Couple take over restaurant in Port Hotel

Anders Dowd and Ashley Heun say they won’t change supper club feel of Moonlight Tavern but plan to make it the city’s definitive whiskey bar

ASHLEY HEUN AND ANDERS DOWD, who stood in the bar of the Moonlight Tavern in the Port Hotel, said they plan to retain the supper club feel of the restaurant but more than double the number of whiskey offerings. (Lower) THE PORT HOTEL at the corner of Main and Wisconsin streets was built in 1902 as the Thill Hotel and later became the Mayer Hotel before being given its current name. Photos by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

The Moonlight Tavern, the supper club-themed restaurant in the recently-renovated Port Hotel, is now run by husband and wife team Anders Dowd and Ashley Heun.

The couple said they hope to expand hours to include lunch and start a Sunday brunch in early summer, but are hesitant to make any major changes to the menu.

“It’s a supper club. People love that,” Dowd said. “We don’t want to shock the system.”

Dowd said he’s most excited to expand the bar’s whiskey selection from the current 63 varieties up to 150.

“I am a huge bourbon fan,” he said. “Going to all the other restaurants around town, you’ll only find 10 or 12 bottles.”

By becoming Port’s definitive whiskey bar, Dowd said, the Moonlight will capitalize on the inn’s appeal to business travelers and tourists.

“Businesspeople can sit down and have a whiskey and steak,” he said. “We want to become ‘that place’ for whiskey.”

The Port Hotel inn has ten rooms and was renovated along with the restaurant in 2022 by Angel Tello and Jim Read.

The renovation amenities to the rooms that were re-conceived from a “couples retreat” to rooms for “business travelers, tourists and people coming to the area for long-term assignments,” Read said.

Dowd noted the Port Hotel’s cozy, yet close-to-Milwaukee location is an asset.

Closed in 2017, the Hotel’s restaurant was reopened as the Moonlight Tavern in 2022, with renovations opening dining room space.

At the time of renovations, Read said the menu would pay homage to the Port Hotel’s history as a supper club with new food trends.

Dowd said he hopes to continue this theme.

“You’re still going to be getting Wednesday prime rib and Friday fish fry,” Dowd said. “We want to grow out what (Tello and Read) started.”

The Port Hotel was built in 1902 as the Thill Hotel and later became the Mayer Hotel. The restaurant continued until 2017 as a supper club and buffet and the inn closed a short time later.

Heun, a Port native, said that while she never went to the old restaurant, she’s heard an outpouring of fond memories from locals.

One person said she had her first drink at the Hotel and another said they had their wedding rehearsal there, the couple said.

Heun said she hopes to tailor the dining experience to locals who remember the Port Hotel restaurant and travelers.

“We want to create a community atmosphere but also a destination,” she said.

The history of the tavern, which is named after an 1856 tall ship that visited Port Washington, inspires their menu choices and atmosphere.

“If the walls could talk,” Dowd said. “We want to bring out the roots of the building.”

A room formerly known as the jury room after its role as a space for sequestered juries from the Ozaukee County courthouse was converted into a garden room that opens to a patio during renovations, Read said.

Another room is called the “library room” for the wallpaper depicting shelves of books and the fireplace, while the dining room adjacent to the bar features a converted Sheboygan Falls-built Richardson boat light fixture, Read said.

Dowd said negotiations to take over the Moonlight Tavern were quick.

“One day we talked to Tello, he reached out to help grow what they started,” he said. “Quickly we made an agreement to come in.”

“It was out of the blue,” Heun laughed.

Dowd said he helped start the Steerage restaurant on Franklin Street, then became bar manager at Grafton’s Stillery and later a training manager for a chain of restaurants.

That experience, he said, has greatly helped in transitioning to operating Moonlight.

“I always had a dream to have a tap room or restaurant,” Dowd said.

Heun said running  her local hand-made pet supply business, The Plaid Cardinal, has put her in contact with other business owners who the couple hope to work with in the future.

“We have great food great shops, the lake,” Dowd said. “We want to work with and help other businesses.”

Heun said they have a great relationship with Tello and Read, who helped them get started.

The restaurant and the hotel will have a mutually beneficial relationship as well, Heun said.

“If a person stays at the hotel, they can walk down and talk to us or ask questions after hotel hours,” she said.

Tello and Read continue to operate the hotel.

Heun and Dowd said they are renting the space but plan to transition into full ownership of the restaurant later in the year.

On Tuesdays they have whiskey nights, where 2 ounces of whiskey is sold for the price of one, and Thursdays, wine nights, where all wines are half off a glass or bottle.



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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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Port Washington, WI 53074
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