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Bill Gage is a Lake Geneva institution. He’s not exactly a self-made man or a man who’s taken over a competitive business. All the competition was concluded years ago when Gage Marine was allowed to become “the boat monopoly” it now is in Lake Geneva. Those big cruise boats and mail boats and passenger ferries of Gage Marine not only have no competition; they are not allowed to have competitors.

Consequently, when renting the facilities of the pier complex in Lake Geneva, Bill’s family company received terms so generous that only a world-class neo-con could celebrate. But that is the way it is right now, so how is the public using Gage’s boats and services supposed to react? Most of the people who go out on Gage boats are not locals from around the area. The main body of Gage visitors are tourists coming in from distant places. Even so, the effect of Gage Marine is extremely local, as his boats touch almost every part of the lake and his restaurant,

Pier 290 located over in Williams Bay, is the classiest water front restaurant within fifty miles. What’s the result of this marriage between Gage Marine and all the communities around the lake? Amazingly, it’s pretty good. Neither Gage nor the communities get much in the way of complaints about Gage prices, service or attitude. The boats run from early spring until the ice comes in so they are out there most of the year. They deliver mail, provide chaperoned and guided tours, have good food and serve alcoholic drinks. Sometimes, not often, monopoly works.

Before Gage won the competition years ago, the infighting for commercial sightseeing and dinner boats was fierce and the public suffered along with most of the independent operators (there were once more than 70!). Boat fires, ramming ‘accidents’ and unreliable schedules ran rampant. Not anymore.

And then there’s Pier 290, Gage’s restaurant on the water. This restaurant has recently been able to hire Chef Slaughter (formerly of five-star world famous of Bouchon Restaurant in Napa Valley) and his reinvention of Pier 290 fare has been quite something, indeed. On regular dinner nights try the $13.00 burger. It’s the best anywhere around the lake (and the most expensive). The half chicken dinner is a wonder, but the Hawaiian Ono and Shepard’s Pie are not to be missed, either.

X-Files investigators cannot ever go there without ordering the deviled egg appetizer, which is cold weather comfort when going out into that sub-zero stuff outside. Are Bill Gage and his operation tied in with Walworth State Bank, the leadership of Lake Geneva, and even the Lake Geneva Area Chamber of Commerce? The answer is yes.

The difficult part is trying to figure out whether the marriage of civil government and private business, in this case, is a good one for the communities around the lake. It would be difficult to successfully argue that Gage’s operation isn’t beloved by residents, property owners and visitors alike. Particularly given the fact that the conglomeration of businesses making up the whole provide so many necessary goods and services in a qualitative manner at decent prices. From the analysis recently performed on all aspects of the operation, Gage Marine, and Pier 290 restaurant, are deserving of five stars.

As in any marriage, however, there are always problems and differences of opinion. The Geneva Shore Staff and investigators reserve the right to pick on them in the future should quality falter or care be reduced.

For right now, Gage Marine is number one.

Chef Slaughter Pier 290 Lake Geneva

Chef Slaughter, formerly of the famous Bouchon in Napa Valley, and now very importantly ensconced at Pier 290 in Williams Bay. The smile is real and the food is wonderful…now.

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