Arts, Entertainment and Events, Business News, Front Page, Oakridge/Westfir

New owner of the Corner Bar in Oakridge is a man who likes to be out front talking with customers

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Rob Henderson parks his 2014 vintage motorcycle in front of the Corner Bar, which he recently purchased from Vinnie Maxwell. Jess W. Henryes photo

By JESS W. HENRYES/Correspondent/The Herald — Rob Henderson is a barrel-chested, tattooed bartender and motorcyclist, a man who truly likes people. It’s a fortunate combination for the new owner of the Corner Bar.

He is outgoing, quick with a smile and loves to laugh.

He’s the kind of bartender people like to visit because they enjoy his company.

As the new owner of a long-time watering hole in Oakridge, he is joining in the revival of the historic business district that has always been known as Uptown.

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Illustration from a restaurant Henderson owned in Estherville, Iowa. Jess W. Henryes photo

Henderson, 53, is no stranger to kitchens and to bars. After years working in the back of the house, he says escaping the stress and swelter of a kitchen is a refreshing change. Restaurant cooking is a special skill. It can take a toll on the best chef.

“I worked in restaurant kitchens for many years, he said. “I like being out front where I can meet new customers and visit with friends.”

The Corner Bar is on the corner of East First and Oak streets. It’s been a staple in Uptown Oakridge for many years. Vinnie Maxwell owned the bar for several years.

Henderson came back to Oakridge after living in the Midwest for several years. He went to work with Maxwell, and they soon became close friends.

Henderson said the opportunity to buy the downtown landmark came when Maxwell decided to build a specialty burger restaurant on Highway 58 just past Ray’s Market. Maxwell offered the bar to Henderson, and they struck a deal.

For Henderson it’s a two-fer: He owns a restaurant and isn’t stuck in the kitchen.

It’s at the bar is where Henderson feels his best.

Henderson is a multi-talented musician who sings and can play drums. He toured the Midwest with the band “Willis Love” for a few years. In between gigs, he worked as a cook.

Henderson took a break from music and settled in Estherville, Iowa. Between 2006 and 2008, he owned a small restaurant named Robburritoville.

“I was doing well until the economy crashed in 2008,” he said.

In nearby Spirit Lake, Henderson added a new chapter to his life story. The Indian Motorcycle Co. hired him and he worked on the assembly line for eight years.

“It was a great job,” he said. “I’d go back in a minute.”

Indian was founded in 1897 as a bicycle company. It turned to building motorcycles in 1901, which makes Indian the oldest motorcycle company in U.S. history. Its story is legendary. For decades the company suffered financially while racking up racetrack wins and setting multiple world speed records.

In 2011, Indian finally got its groove back when Polaris Industries took over and remade Indian into the premium motorcycle manufacturing company it is today.

Henderson’s love of motorcycles started in his teen years. As he gained experience, he moved from a Honda through a variety of other bikes. Eventually, he rode a Harley-Davidson.

For many years, owning a Harley was the pinnacle of motorcycling.

Eventually, riders decided the shine was off the Harley Chrome.

So, Henderson acquired an Indian.

Henderson is a native son of Oakridge. He has come and gone through the years, but the road always seemed to draw him home. His mother, sister and daughter Erika also live here.

While he worked with Maxwell, they got together to play music at the bar. He is mainly a singer, but in a pinch, says he can play drums. Maxwell plays guitar. Now and again, the duo get together with other musicians to jam.

Henderson has many tattoos, and he wears his two truest loves in plain sight.

He pays homage to both: with daughter “Erika” tattooed on his neck, and a beautifully designed tattoo of the Indian motorcycle logo stretches from his wrist to the elbow.

On days when Henderson parks his prized motorcycle in front of the bar, its “Springfield Blue” custom color beguiles, while the brilliant chrome on his 2014 Chief Vintage bedazzles people who pass by.

Running a bar is not easy. Henderson knows that and is making it work. The recent renovations have brought it to a comfortable place where people can relax with drinks and can enjoy a pub menu.

Customers will know where to find the new owner:  Look for the big man with a bigger smile.

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