Highs and lows at Put-in-BayWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | firstname.lastname@example.org
Every summer, the core Toledo Free Press team schedules a business retreat to Put-in-Bay. As a “business retreat,” it’s a day to retreat from business, to have fun and get away from the daily grind. We’ve traveled there for the past five summers, establishing a routine that is one of the season’s highlights. We ride the Jet Express from Port Clinton to the island, and that 25-minute jaunt by itself is worth the trip. Cruising across that wide-open lake on the top deck with the sun embracing every atom, the wind playing 35 mph slap-and-tickle and the surging motion of the waves is like being scrubbed clean of the worries, stresses and annoyances of the workday.
Once on the island, we stroll along Hartford and Delaware avenues, past the Boathouse Bar and Grill, the Round House Bar and Frosty Bar, up to Catawba Avenue where Hooligan’s Irish Pub and Tony’s offer familiar menus. After lunch, we amble to Erie Street to Splash!, which earns its exclamation point with The Flaming Skull, a pirate ship bar docked beside a swim-up bar that winds under an upper-deck bandshell. Most of us pull up a stool, order a drink and people-watch. A few of our braver souls will wander into the water, and the next hour or so melts away like a slush daiquiri in the noon sun. Eventually, some of our group heads to the Round House to hear Mike “Mad Dog” Adams or to the Boathouse to hear the great Pat Dailey, while others walk the south coast of the island.
It’s like an eight-hour spring break for those of us too old for spring break. It’s a chance to live vicariously through the younger, presumably single people who are relaxed (i.e., inebriated) enough to make time with each other and drink while standing in a waist-deep pool none of the men ever seem to exit, even after enough hours and beers to make Superman’s bladder cry for mercy.
It’s faux voyeurism and faux debauchery, but it’s as close to either as most of us get at this stage in our lives.
This year’s Toledo Free Press retreat was one week before a smaller trip my family arranged with another family. I know the island offers plenty of non-Charlie Sheen activities, and we left early enough in the day to be able to leave before the nighttime rock ‘n’ roll started.
It was a beautiful, clear day, not oppressively hot but warm and sunny. We disembarked from the Jet Express and the eight of us (four adults and four kids, all younger than 11) stopped at De Rivera Park so the kids could romp on the playground while we waited for the nearby Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial to open. The monument, which has been closed for repairs for the past few years, is now open and taking people up 317 of its 352 feet to an amazing vantage point of the island and lake. On a clear day, the view extends 59 miles to downtown Cleveland. It’s a solemn monument, the resting place for three American and three British sailors who died in the Battle of Lake Erie. It is stunning architecture, the third-highest structure of its type in the world, after the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and the Washington Monument. It stands straight and erect, penetrating the sky and dominating the island.
Our next move was to buy tickets on the Put-in-Bay Tour Train, which circles the island and lets passengers disembark at several attractions, then climb back on board to continue the tour. We did not stop at either of the wineries or historical houses, but our first stop turned out to be a highlight of the day.
The Historic Fish Hatchery and Aquatic Education Center has a cumbersome name but offers a neat glimpse into the Division of Wildlife’s work in the lake. Best of all, it features free fishing for the younger visitors. They hand you a rod and reel, point to the bait and let you fish from the dock.
It has been 30 years since I fished, but I wrapped a half of a worm around the hook and sat with 6-year-old Evan to let the line into the water. Evan was patient until his mom and younger brother Sean landed a decent-size pumpkinseed fish. Our line only caught nibbles and we sacrificed several worms, but even though we caught nothing, it was a great hour and a memory I will always keep.
Our train took us around to the north side of the island where a single stop offered hours of family activities, from a marvelous butterfly house and an antique car museum to miniature golf (The War of 18 Holes) and a number of other distractions, the most intriguing of which was Perry’s Cave.
There used to be three caves open for touring, but two of them are no longer safe, a little tidbit of information the tour guide tells you once you have descended the slippery stone stairs and entombed yourself in a limestone cavern that would make even Bruce Wayne and Montresor claustrophobic. It’s a tight little space, wet and close and mysterious.
The only time the two worlds of Put-in-Bay crossed was when, after our families ordered dinner at Pasquale’s, I walked the patriarch of our guests to see the Christmas in July bacchanal at Splash! and its swim-up bar rival, Mist. It was only a 10-minute excursion, but we saw enough fruit of temptation to guilt us both into scurrying back to our families.
A Facebook friend of mine described the Christmas in July crowd at Put-in-Bay as “amateurs,” but plenty of those women looked like professionals to me.
Kids in a candy store
We closed the day with a stop I knew would rock the kids, at the Depot Fudge Company. In addition to several handmade treats, the shop stocks hundreds of types of candy, from the most current Angry Birds-themed confections to ancient favorites like wax lips and the bonus of a 5-pound gummy bear. If you’ve never seen the phrase “kid in a candy store” come to life, the Depot Fudge Company offers your chance.
Our families, weary and happy, caught the Jet Express back to Port Clinton where we wrapped up the kids’ day of indulgence with a quick stop at the Great Lakes Popcorn Co. on Madison Street. Try the Chicago Mix and the Black Cherry.
One side of Put-in-Bay aims for partiers, laden with thoughts of sin and sex. The other side offers wholesome family fun, free of any such vice, highlighted by the towering skyward thrust of Perry’s Monument and the mysterious subterranean delights of Perry’s Cave.
It’s cool to know that one place can serve as a destination for such disparate purposes.
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press and Toledo Free Press Star. Contact him at email@example.com.
Tags: Battle of Lake Erie, Boathouse Bar and Grill, Bruce Wayne, Charlie Sheen, De Rivera Park, Frosty Bar, Great Lakes Popcorn Co., Jet Express, Lighting The Fuse, Michael S. Miller, Mike 'Mad Dog' Adams, Montresor, Pat Dailey, Perry's Cave, Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial, Port Clinton, Put-in-Bay, Round House Bar