Former speakeasy, The Office, changes ownership

Former speakeasy, The Office, changes ownership

By Lisa Palmeno

By Lisa Palmeno

Staff Writer

The second-oldest alternative-style bar in the country in its original location, The Office, 513 E. State St., is under new ownership. In late November John Ford, Greg Gill and Scott Stout purchased what was reportedly a speakeasy during prohibition.

Upon purchasing the business 11 years ago, Dan Ford and Mike Wright learned a bit about the club’s history from a researcher from Chicago and patrons who had been attending one of Rockford’s favorite dance clubs for many years.

The place was built as a tavern in 1907 and still sports a buzzer which warned customers on the second floor of the arrival of police. Ford and Wright also found a cemented-over tunnel in the basement which led to the building next door, now Bacchus. Earlier customers say alcohol was made in the building Bacchus is in and then brought back over to the club.

The speakeasy gave way to a soda fountain, and later became the small neighborhood bar that Ford and Wright say they “expanded in every direction possible.”

Since they began in 1990, five renovations have been made, providing the public with a refurbished venue with a main floor with three bars, a bar in the basement, an expanded area where the dance floor is situated, a beer garden with a pond and waterfall, and an upstairs lounge with a full-service bar.

Before operating The Office, Wright worked at Sundstrand as a technical writer. Ford was in the decorating/design business, which he also worked in with Wright. The business partners received media attention when they sold their Mediterranean-style mansion on Spring Creek Road last year. Wright says they purchased a house in the Brown Hills area across from Sinnissippi Park, north of Rural Oaks, a house they say is more beautiful than the one they sold. They sold their business to relocate to southern Florida, where plans will probably include getting back into the decorating, renovating, renting and selling of old homes.

Wright talked about decorating: “Dan has an incredible client list from Rockford, and we have the vast knowledge to turn the proverbial sow’s ear into the silk purse.” There will be a big going-away party since they have both lived in Rockford their entire lives. Location of the farewell festivities has not yet been decided, but they say they have many people to invite.

One party-goer will, no doubt, be new owner John Ford. John Ford was an employee of The Office for nine years in security until he, Gill and Stout took over. John Ford was previously regional operations manager for Payday Express, general manager of Godfather’s Pizza, and supervisor for West Teleservices, Rockford. He is a Guilford High School graduate and a first-time business owner.

Greg Gill, co-owner of Print World in Belvidere, previously worked for his family’s business, Gill’s Freeport Disposal. Stout works for Columbia Pipe as assistant warehouse manager. Stout also bartended for 10 years in various establishments in Beloit, Wis.

The three men were friends, and John Ford said Wright and Dan Ford approached him about buying the place, saying they were putting it on the open market in about two weeks. John Ford said, “They wanted to give the opportunity to me first.”

When asked why he agreed to the partnership, Gill commented, “I can say for the both of us, (he and Stout) the opportunity just came up, and we hopped on it.”

The new sign out front says The Office “NiteClub.” John Ford says they changed the name to give it more of the club atmosphere. As for other plans in the works, they say they are not really disclosing that yet. However, they say they have “a few things in front of us,” and that they intend to continue the dance music, emphasize the upstairs show lounge where they now have bi-weekly female inpersonators, and they are looking into comedians and more live entertainment. Ford noted that Bea Brady still plays there periodically.

Stout’s reason for buying the place was, “It was time for a change for us and the bar.”

For information on events, call (815)965-0344.

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