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Cocktails where Reagan ate lunch

The Grand National Lounge is the latest enterprise within the Grand National Bank building. The cocktail lounge was created and launched by husband and wife duo Mike Krisel and Jamie McCallum-Krisel (pictured). The lounge is entered on Union Street. James Card Photo

The evolution of a city landmark

By James Card

When presidential candidate Ronald Reagan gave a speech in 1980 from the bandstand by city hall, Secret Service snipers set up across the street in the ballroom in the Grand National Bank building. Regan also ate lunch there in a back room.

That room is now the Grand National Lounge, the brainchild of building owner Jamie McCallum-Krisel. As the steward of the largest historic landmark building in Waupaca, she’s struggled with upgrades, renovations and building codes.

As a nimble entrepreneur, she’s pivoted with business-within-a-business enterprise projects to make the first floor of the building an attractive and elegant downtown space. The 122 S. Main St. building was built in 1886 and designed by William Waters who also designed the Danes Hall.

McCallum-Krisel’s oldest business, the Blue Angel Salon, has been voted “Best of Waupaca” for many years.

In 2021, she moved the salon to the back room – which is now the Grand National Lounge – and opened Blue Skies, a boutique that took over the main floor.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, McCallum-Krisel pivoted again and moved the salon area back to the main floor and that freed up space for the cocktail lounge. She also refocused the boutique offerings with an emphasis on fashion accessories and less on houseware.

“It’s embarrassing but it took about a year or so to remodel 600 square feet,” said McCallum-Krisel, citing difficulty with getting contractors scheduled to accomplish work during the pandemic. “It was depressing and hard watching the slow progress.”

One day when the plumbers were there doing some work on the shampoo bowls for the salon, she mentioned work in the lounge and suddenly, within a few days all of it was completed and it was a positive boost forward.

Eclectic mixes

They opened the lounge in April 2023 with little fanfare and her husband Mike Krisel took a leave of absence at the Waupaca Foundry and worked 11 months to launch the business.

The interior is a wild mix of vintage, artistic and design inspirations. There are shoulder mounts of a kudo, an elk and antelopes yet the room has nuances that are lost in time somewhere between the Victorian Age and the Jazz Age.

“It’s less in what matches and more in the textures and nuances of the pieces. It’s more tonal, texture and scale. It’s not necessarily a design. You start with one thing that is cool and work around it,” she said as she pointed out a repurposed grand piano that was cut in half to form a long table.

The unusual lighting is from Luna Bella and designed by Teresa Costa, a designer that McCallum-Krisel has admired for years and finally met in person at a trade show. Once the lighting was installed, it all started coming together with McCallum-Krisel adding interesting furniture and décor piece by piece. The wallpaper features a menagerie of wild animals that was inspired from the interior of Trematon Castle in Cornwall and reproduced by British design firm House of Hackney.

McCallum-Krisel’s next pivot is opening up the room next door to the lounge. It will increase the guest capacity of the lounge from 34 to 99.

“It’s more living room than bar. It’s eclectic and cool,” she said.

All of the curated furniture was pulled away from the walls for painting. The walls will be adorned with waterfall lights, tree branches and mercury glass bug ornaments.

The lounge has list of six signature cocktails.

“Our most popular has been the Grand National Old Fashioned. Hands down. To date we’ve sold almost 900 of them. There is no soda in any of our menu items,” said Krisel.

They serve ready-to-drink cocktails and craft, domestic and imported beers.

“I try to keep the beer interesting and mix it up a bit, along with a few staples,” he said.

They do not serve any prepared food. “Just nut sacks,” said Krisel and he reached behind the bar and produced a brown paper bag with the words: “Nut Sack.”

The snack brand’s slogan is “You never forget your first Nutsack.” Guests can choose salted almonds, pecans, cashews and mixed varieties.

Next level up

The long-term plan is to renovate the upstairs ballroom that was once called the “Castle Hall.” The idea is to have an elevator running from the lounge to the ballroom.

McCallum-Krisel said she feels stifled with the project. She is wading through a complex maze of architectural plans, new costs, building code requirements and is pondering her next move.

The ballroom has new windows and that made the space brighter and less drafty.

“It was a step towards that the project could be more complete or possible. The footprint of the ballroom would stay the same which is cool because it is very usable in the way it already is,” she said.

Currently the ballroom is mint green. McCallum-Krisel has a vision of what it could be: black and white.

“Have it be very neutral in an un-beige way and make the commitment to be black and white or black and French vanilla. It would be dramatic but it would still lend itself for whatever anyone wanted to do up there as far as a party went. It would be a very nice backdrop,” she said.

The Grand National Lounge is entered by a side door on Union Street and is separate from the salon and boutique. A sign hangs above the door and McCallum-Krisel plans to add some lanterns, an awning and when the weather warms, some flowers planted in urns.

The lounge is open from 4 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays and from noon on Saturdays and usually closes around 10 or 11 p.m.

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