Adam’s Rib celebrates 40 years in Green Lake

JEAN ADAMS, LEFT, and daughter Rachel Nitz stand in the dining room at Adam’s Rib in Green Lake. The business was opened 40 years ago as a bar, but now offers lunches and dinners as well. Ian Stepleton photos

by Ian Stepleton

Jean Adams remembers one of her early trips to Green Lake, back in the late ’70s.

Jean’s siblings had places in Green Lake, so Jean and husband Dennis would make the trek up from Milwaukee for picnics and family get-togethers.

“We had a 1973 Eldorado convertible, and it was Fourth of July; I’ll never forget this,” Jean said of one particularly hot trip north. “We were stuck in Rosendale in the big Fourth of July parade.”

And when Jean says, “in the parade,” she means literally in the parade.

“I said [to Dennis], ‘You know, you pulled out and you’re in the middle of the parade. Get out of it!’ He said, ‘I can’t … [Just] wave!’” Jean said, laughing heartily at the memory. “They were probably wondering who was in the convertible.”

Dennis and Jean Adams may have been unfamiliar faces back then. Certainly, times have changed.

This year, the long-time restaurateurs will celebrate the 40th anniversary of Adam’s Rib, a tavern and restaurant in downtown Green Lake.

It’s a big deal for the family, three generations of whom can be seen working at Adam’s Rib these days.

Daughter Rachel Nitz, who was in a baby carrier on that Fourth of July? She’s now the manager of Adam’s Rib, and waitresses.

Mom Jean describes her as a godsend.

“She does a lot,” Jean said, adding that her kids do some of the bussing, “and the oldest waitresses. They’re all involved. I like it.”

Just as the Adams family has grown with the business, so have their customers.

“In the beginning it was older couples who would come in, and they would bring in their kids. Now their kids’ kids are coming in, saying ‘We were here when we were little!’” Nitz said. “We’ve always had the little lolly [pops on the counter], and they remember: ‘Oh, do you have the lollies?’ So now they’re giving their kids lollies, which is kind of cool.”

The funny thing is, if you ask Jean whether she imagined they’d still be at “The Best Bar by a Dam Site,” as their popular slogan goes, 40 years later, she’ll just laugh.

“No. No,” she said, chuckling.

“Forty years just seems like a really long time. Until it goes by,” Rachel added. “But we have great customers.”

Much has changed at Adam’s Rib in that time.

Jean and Dennis Adams purchased the site in 1978 from Ed “Spike” Breivogel, and continued to operate it as Spike’s tavern for the next several years.

Back, then, though, that’s all it was: a small tavern at the bottom of the hill, housed inside one of Green Lake’s oldest buildings.

Built in 1881, the entire space consisted of what is now the bar section of the building.

It wasn’t until 1984 that the bar was moved to the south wall, and 1988 that the Adams’ added on the dining room to the north.

Though they offered a limited menu when it was just a tavern, expanding Adam’s Rib into a full-service restaurant helped the family realize a dream.

“My husband was a chef in Milwaukee,” Jean said, noting she graduated college in Milwaukee with a degree in fine arts (her paintings adorn the dining room walls) while waitressing as well. “[Dennis] was interested in having a restaurant. So we started with a little bit of food [at Spike’s] and you ate at the bar.”

“It was going well, so we did the addition,” Rachel said.

“That’s what we wanted,” Jean added.

“We weren’t fancy; we weren’t high-priced,” Rachel said. “In the beginning we only did lunches, and then we only did weekends for dinner.”

It’s that relaxed, family atmosphere that Adam’s Rib continues to pride itself on today, as it now serves lunches and dinners six days a week — in addition to the tavern being open throughout.

“[We offer] very affordable, home-cooked meals,” Rachel said.

“We try to keep our prices reasonable, [serve] good food, always have specials going on for both bar and food,” Jean said.

Lunches, served Monday through Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., focus on a variety of sandwiches, salads and sides, each available for under $10.

“We have a great burger,” Rachel said.

Dinner, available Tuesday through Saturday from 4:30 to 9:30 p.m. and Sunday 4:30 to 9 p.m., offers a wider variety of entrees, in addition to sandwiches and salads.

“We are known for our barbecue ribs and our famous hash browns,” Rachel said.

Pasta or rice “platters,” steaks, seafood and more are available nightly as well.

“Every other Saturday is Taco Saturday, which we continued on from when Spike’s was doing it,” Rachel said. “We have a Friday night fish fry, which is awesome. It’s beer-battered. We have also beer-battered shrimp, perch and cod — and cod is our fish fry. On Saturday nights we have a deep fried chicken and prime rib. Sunday we also have prime rib and [more].”

And, of course, there’s the generations-old tavern that’s open daily on the south end, where Happy Hour runs Monday through Thursday from 3 to 6, with drink specials mixed in.

“There’s a lot of history [there],” Jean said, noting that, “oh, yeah,” some of those customers have been coming for the full 40 years — and are happy to let them know about it.

“There are quite a few like that,” Rachel said with a smile. “They say they own the bar stool.”

“They paid for it, time and again,” Jean said.

Come September, Adam’s Rib will celebrate that heritage when it officially reaches its 40th birthday.

They haven’t decided on how they’ll mark the occasion — though Jean knows how she’ll be spending the big day.

“It’s just another day of work,” she said.

That’s just how the family would have it.

“[We are] very proud, very proud. We’ve done a lot …,” Jean added. “We never expected to be a fancy supper-club. That was never on the agenda. We are a family eatery.

“What more can you ask for?”

Perhaps their own parade.

For more information about Adam’s Rib, located at 538 Mill St. in Green Lake, call the restaurant at 294-9903 or visit its Facebook group at “Friends of Adam’s Rib.”