The new Pier 290 restaurant, where construction continues on the outdoor seating area and adjacent marina facilities.

Pier 290: Gage Marine Christens Dockside Dining Project

Restaurant Profile: A brand new dining experience is now open at Lake Geneva’s Gage Marine. Get a sneak peak at the new dockside restaurant and see how it serves both boaters and landlubbers.

The new Pier 290 restaurant, where construction continues on the outdoor seating area and adjacent marina facilities.

Gage Marine is known for having a solid reputation within the recreational boating industry. One day, its beautiful new restaurant may earn similar credentials.

The boating company has launched Pier 290, a year-round restaurant focused on clean flavors, fresh ingredients and excellent service. Located at the newly renovated Gage Marine Lakefront, 1 Leichty Dr., Williams Bay, Wis., the restaurant is accessible by land or water. Pier 290 offers lakeside indoor/outdoor seating, an elevated beach and outdoor bar area.

After a soft opening at the end of May, the new restaurant opened in June. “It’s going to be a place that is both fun and comfortable, and exudes quality,” says Patrick Hurd, project consultant. “Pier 290 is a destination where you can have a good time and know that the wait staff and the chef truly care about your dining experience.”

The restaurant is owned by Gage Marine, a third-generation marine company that started in Lake Geneva in 1873, when excursion boats were the best way for visitors and lakefront homeowners to travel to and from various resorts and homes around the lake. In 1916, the Lake Geneva Steamboat Line purchased property in Williams Bay as a service and winter storage facility for its fleet of boats, and in 1958, the Gage family acquired the excursion boating business. These days, Gage Marine operates nine tour boats under the Lake Geneva Cruise Line name, including the popular Walworth, which is part mail-delivery vessel, part tour boat.

In addition, the company manufactures a brand of wooden boats called The Gage-Hacker, sells a variety of new and used fiberglass vessels, builds and installs piers, and offers boaters in-and-out valet service. “Gage Marine prides itself on being stewards of the lake,” says Hurd.

Two years ago, Gage Marine decided to change the entire look, facade and flow of its lakefront property. All five buildings have undergone complete makeovers, including the Lake Geneva Wood Boat Center & Museum, an interactive museum where guests can observe boatbuilders hard at work, before heading over to the restaurant for a bite to eat. Buildings were gutted and given exterior upgrades. Blue metal siding, for example, was replaced with white-trimmed windows and white cedar shingles to give the buildings a Cape Cod feel.

“We’ve turned the area completely upside down,” says Hurd, who was first approached by Bill Gage, president of Gage Marine, seven years ago, to coordinate the transformation. Hurd is responsible for overseeing the entire operation, from the architectural design phase to building the restaurant, hiring and training the culinary staff, and producing the menu and wine lists.

“I take it from dirt to dessert,” says Hurd, who built the Rainbow Ranch Lodge, a hotel and restaurant resort located in Big Sky, Mont. “It’s everything I love to do.”

The hub of Gage Marine’s major renovation, however, is Pier 290, which will complement other aspects of the company’s business. Inspired by Hurd’s Montana project, Gage plans to create something that’s familiar and comfortable, yet unique in this lakeside community.

“There aren’t many options to dine along the lake, and we don’t have anything like this,” says Bill Gage. “You’re four feet from the water. We were aware of the lack of dining options right on the lake, and we want to make this a unique destination.”

Inside and out, Pier 290 offers guests spectacular views of the lake. There’s indoor seating for 75 guests and room for 100 more outside, along the patio and bar area, which are equipped with cozy indoor/outdoor fireplaces.

Inside, diners will marvel at the collection of artifacts salvaged from local demolished mansions and homes, and the pier itself. Antique boat parts adorn the walls. A massive log, found at the bottom of the lake, was made into outdoor tables. The black walnut dining room floors were milled from felled trees out of the Kishwauketoe Nature Conservancy. A pilot house once used in a wooden boat was turned into a donuts-and-coffee station. “Every aspect of the restaurant has a story to explore, before you even sit down and open a menu,” says Hurd.

Among other things, Pier 290’s extensive lunch and dinner menu offers burgers, steaks, pasta and fresh fish, with homemade apple pie and chocolate cake desserts. The options are clean, straightforward and simple, says Hurd. No menu item has more than four total ingredients. “You won’t see frilly things piled high on the plate,” he says. “It’s food with flavor that, hopefully, will be loved by everyone.”

The chef is Nick Mehmke, who previously worked with Hurd at another property. “He has an amazing work ethic and truly cares about what he does,” Hurd says. “He and I are building the menu together, day by day.”

Because Pier 290 seeks both casual and upscale diners, prices vary. Draft beers start around $3, a cheeseburger costs less than $10 and steaks range from $20 to $40.

Located near the bar area is a small stage that will offer a venue for entertainment, such as a two-piece jazz band or a disc jockey. Pier 290 plans on hosting various special events, including Masters, Kentucky Derby and Super Bowl parties.
Besides the restaurant, the property includes a gift shop, surfboard/kayak rental shops and a spacious sandy beach, ideal for soaking up glorious views of the lake. Along the shoreline is parking for more than 30 boats, with valet assistance during peak times, on-site parking for 100 cars and a popular shoreline path for walkers.

“Pier 290 is going to be unique because of its diversity, attracting local customers and out-of-town-guests,” Hurd says. “We’re trying to create an atmosphere where both of those worlds converge, where guests can rub shoulders and have a great time. Ultimately, we’ll judge the success of the restaurant by guests walking out the door saying, ‘Wow.’ They can’t wait to come back the next time. This is Americana. It’s really a special place.” ❚