Leo & Leona's, the historic bar in southwest Wisconsin, has come all the way back.
Early this month, String Ties, a popular regional band, played the kickoff concert in the bar's renovated roadhouse hall. Other concerts planned in May include an event with "Spider John" Koerner, a former Bob Dylan cohort. Additional events will be announced later in the spring and summer.
The hall was once a ballroom owned by Leo and Leona Cavadini. But, there had not been music in the hall since 1951.
The story of the tavern has been told before in OnMilwaukee.com Beyond columns. Leona Cavadini lived above the tavern and helped operate it for more than 60 years. Her parents first owned it, and then she and her late husband, Leo, ran it.
The bar became a hangout for many of the NFL football players who trained in Wisconsin during the Cheese League days. One of the best stories about those days concerned former Bears and Saints coach Mike Ditka, who frequented the place.
Leo and Leona were huge Packers fans and sold a T-shirt with the familiar saying, "Da Bears Suck." After he had been coming into the bar for quite some time, Ditka asked Leo if he could remove the shirt, since, after all, he'd played for and coached the Bears.
Leo, a former WWII bomber pilot, reportedly got into Ditka's face and said, "Hell no; it's my best seller, and the Bears do suck!" Ditka backed off with a smile.
The legend of the bar goes well beyond those Cheese League days and tells the tale of a place that really did become an institution in the region of the state and for people from eastern Minnesota and Iowa.
The new owners, made up primarily of people who loved the old place and couldn't stand to see it go, bought the bar after Leona decided to retire. They fixed it up and opened the bar last year.
With the help of Amish craftsmen, they renovated the ballroom, which had become a storage room for some great sports, tavern and other memorabilia. Much of those items have been sold via an auction and a La Crosse collectibles store. But, some of it has been returned to the walls of the concert hall.
The place has a real feel of a traditional roadhouse. It also is right on the road, off Highway 33, east of La Crosse, in a tiny place called Newburg Corners.
Dan Sebranek, one of the owners of the bar, is an accomplished bluegrass, folk and rock musician and singer. He has played with Grammy Award winner Bill Miller and Michael Martin Murphy. The owners are attempting to get those artists to play at the hall.
Koerner is an icon in the folk and country blues areas. He founded the group Koerner, Ray &Glover, which became popular in the 1960s.
After dropping out of the University of Minnesota to pursue folk singing, he met a young musician named Bob Zimmerman, then an undergraduate at the U of M. Zimmerman later changed his last name to Dylan, and the rest is legendary history.
Audiophile Records, a small recording company based in Milwaukee, released the first album of Koerner, Ray & Glover in 1963. It was called Blues, Rags & Hollers. Koernerwill be part of a large collection of musicians to play at the May 23 event at Leo & Leona's.