Lakeside Hangouts: Detroit Lakes resort stays busy all summer longDETROIT LAKES, Minn. – It’s as if Julie and Brian Johnson found a Florida beach bar and plunked it right in the middle of Minnesota lakes country. The Detroit Lakes couple has transformed the ultimate Minnesota fixture – a mom-and-pop resort – into the ultimate island hangout.
DETROIT LAKES, Minn. – It’s as if Julie and Brian Johnson found a Florida beach bar and plunked it right in the middle of Minnesota lakes country.
The Detroit Lakes couple has transformed the ultimate Minnesota fixture – a mom-and-pop resort – into the ultimate island hangout.
On any weekend afternoon at The Bridge Marina Bar & Grill here, you’ll hear Jimmy Buffett crooning over the sound system while customers sip icy tropical drinks at umbrella-shaded tables or gaze out at the blue waters of the bay.
All summer long, this lakeside hangout buzzes with activity, whether it’s from boaters who park at one of the Long Bridge Resort and Marina’s 60 slips or area kids who jump off the iconic bridge right next door to cool off.
“I think it’s the combination of the atmosphere, our menu – which is true lake casual food, the cold beer, the music, the sun and the lake,” Brian says. “Why wouldn’t you come?”
He recalls sitting in the parking lot across the bay more than 15 years ago with visions of a marina dancing in his head.
At that time, the spot consisted solely of a handful of small, 1950s-vintage rental cabins. The Johnsons thought it could be so much more, so they bought the property.
Within a year, Julie and Brian had quit their full-time jobs to run their ever-growing business. They added a marina and a lunch counter, which continued to expand to meet customer demand.
A former area supervisor for Hardee’s, Brian was well-suited to feed the masses. He and Julie developed a menu of simple but freshly prepared foods, such as hefty burgers on toasted buns and their always-popular chicken wings.
The latter are brought in fresh four times a week, hand-rubbed in a 13-spice mixture, baked, chilled, deep-fried and then glazed.
“It’s time-consuming, but good usually is,” Brian says, adding that he cooked 8,000 chicken wings during a recent Monday-to-Sunday stretch.
Another perk is the tropical atmosphere, especially the outdoor deck, with its bright-red picnic tables, green umbrellas and electric palm trees.
A couple of years ago, the Johnsons expanded the deck by adding a new outdoor stage, which they painted neon orange.
It may be one of the few stages in the region that features a sandpit instead of a mosh pit.
Brian says they’d originally planned to turn the space in front of the stage into a small dance floor. But before they could pour concrete, “the kids took it over.”
Now little ones build sandcastles in front of the stage, while bands like Island Wave or It’s Island Time Again perform on stage during the weekends. Another popular local band, In The Clouds – whose members work on The Bridge’s kitchen staff – has also added its bluegrass sound to the live music mix.
If the steel drums don’t reel you in, the hangout’s location will. It is fortuitously located right by the bridge, where – much to the dismay of Detroit Lakes officials – people jump off the sides to the cold lake water below.
“It’s almost like a lemonade commercial,” Brian says.
All these charms have helped make “The Bridge” a hot place to be on a hot summer day.
“We come here many times every year,” says Brent Wendel, a Valley City resident who spends many weekends at the nearby Breezy Shores Resort with his family, his brothers and their families.
“During the year, we’ll joke, ‘We should be at ‘The Bridge’ right now.’ ”
Readers can reach Forum reporter Tammy Swift at (701) 241-5525
Previously featured Lakeside Hangouts