Defying high water, McGregor’s Beer and Bratz Garden opens for the season

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After a spring plagued by Mississippi flood waters, McGregor’s Beer and Bratz Garden welcomed customers for the first time this season on June 4. Manager Ravon Thornton (left) and kitchen staff member Sara Whiteaker made light of the high water, which still surrounded the restaurant at the time of opening, but has since receded. (Photos by Audrey Posten)

With the building still surrounded by water, as well as much of the parking lot in front of it, a bridge was installed to allow customers to cross what manager Ravon Thornton called “the moat” to enter McGregor’s Beer and Bratz Garden.

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

After a spring plagued by Mississippi flood waters, McGregor’s Beer and Bratz Garden welcomed customers for the first time this season on June 4.

“This time, we were determined this was going to be the opening date,” said manager Ravon Thornton.

Located right along the Mississippi River, high water isn’t an unusual foe for the long-time restaurant this time of year.

“You have to expect that here,” Thornton shared. “But not for this length of time.”

The river crested twice in McGregor in April, at 21.34 feet on April 5 and 21.75 feet on April 26—among the highest ever recorded at the location. Instead of using the month to order new product and prepare the restaurant for a May 1 opening, staff had to remove all the tables and chairs, empty the kitchen and physically pull it from the building, just before water and debris inundated it and completely surrounded the site.

“Then,” said Thornton, “we had to wait.”

Although dropping, the Mississippi still remained above flood stage—16 feet—for most of May. It was eventually low enough for staff to get into the Beer and Bratz Garden and begin clean-up.

“It was so much more in-depth after the crest,” Thornton said.

Surfaces were deep-cleaned, the floor power washed and mopped several times, then resealed. The kitchen, which is on a trailer, was slid back into place and required some maintenance after the move. 

“We had to hunt down all the supplies,” said Thornton. “Stuff was just stored wherever it could fit.”

The building’s wiring had all been unhooked, so a professional came in to reconnect electricity and internet service.

Vendors were rescheduled.

“We wanted to be open by Memorial Day weekend,” Thornton said.

The river had other plans, though, with heavy precipitation pushing it back over 19 feet again.

June 4 was set as the new opening date, and even that took some maneuvering to achieve. With the building still surrounded by water, as well as much of the parking lot in front of it, a bridge was installed to allow customers to cross what Thornton called “the moat” to enter the Beer and Bratz Garden.

“The Regals let us borrow some planks, so we got our bridge,” Thornton shared. “Thanks to that, we were able to open like planned.”

Thornton said this experience has shown just how strong the ownership and staff members are. 

“It can be daunting and disheartening,” she admitted, “but everyone’s been amazing.”

That’s been especially true of the McGregor Marina dockhands, Thornton said. They had to help with the restaurant before readying the house boats and pontoons. Now, they’re focusing on that project.

Thornton hopes the river, which is projected to dip below flood stage this week, will continue to drop.

“If people can’t get on the river, they can’t rent out house boats or pontoons,” she said. “The river is what draws a lot of people here.”

Marquette and McGregor have a lot to offer besides that, however.

“This is still a beautiful area,” she stressed. “The towns have history. There’s shopping and the bars and restaurants. The hiking is great.”

McGregor’s Beer and Bratz Garden is open Sunday through Thursday, from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., then Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thornton said the restaurant will be completely open air this year. There’s also an updated menu, with 16 brat flavors from Edgewood Locker, locally-caught catfish every night and new beer selections. They’re are using more paper, rather than plastic, products this year, in an effort to be more environmentally-friendly.

One thing that hasn’t changed, Thornton said, is the beautiful view of the Mississippi River from the Beer and Bratz Garden deck. Although troublesome this spring, it’s an important feature.

“I love the view,” she said. “There’s a family of geese swimming around, and you can see fish jumping. You can’t beat it.” 

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