A wild idea
It all started with a wild idea. A historic vacant building sat empty in downtown Oregon, Illinois’ Main Street, waiting for someone to give it a new life.
Jason and Carrie O'Neil had never run a business, let alone a bar, so the opportunity was exhilarating. In 2017 they were ready to move forward with their plan. After purchasing the building, they updated the space with hardwood floors and matte black fixtures throughout the property. Simultaneously, the O'Neil's maintained historical integrity by saving the exposed brick walls and tin ceilings. The brick wall features local art representing the Black Hawk region and Indian Head history.
The O'Neil's hired staff, learned the POS system, and created their branding and social media presence in just two short months. Thankfully, Jason is a graphic designer and brought the concept to life fairly quickly and continues to do so.
I asked how they came up with the business name, “That was a long ideation,” joked Jason. They tossed around different names for a while. Nothing clicked until one night, Carrie put together a variety of bar and drink keywords. The two descriptive words that describe their business came together--Cork & Tap.
More than a wine bar
Cork & Tap originated as a wine bar, but as time passed, they expanded drink options to include unique cocktails, martinis, and several Moscow Mule varieties. The O'Neils are continually updating their menus, drink specialties, beers on tap, and seasonal drinks.
The bar offers over 30 different wines regionally and nationally, 14 rotating tap beers, and menu pages full of Moscow Mule varieties, specialty drinks, and martini options. The specialty cocktails include fun names such as the Mermaid Water, Gummy Bear Margarita, Blueberry Whiskey Buck, Lavender Lemonade, and Funfetti Cake Batter Martini.
As I sifted through the multiple-page menu, I joked that I’d bring a driver with me next time to try out some of their tempting drinks. The Pomegranate Mule, Cherry Cheesecake Martini, and Peachy Bellini are just three unique cocktails offered.
Cork & Tap's seating areas are welcoming with expansive bar seating, large tables with ample seating for 6, and loft space couch seating with a dining table overlooking the main bar. The staff is always warm and welcoming, in addition to being able to make some fantastic cocktails.
Cork & Tap holds public events like tap bar takeovers, wine tastings, guest food vendors, painting classes, and holiday events.
Pandemic requires ingenuity
During the pandemic, the Cork & Tap came up with drink kits and growlers for patrons to take home and enjoy. The business had to cancel events during the pandemic, but as restrictions start to loosen, they’re eager to hosting more events soon.
It’s an event space
Cork & Tap also has three event spaces it rents out for weddings, baby and wedding showers, receptions, reunions, birthday parties, and corporate events. The main floor event room is divided from the main bar and seats 45 people. The third-floor space is expansive with a mix of hardwood floors, carpet, brick, and exposed rafters. There are two spaces on the top floor that are rented together or separately. The entire top floor seats up to 150 people.
“Our big thing has always been to focus on being an open and inviting place for people to enjoy. It’s a space to entertain guests and keep them coming back,” said Jason. “Providing a gathering place is the most important aspect of our business.”
Cork & Tap
305 W Washington St.
Oregon, IL, 61061
Wed-Thurs: 3-9 pm
Fri: 3-10 pm
Sat: 12-10 pm
Sun: 12-6 pm