Historic Bagley Hotel under new ownership
By Correne Martin
In the small river community of Bagley, there are four establishments at which hometown residents as well as travelers can find something good to eat and drink. The historic Bagley Hotel has serviced hungry customers the longest, built in 1913, by Otto Oswald on the corner of Bagley Avenue and Walnut Street. Oswald erected the pool hall next door in 1912, and a year later, the Bagley Hotel—a restaurant including seven hotel rooms in the upstairs.
The Bagley Hotel has had just eight owners in its 101-year history. Most recently, rural Bagley resident Jean Oppermann added her name to that list, purchasing the business on March 14.
The enthusiastic new proprietor, who is a retired River Ridge teacher and area waitress for the past 30-plus years, started serving customers the second week of May. She is assisted by her sons, Mark, chef and manager, and Mike, primary chef and bartender. Her daughters-in-law are also assisting with the family business; Andrea is bartending and waitressing, and Chris is managing the hotel rooms. Additional waitstaff includes Lea Martin, Tina Fox and Carrie Linder. Young girls Kaeli and Karli Jandro will bus tables and Don Bruggeman will bartend.
“I loved teaching but my dream was always to have a catering business,” Jean said.
Aside from teaching French and English at West Grant/River Ridge for 30 years, Jean should be familiar to diners of the area through her waitressing gigs. Her first waitressing job was at the Pink Elephant in Marquette in the mid-1980s; she worked there for eight summers. Then, she worked at Zach’s in Prairie du Chien until the restaurant closed, staying on in the same location for Mel and Ev Dow at Paesano’s/Pronto Pizza. Her latest job was at Kaber’s in Prairie du Chien for almost 15 years until the business was sold in June 2013.
Her son, Mike, started his bartending career at Evolutions in Monona. He also cooked, bartended and waited tables at his brother’s supper club, Yesterdays, in Monona. He was a chef at various places in La Crosse, including the Nutbush, Days Inn and UW-La Crosse food service.
Mark started out his profession as a bus boy at the Pink Elephant at the age of 14. Then, he worked at The Barn in Prairie du Chien while in high school, starting as a dishwasher and soon moving up to fry cook. He was also a chef there for a total of four years. Next, he worked at the Miss Marquette for almost four years. He was part-owner of Evolutions in Monona for three years, and owned his own supper club, Yesterdays, for four years. He worked at Brainards Country Change for three years and has again been back at the boat, now Lady Luck, for six years. He plans to remain working there at this time.
Since purchasing the business this spring, the Oppermanns have revamped the restaurant a bit. They put in new flooring, repainted the barn board walls red and beige and also antiqued the walls. They have added their own primitive décor, and thanks to a former, longtime owner (Bill Marshall) added a splash of historical photos from Bagley and the surrounding area.
Upstairs, they painted the hotel rooms, tore out and replaced the hallway and installed a shower/tub combination in the outdated men’s bathroom.
“We’ve put in a lot of work already. It’s been a little crazy,” Jean said, “but the community has been welcoming and very positive. We’re happy to be here.”
The Bagley Hotel’s new menu features many old favorites as well as some new ones. Restaurant hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m., and Sunday brunch, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. There will be daily lunch and dinner specials. Tuesday through Thursday, diners can order off the menu. One of the restaurant’s original specialties is its “naked ribs”—pork baby back ribs that literally fall off the bone as you indulge. They are also proud to offer a variety of scrumptious desserts that are sure to become popular.
Customers will enjoy a seafood buffet on Friday night and a country buffet on Saturday night. The seafood buffet includes fried cod and catfish, broiled cod, fried shrimp, ham, garlic cheddar biscuits, seafood alfredo, garlic toast, beef tips, American fries, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, salad bar and desserts. The country buffet offers “naked ribs,” ham, catfish, salad bar, desserts and more.
In her first month of being open, Jean has been pleased with her customers’ response.
“We are truly blessed to live in this community and we will do our very best to live up to everyone’s expectations,” Jean said.
One of her most delighted and regular customers is local historian and one-time owner Bill Marshall. He owned the Bagley Hotel with his mother, Esther, from Aug. 6, 1966—when he bought the establishment for just $7,000—through 1998.
The Marshalls put in the bar, which remains essentially unchanged, in 1968. They obtained a beer and liquor license in 1974 and served up cocktails as well as food as famous as the half-pound Bagley Burger, prime rib, turtle, catfish and a Mexican buffet on Taco Night.
“The most people we ever fed on a Friday night was 365,” Marshall said. “The Sunday brunch was always my favorite. I’m happy to see Jean is still doing that.”
According to Marshall, before he and his mom purchased the facility in ‘66, owners included Ken Irish and Don Schiffman, and Stanley Michaels. The Marshalls sold the business in 1998 to Mark Setzke. Since then, a couple from Lake Geneva owned it, as did Darrell Jung most recently. Longtime Bagley resident Rita Weber also leased it for many of the later years, running it with help from her family.
For more information about the Bagley Hotel, call (608) 996-2300, visit bagleyhotel.com or find the Bagley Hotel on Facebook.