Linger Lodge Restaurant, a Manatee County icon with roots dating to 1945 when it started as a campground, is reopening at 4 p.m. Friday after being closed four months for renovations.
Linger Lodge regulars will find that the restaurant’s quirky ambiance has been preserved. Most of the taxidermy – some of it true to nature and some of it seemingly from a parallel universe – is still there, along with the miliatria and an extensive collection of police patches and beer cans.
There is a lot that’s new, too. Linger Lodge has been spruced up, reorganized and modernized.
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With a capacity of 180 seats, management found room to give diners noticeably more space. New flooring, bathrooms, wiring and plumbing are just a few of the changes.
The owners had hoped to reopen the restaurant, sitting at 7205 85th St. Court E., in October, but Hurricane Irma disrupted the construction schedule.
Linger Loft, an Austrian company, bought Linger Lodge in November 2016 for $2,498,258.
Ruth Hofer, a representative of Linger Loft, beamed Monday as she showed off the restaurant remodeling.
She was particularly happy with the new restrooms, which replaced older restrooms along with space formerly used for showers and a campground laundry.
“The handicapped accessible bathrooms are one of the most significant improvements,” general manager David LaRusso said.
In cleaning up and reorganizing the restaurant, several discoveries were made, including wooden walls and a handsome Linger Lodge sign that had been covered by a huge alligator on the wall.
That sign, near the entrance, is now displayed in all its glory – the alligator will be displayed elsewhere in the restaurant.
People have had such patience waiting for us to open. We appreciate that and look forward to seeing them again. We say people are encouraged to linger at the lodge. We aren’t interested in that churn and burn.
David LaRusso, general manager
“We tried to keep the flair of the lodge rustic, but clean and neat,” Hofer said.
Linger Lodge offered a sneak peek at the improvements on its Facebook page and the response has been positive, Hofer said.
Hofer has kept former owner Frank Gamsky, remembered for the jokes and tableside magic tricks he used to perform for diners, in the loop with the improvements.
“He is very close to us and very involved in everything,” she said.
The restaurant’s unusual decor and menu have brought it national attention from the likes of NBC weatherman Al Roker and forbes.com.
Not to fear, the same basic menu is back, as well.
Opening at 4 p.m. Friday, favorites such as frog legs, alligator bites and catfish will be back, although the full menu won’t be offered until Saturday.
Linger Lodge will be open seven days a week, opening at 11 a.m. on weekends and 11:30 a.m. on weekdays.
Other specialties include live music on Saturday, karaoke on Fridays (starting next week) and possibly a trivia night on Wednesday or Thursday.
New windows in the restaurant can be opened to allow customers to enjoy the live music or seasonal breezes.
“People have had such patience waiting for us to open. We appreciate that and look forward to seeing them again,” LaRusso said. “We say people are encouraged to linger at the lodge. We aren’t interested in that churn and burn.”
Coincidentally, Linger Lodge, situated on a bend of the Braden River, is taking part in the Jiggs Landing Christmas Boat Parade on Saturday. The event starts at 5 p.m. with an appearance by Santa Claus, and the boat parade begins at 7 p.m.