To many in Lake Country and parts around, The Frog Tavern on the far west side of Lake Wawasee is infamous.
Dating back to 1932, The Frog Tavern celebrated its 80th anniversary just three years ago. The institution started as a warming house for ice fisherman where they could also warm their cockles with a brew or two. Over the years, the Frog has had a big makeover, with the last being the most significant by turning the old tavern into the go-to hot spot for the summer college crowd.
The original Frog, when it was just a bar with a little stage where the owner at that time, Wayne, sang favorite tunes throughout the weekend nights and early mornings, brings back memories. There was the time someone removed the drain plug from a friend’s boat, sinking it in the channel.
Then there was the time in early fall where the fog was so thick, you could not see 10 feet in front of the boat and we ended up running into lily pads while sucking mud into the water intake. Needles to say, those were long nights, especially after slamming a couple of Dr. Craigo’s elixir. Whew, makes me sweat to this day!
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There was also the annual “First Boat In” contest where there was free stuff handed out to the first boat to make it to the Frog by water as the ice was receding in early spring. On one occasion, according to owner Doug Shoemaker, the ice hadn’t retracted sufficiently to get a boat in, so a bunch of guys tried to use a fiberglass boat as an ice-breaker. As the story goes, they would power the boat up onto the next chunk of ice then all would move to the front of the boat and jump on the bow to break through the ice. Obviously, this havoc caused great damage to the front of the boat. With such craziness associated with the Frog, the first-in event is no longer part of The Frog Tavern’s lore.
THE SS LILLYPAD
When Wayne and Patty (owners during the 1980s) sold to a group of locals in the early 1990s, expansion happened in a big way. The new owners more than doubled the size of the building, which remains intact today. Then seeking more revenue to support the expansion, the new owners, in conjunction with a local RV company, developed a party barge and after a “name the boat” contest, the SS Lillypad was born. That boat ran its course in about 10 years and was sold.
Now the second generation SS Lillypad II, built in Somerset, Ky., roams the waters of Lake Wawasee as many as 110 times each season, sometime three times per day for two, three or four hour trips. The mostly infamous “Woody Cruises” are hosted by an old friend and local legend in his own time (some of his legendary status he would rather forget), Woody Byrn.
Him and wife Lisa entertain guests for three hours with all the Jimmy Buffet and tropical tunes they can muster from their portfolio. Rest assured, the cash bar is drained on every gig mostly by the “Woody Groupies” that somehow seem to make every cruise. They do four cruises each year and have been doing it for nearly 20 years!
The 70-foot party barge can accommodate up to 110 people, has a full bar, catering from the Frog kitchen, air conditioned lower level and open upper deck with a small stage. These inclusive accommodations allow the SS Lillypad II to host weddings, receptions, corporate events, birthday parties and even, maybe, memorial services.
One of the Frog’s most enduring contributions to the Lake Country community is the popular “Boat-In Church Service.” Doug volunteered the SS Lillypad II to host this special tradition, as well as providing a captain, free coffee, juices and pastries each Sunday morning for as many as 100 passengers, a local volunteer minister and sometimes, a local choir.
They park the boat in front of the Oakwood Resort and people enjoy a wonderful outdoor church service from their boats parked around the SS Lillypad II or from the beach at the resort. Boat-in church is every Sunday from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend starting at 8:30 a.m.
Often, after closing early Sunday morning, Doug never goes to bed (the Frog usually closes at 2 a.m.) so he is on time with breakfast and coffee ready and the boat is prepared for the 7:45 a.m. launch.
ONCE A BAR, ALWAYS A BAR
Doug Shoemaker left his position as athletic information director at Manchester University to take over the Frog from the previous owners in January 2014 and he hasn’t changed much because it seems to work. He has expanded the bar offerings to include a number of smoothies, more than 40 craft beers and nine draft beers, but the menu remains mostly intact. Menu items include:
- 10 starters with two types of chicken wings
- Breaded pickles, a very popular starter
- Five burgers with the All-American Cheeseburger being the most popular
- Three chicken sandwiches
- Plus more sandwiches, seafood, soup and salad
Lastly, there’s the pizza! The Tuesday special is half-price pizza and the place is buzzing. The Frog pizzas are top-notch. I particularly love the Wawasee Special, which is loaded with a relatively common pizza sauce, then layers of fresh Italian sausage, ham, pepperoni, mushrooms, onions, black olives and green peppers. This beast is finished with a ton of mozzarella cheese. Fortunately, they make this in a nine-inch pie (14-inch is standard)!
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The Frog offers bar food to the max. They don’t try to out-do others in the food department (food sales are less than booze sales), but they do focus on drawing the crowds with some of the top bands in the area. They also schedule special fall and winter events. This year, plans include: Halloween costume party, Wednesday Night before Thanksgiving Party (welcoming the college crowd home for the holiday weekend and is always a big event) and the big New Year’s Eve bash featuring the band He Said, She Said.
The Frog is open daily for lunch and dinner. For lunch, there’s always a “$5.99 Special.” The restaurant can accommodate 150 people outside, 60 in and around the bar area and 60 more in the family area. You can drive, bike, walk or arrive by boat as they have ample boat parking along the massive channel-front seawall.
“I’m a people-pleasing person and want to see others have fun,” Doug said.
Maintaining that mantra has been a constant since he took the reins at The Frog Tavern. The place jumps on weekends and it seems the SS Lillypad II is roaming the lake mostly every day during the summer. Doug plans to expand his people-pleasing mantra further in 2016 with more special events.
If you want to party and indulge in bar food, venture to Lake Country any Friday or Saturday night, or get a group and take a tour of Lake Wawasee on the SS Lillypad II. Either way, enjoy the ambience and the legend that is The Frog Tavern.
For more dispatches from the dining scene in Kosciusko County from Loren Shaum, subscribe to the Lake Country Escapades email newsletter.