added. “It’s more of a city menu … We come from River Falls, right outside of the Twin Cities, so we meshed that atmosphere.”
With menu items such as bruschetta, pancetta-wrapped asparagus spears, calmari pie, and pizzas with pear poached in porter and topped with caramelized beer onions, goat cheese, and walnuts, it’s easy to detect the urban influence.
Featuring local musicians on the winter weekends, and three or four nights a week during the summer season, has also helped offset the vibe of a traditional country supper club.
“We have a wide variety of music– everything from blue grass and jazz to pianists, solo guitarists and an acoustic stage night on Thursday nights,” Dustin said. “So people can come in and not feel regimented to eat dinner and just be done.”
Above the music stage’s resident 83-year-old baby grand piano, a colorful, modern mural painted by local graphic designer Brian Black hangs as backdrop. A nearby fireplace and blanketed leather sofas completes the mellow mood and lends itself to conversation flowing easily as one of the seven house-crafted microbrews on tap. If beer is not a customer’s beverage of choice, the wine menu highlights imports from around the world, and specialty drinks are made to order.
It’s no wonder that, since opening its doors in December, the business has already settled comfortably into the community. Or maybe it’s just the other way around.
“People have no problem relaxing. One night, people had their shoes off and their feet on the table,” Salena said. “It’s especially a good first date spot. You sort of feel like it’s your living room.”