February 5, 2019
By: Ben Bromley
Perhaps we can thank Neil Caflisch and Baraboo dignitaries for this week's frigid temperatures.
Business leaders and city officials braved subzero weather Tuesday to pack the Square Tavern in celebration of Caflisch's 50 years of ownership. Mayor Mike Palm told the crowd, "Neil thought it would be a cold day in hell before the city recognized him for his ervice. Well, guess what?"
Palm presented Caflish with a framed proclamation, and the Baraboo Area Chamber of Commerce staged a ribboon-cutting ceremony to commemorate the occasion.
"I didn't think the city knew I was here," Caflisch joked.
Customers and well-wishers jammed the Fourth Avenue bar to celebrate Caflisch's prominent role in a business that dates back to the 1930s. Today, the Square Tavern is known for its burgers, served on wax paper, and greetings from the owner that are saltier than the fries. The tavern has served generations of loyal regulars and is the longtime post-meeting hangout of the Sauk County Board.
"It's home," said Mary Klingenmeyer, A distant relative of Caflisch who has held parties at the Square and fondly recalls time spent there with her late husband, Darrell. "It's a good place to play cards and fall in love."
Caflisch bought the bar from friend Bob Steinhorst in 1968. "He said, 'You should take over because you know everyone in here,'" Caflisch said. "One thing led to another."
Their predecessors ran a tavern called Luther's on Third Street, and its 120-year-old back bar rests inside the Square Tavern today. The Square Tavern first opened at 101 Fourth St., the current home of Cornerstone Gallery, in 1936. It moved down the street to its current location in the early 1940s, taking up the west side of the Ashley-Dickie building. The Romanesque revival was built as a harness shop in 1886, and later operated as a cigar store and a grocery becoming home to the Square Tavern.
Caflisch said he has served burgers and beers to five generations' worth of customers. "It seems like one generation follows the other," he said. "The best advertising is they all keep coming back."
Competition and stiffening drunken driving laws have hurt business, he said. Before fast food eateries proliferated in Baraboo and Wisconsin dells establishments became a powerful draw, "you couldn't get in here at dinnertime," Caflisch said. "I've been very fortunate over the years. We've had good times and bad times."
Caflisch served as president of the Sauk County Tavern League, and in 2016 was named the statewide organization's Member of the Year. In addition to the Square, he owned and operated the Coach House in Rock Springs before closing it last year due to flooding.
Outside the bar business, he served as Fairfield's town chairman for two decades and ran Caflisch Building & Remodeling for many years.
At age 81, Caflisch doesn't plan any major changes to the Square. After washing down a grilled cheese sandwich with Sharp's on Tuesday, Caflisch said he still writes checks and doesn't bother with email. The bar, like its owner, will remain a vintage treasure.
"I'm not going to go high-tech," he said. "I got by easier doing it this way, and that's the way it's going to stay."