Casper’s much-revered Wonder Bar, which closed in February, could soon see new life as a steak house if Montana-based Finally Restaurant Group gets the go-ahead to set up shop at the century-old 256 S. Center Street location.
The company is looking to open a Rib & Chop House in the empty Wonder Bar and they plan to lease the building from its current owners, Cercy Properties, LLC.
Chris O’Bryan, vice president of operations for the Finally Restaurant Group, which owns the Rib & Chop House chain, said the company has been looking to expand in Wyoming, and Casper fills out the demand for the central part of the state.
“It’s just a phenomenal market,” O’Bryan said, adding that the recent work in Casper’s downtown and Old Yellowstone District make it that much more attractive for a restaurateur.
O’Bryan said the timeline is still fluid but the goal is to “have the place ready” by the end of this year.
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When the Wonder Bar closed in February, the community rallied around the establishment, hoping to see it resurrected as it had been before. While the likelihood of an entirely new business moving into the building may dash those hopes, the new restaurant’s management said they expect the business to serve a similar purpose for Casper residents looking for a night out in downtown.
Finally Restaurant Group submitted an application for a liquor license at the Wonder Bar’s location Wednesday. As with all liquor licenses issued by the city, the application will still need to be subject to a public hearing before receiving a vote from the Casper City Council.
If approved, Casper will be home to the fifth Rib & Chop House in Wyoming and it would mark another drastic change for a city landmark that’s had at least 10 owners over the last century and seen a significant remodel in more recent years.
The Wonder Bar originally opened in 1934 and was known for attracting famous guests like John Wayne and Ernest Hemingway. When one former owner, state legislator Pat Sweeney, sold the bar in 2016 to the Cercy family, which owns the C85 Group, the Cercys decided to gut and remodel the venue.
It reopened in August 2017 with a new restaurant and updated bar, but despite the extensive remodel, its owners announced the bar would close in February of this year without offering a reason why.