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Upscale Burlington tapas bar opens

Upscale Burlington tapas bar opens

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BURLINGTON — Downtown Burlington now has an upscale tapas bar that could also be called a locally sourced gastropub.

Rugan’s opened this week at 597 N. Pine St. in a completely restored 1895 building at the corner of Pine Street and Milwaukee Avenue.

It is the second Rugan’s for Jim and Nicole Hayes of Twin Lakes; they opened their other Rugan’s in Antioch, Ill., in 2007. The couple also have a home-décor store and coffee shop in Antioch.

The Rugan’s name is partially a reference to the German island of Rügen, a vacation destination with chalk cliffs, Nicole explained.

“We’re both of German heritage,” she said. “It’s the idea of getting away.”

It’s also an affectionate reference to a past Weimaraner of theirs named Rugan; the dog’s image is preserved on the sides of the tavern’s pint glasses.

The menu, devised by their chef Eric Wiessner, is all locally sourced and made on site from scratch, Nicole said. The menu lists all 10 area providers including Yuppie Hill Poultry in the Town of Burlington, Geneva Lakes Produce, Wilson Farm Meats of Elkhorn and Nestle Chocolate.

The owners chose a tapas menu because, Nicole said, “We wanted good small-plate things. It evolved into more gourmet, sharable plates.”

Because the foods are locally sourced, the menu is seasonal. Currently there are five small, medium and large-plate items each, and three sweet plates. Nicole said everything is delicious but chose as her favorites the Yuppie Deviled Eggs, $6; Fresh Pumpkin Soup, $8; Slider Trio, $16; and Roasted Brussels Sprouts, $9.

“I don’t even like Brussels sprouts, and they’re addictive,” she remarked.

From the sweet plate Nicole singled out the Butternut Bundt, $6.

Drinks and decor

A menu page is devoted entirely to “craft cocktails.” Jim said that term refers to cocktails that date back to about the Prohibition era, faded somewhat from popularity but are starting to make a comeback. They include the Rusty Nail, Pisco Sour, Peach Sidecar and Moscow Mule. Cocktails range from $8 to $10.

Another menu page is just for martinis such as the Anti-Oxidant, Ginger Citrus, Chocolate and Salted Caramel, with prices from $8 to $12.

“We focused equally on cocktails as we did food,” Nicole said.

The building itself is worth a look, after a purchase and upgrades that Jim valued at roughly $750,000 altogether — although their cash outlay was less because they did a vast amount of the work themselves.

The main room has dark, restored maple floors, a dramatic, 13-foot-8-inch first-floor ceiling and booths that Nicole calls “snugs.” It’s an English term for booths where nothing is attached to the building, she said. Rugan’s dividers between booths are about 6 feet tall for a great degree of separation and privacy, Nicole said.

Jim added a library ladder and 28-foot rail that spans the entire back bar. It allows bartenders to restock from behind and also reach the top-shelf, single-malt Scotch whiskeys.

Rugan’s has a warmly lit, basement “speakeasy” room for small, private parties and events. It can be reserved at no cost.

Rugan’s is open from 4-10:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 4 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday with live music those two nights. For more information call 262-342-5177.

Operations Manager Angela Burns said there are several free municipal lots and a parking garage within less than a two-minute walk. For more information about parking, visit

“We wanted good small-plate things. It evolved into more gourmet, sharable plates.” 

— Rugan's co-owner Nicole Hayes


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Michael "Mick" Burke covers business and the Village of Sturtevant. He is the proud father of two daughters and owner of a fantastic, although rug-chewing, German shepherd dog.

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