By now, it is common knowledge among most that Gage Marine is in the process of constructing a restaurant. If you didn’t share that common knowledge, now you do. But you’d be remiss if you were to assume that Gage Marine was just “building a restaurant”. Gage is just building a restaurant in the way that my back just hurts a little bit. In the way that Chicago is just a big town. In the way that rattlesnakes are just a little dangerous. In the way that Geneva is just another lake. Gage Marine isn’t just building a restaurant, they are building a destination.
Best of all, this destination is going to matter. I was fortunate to get a guided tour of the construction progress yesterday, and I was overwhelmed with the scope and quality of the project. This is not just a restaurant, it is a theme park of sorts for all things Lake Geneva. I walked with my guide, through the new general offices and into the new building that will host a small nautical museum, around the craftsmen sanding bits of old boats and polishing worn metal brackets that might both be used for some new purpose other than what they were originally intended for. These bits and pieces of antique boats and antique homes will adorn the walls and the floors of the new spaces, and if you understand that dedication to history you’ll start to get a feel for what this Gage project is all about.
As the tour pressed on and my host talked, we walked, and I gawked. The scale of the project is something that cannot be grasped by reading these words or by viewing renderings like the one you see above. When I wrote about this project last fall I didn’t understand the impact and breadth of the renovation, and when I walked through it yesterday I still couldn’t quite get my mind around it. If you think they’re just adding a restaurant and cladding existing buildings in cedar shingles then you’re missing the mark thoroughly and completely.
The restaurant is the centerpiece of this redevelopment, and this restaurant holds great promise for lake lovers and food lovers alike. A common mistake in the Lake Geneva restaurant scene is to open a space that looks cute or brilliant and expect the decorations to keep you busy. The folks at Gage seem to understand that if their food isn’t superb they won’t succeed. And when you put many millions into a project based at least in some large part on a successful restaurant, this is not a detail likely to be overlooked. There is a new chef, some fine guy with a serious pedigree from Montana. There are trips to source local ingredients from the local farmers that already supply Chicago restaurants with the highest quality produce and meats they demand. Here’s to hoping Yuppie Hill Poultry, Dietzler Beef, Carr Valley Cheese, and other local standouts make their way onto the Pier 290 menu.
That’s the name of this new place, Pier 290. If you can’t guess why they are calling it that then I cannot help you (hint: piers on the lake are numbered). And as I spent many words already explaining, this is more than just a restaurant. Even if that restaurant has a morning coffee shop (please choose Intelligentsia like Boatyard Bagel pours) and the promise of open doors all year long. And if the views from inside the restaurant are surpassed only by the marine themed high end finishes and the lakeside deck that promises to be the only lakeside dining deck on the entire lake, this is still about more than a restaurant. Even if the outdoor bar and kitchen and the outdoor decking and dining areas will mimic pier structures with canopies and comfortable outdoor furniture, it’s more still.
There will be a new boat showroom on site, and a large shop where patrons will be able to watch craftsmen refinishing and tinkering with classic wooden boats (this room is mostly finished already). There will be a large meeting room overlooking the lake, and two new retail shops brandishing their lake centric wares (think water skis, wakeboards, Patagonia gear, etc). Gage will have their own shop as well, selling branded merchandise along with an occasional dock line and quarter of oil. For those that find both themselves and their boats thirsty, the piers will still sell gas and perhaps best of all there will be both ample automobile parking for drive up visitors (100+ stalls) and plenty of room for diners who choose to arrive by boat. As I write this morning I can see this lakefront teeming with visitors on a sunny July afternoon and I, for one, cannot wait. I can also envision many days next winter that might find me dining near one of two fireplaces while snow falls onto a frozen lake in the background. Either vision is nice, though one is preferred.
And that brings us to the waiting. Surely this project cannot be finished in time for this summer. Projects of this massive scale rarely finish on time, or finish at all (Ex: See Chicago Spire). This was on my mind yesterday as I walked past dozens of carpenters sawing and painting and jockeying for position on ladders and under counters. The question of timing is a serious one, and like the menu and the finishes, this detail has also not been overlooked or taken lightly. I was promised a completion date of sometime in April, which means to me that even if delays occur we will still be dining on that lakeside patio during the fine month of May. If you can’t make it during May, I promise to report back with my findings after my first meal there whenever it may be. Contrary to what you might think after reading this glowing review, I promise to judge the food harshly. Ask my wife, I do it all the time.
What this project means to the lake and more importantly to Williams Bay is not yet known. I believe the impact will be enormous, and the lasting effects only positive. Vacation home owners in Summer Haven, Oakwood Estates, Loch Vista Club, Congress Club and others will be able to take a leisurely walk down the shore path and onto that wooden deck, and in that there can be no complaint. The lake has not seen a project like this completed in my lifetime and likely yours, and the Gage family should be commended for initiating a lasting change that will bring immeasurable economic and lifestyle benefits to the Geneva Lake community.