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The number one thing I am asked in private messages and emails is “Is ____ safe to visit right now?” You can fill in that blank with restaurants, stores, and different activities. I get it, I really do. This whole COVID-19 situation stinks and people are ready to get back to “normal”. They are optimistically cautious and want to make sure that even if they are tired of being stuck at home and venture out, they take minimal risks. We checked out the Northwoods of Wisconsin recently and here is what we can tell you if you choose to go there and escape reality.
Safely Rediscover the Northwoods of Wisconsin
For the most part, the Manitowish Waters and Minocqua areas are a haven of fun and food, we have been coming to the area for over 20 years. There are still plenty of activities to do besides hiking, kayaking, and biking. We used Patricia Lake Campground for our home base, feeling this year like our camper was the safest place to bunk. The campground is clean, well run, and very family friendly. No late night parties or fireworks allowed, but feel free to bring you pooch! While there are other campgrounds in the area, this one was our favorite, even if our pop-up stood out like a sore thumb among the RVs.
Outdoor activities abound like Wildwood Wildlife Park where you can hand-feed parakeets or get eye-to-eye with a giraffe feeding. Holiday Acres is your place to hit for pony rides with the littles or trail rides via horseback for the older kids and adults. There is even mini-golf in the area! All of these are outdoors and promise little exposure risk to you or your loved ones. Offices limit how man family members enter at a time, and staff are all masked.
The shops along the main drags are all touting signs requiring masks to enter and staff inside dons them too. From the Shade Tree bookstore to Dan’s Minocquoa Fudge. Most people were beyond polite and staying out of each other’s personal space. Even the local flea markets and farmer’s markets made us feel comfortable.
Now my favorite part of the Northwoods of Wisconsin: the food. You are in the supper club mecca when you visit the area, between the sit down restaurants and what we call “lunch joints”. Here is a quick run-down of what we found:
A fun place to visit and steep yourself in the mobster era history as this is the place Dillinger was almost taken out. The bullet holes are preserved for your viewing pleasure.
Staff wore masks, tables were spaced out, and when they sanitized between customers, they even wiped down the salt and pepper shakers. That may not seem like much to some people, but it shows the extra attention to detail and care for their clients. The service and food are both excellent.
Care to dine in a former house of ill repute that is said to be haunted? Look no further! Staff wore masks, tables were spaced out, and when they sanitized between customers, they even wiped down the salt and pepper shakers. The service and food are both excellent with incredibly generous portions.
Who doesn’t like to grab a pizza? This place offers a tasty tomato pie for a great price. Staff wore masks, tables were spaced out. The service and food are both excellent.
Polecat & Lace
Step out of the main shopping district in down town Manitowish Waters and step back in time as you enter their tavern. Staff wore masks, tables were spaced out. They seemed short staffed but paid attention to cleaning thoroughly between customers. The service and food are both excellent, and prices a bargain.
It’s not exactly a drive-in as there are no car hops, but you park and walk up to place your order. They promote masks and 6-foot distancing with reminder signs but we never saw any staff member go out and clean the picnic tables around their store. You order your food, go to a table to eat, throw out your garbage normally, but I would say stick to eating in your Chicago dog in the safety of your own vehicle.
Not exactly a unique place, but they do make a great breakfast. Staff wore masks, tables were spaced out.
Bad Bones BBQ
Nothing like a little taste of the smoker to make your mouth happy! We loved the Carolina Pulled Pork sandwiches – and their fries? Seem fresh but with a generous sprinkling of coarse salt. The only “bad” thing we saw? Their collection of BBQ sauce squeeze bottles were not wiped down between customers – while everything else was disposable, hand after hand could touch those.
Marty’s Place North
In a word: disappointing.
We have gone here for 20 years and probably won’t go back. I don’t even know where to start other than to say the staff doesn’t wear masks, the tables aren’t spaced apart, and the place is crowded. They have a new chef who changed up their normal menu and will not do substitutions. If you have a food allergy, it certainly isn’t the place for you. My fillet was overcooked and when I told my server, she replied, “A lot of people ordered that steak and rice combo, the chef must have gotten confused”. Who orders a $40 steak well done? I certainly didn’t and there was no resolution to that. Skip Marty’s and their Strawberry Shaum Torte, it isn’t worth it.
The bottom line? Whether you hit Mercer to grab a photo opportunity with a giant loon or wander the streets shopping, there is a ton to see and do in the Northwoods of Wisconsin safely. It is worth taking a little Wisconsin stay-cation to and temporarily letting the stress of the “new normal” fade from memory.