If you pass by Niko's Red Mill Tavern on a weekday afternoon or evening, you may notice that parking spots appear hard to come by.
It's not for lack of parking spots - Niko's has expanded the parking lot three times in six years - it's because Red Mill patrons rarely want to leave.
"Once you're here, you can easily stay until closing time in conversations with friends," says owner Niko Kanakaris. "The atmosphere here is great. We cater everyone from bikers to families to farmers; it's a diverse mix people that all get along."
Located right off of Route 47 at 1040 Lake Ave in Woodstock, Niko's Red Mill Tavern is a classic wood-lined roadhouse with great burgers and cold drinks. Want both? "The Painkiller" bloody mary comes with a mini-slider on top.
The man known simply as Niko took over the Red Mill Tavern (formerly Peg and Ted's Red Mill Tavern) in 2011, his first restaurant since the recession hit. "I owned four restaurants when the economy crashed - and I lost everything. The Red Mill Tavern was the first place where I started to rebuild myself."
Once purchased, Niko operated with the same space for a few months with little success, only bringing in around $200 per day. He decided to close the restaurant for 45 days to completely overhaul and remodel the space, and once reopened, brought a new culture to the Red Mill Tavern.
"The idea was to turn the Red Mill into an old Wisconsin bar, somewhere where you could hang out all day. Nothing fancy, just cozy and authentic with great food and service," he says.
While cozy and authentic, it also turned into a local live music hotspot with an outdoor stage that transforms Woodstock into Austin, TX on a night-to-night basis during the summer. Live music can be found at the Red Mill Friday through Sunday from May to October.
"We built the outdoor stage a year after the major remodeling. We went from having bands play on a hay wagon that rocked back and forth to an outdoor stage which can host up to 500 people for a live outdoor concert. We have acts day in and day out that play at Country Thunder and open for big country artists," he says.
"We want to be the Woodstock's version of Joe's on Weed St."
To go along with building improvements and adding live music, Niko changed how he approached the Red Mill patrons. "We make sure we visit with each and every customer that comes in, and thank them for spending their time with us. You can go anywhere and be ignored -- the extra touch and acknowledgement with your customers goes a long way."
When asked about what makes Woodstock different, Niko says, "It's the people - you get different people in Woodstock. You know everyone here. They're hard working people. And they choose to spend their limited free time to come hang out with us at our restaurant. We are very fortunate that the City of Woodstock and its great police department has given us the opportunity to build a great successful establishment in their town. Without their support , it wouldn't work."