Familiar names of whiskey include Jim, Jack, Jameson and Johnnie. But in the Pana area, another name pops up — Whiskey Bill. He is dressed in a red jacket and top hat with black pants that match his mustache, and he points travelers right to Whiskey Bill’s Saloon and Liquor Emporium.
Constructed in 1910 as a water treatment plant, the brick building had been used as a warehouse for the past 50 years. “I bought it from the city,” says Joe Coleman, owner of Whiskey Bill’s and a member of Shelby Electric Cooperative. “The rest of the water plant was out here and I tore it down. I had somebody that was going to lease it for a brewery. I got it fixed, but then he backed out, so I just opened it.”
Coleman is a demolition contractor by trade and admits that he has no experience in the restaurant industry. “There’s a learning curve, that’s for sure,” he says. His lack of experience did not deter him, however, and after three years of hard work converting, cleaning and building, Whiskey Bill’s opened in August 2021.
The work Coleman put into his new establishment is visible. He made many of the tables and added unique decorations to them. “I put 2020 pennies in all of them … new pennies because that’s the year we started building the tables,” he says. Since he was still building in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic did not slow down business, but those tables will continue to represent the year and its trials.
Other unique artwork surrounds customers both outside and in the building. Within the brick arches on the exterior facing the parking lot, there are three large murals. All demonstrate the saloon theme, and if you look closely at the liquor bottle in one of them, you will find the restaurant’s name. The interior artwork is just as grand. Next to the front door, Whiskey Bill’s “wanted poster” is burned into the wooden wall.
The menu offers a variety of appetizers, sandwiches and pizza. Some popular dishes with patrons include the pony shoe, walleye and pulled pork, which is smoked in a converted grain bin behind the building. All sandwiches come with potato chips; however, diners can upgrade to fries, coleslaw or baked beans.
Every other Saturday night, guests can enjoy a special steak dinner with ribeyes and filets served with a baked potato and a vegetable.
Once a month, the specialty brunch, “Brunch, Bubbly & Bloody’s,” always packs the house. It is served 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and offers chicken and biscuit sandwiches, breakfast burritos, biscuits and gravy, scrambled eggs, breakfast burgers, chicken wings, the Holy Haystack (an open-faced biscuit stacked with hashbrowns, sausage, gravy and scrambled eggs), and Muff’n Me Up (fried egg and sausage or bacon served on an English muffin).
As the name suggests, Whiskey Bill’s offers a selection of whiskeys that customers can buy in flights or by the bottle, and the bar is fully stocked for drinks other than whiskey. On brunch days, customers can also enjoy bottomless mimosas and loaded or regular bloody marys. The loaded version includes bacon, celery, olives, cheese, a Slim Jim and shrimp.
During summer, food and drinks can be enjoyed outside on picnic tables or on the covered patio, equipped with a fully stocked bar, fire pits and a stage where live music is played every Friday night and Sunday afternoon courtesy of musicians from all over.
With the restaurant only a year old, Coleman doesn’t have plans to expand, though he would like to add more food options to the menu. “We’ll add some new food items if we can get quality ingredients,” he says. “That’s why we have a limited menu … we want to keep quality food.”