All aboard for Hayward, Hurley and Hell! the train conductors would yell.
Northern Wisconsin had become a playground for gangsters, politicians and the beautiful people of Chicago during Prohibition and the Great Depression.
Al Capone had a hideout on a private lake near Hayward where he had bootleg whiskey flown in from Canada on seaplanes. The town of Hurley
boasted lively soda fountains fronting the famous brothels upstairs. Sam Giancana, Joe Saltis and Jimmy Hoffa vacationed in the area. The new movie, Public Enemies, starring Johnny Depp as John Dillinger portrays a raid and shoot-out in nearby Manitowish Waters that was just part of the madness in the Northwoods of the 1930s.
Things are calmer nowadays but the Turk’s Inn, just outside of Hayward, harkens back to the heyday of supper clubs and inns tucked away amongst the lakes and trees.
Celebrating its 75th year in business, the Inn’s clientele may not be quite as colorful as it once was — and there is no longer a two hour wait for dinner — but a trip to the Inn is a jaunt through time that shouldn’t be missed.
Opened by George The Turk Gogian and his wife Isabella, affectionately known only as Mom, the establishment boasts rooms called the Harem Lounge, the Kismet Dining Room and the Sultan Room. The menu boasts that it’s “Overlooking the beautiful Namekagon River as if it were the Black Sea.
Now we’ve never seen the Black Sea, but were pretty sure you couldn’t chuck a rock across it. But hey, we get what The Turk was going for.
Rich reds and dazzling golds combine with tassels, ibriks, crazy amounts of photos of the famous and infamous, quirky relics and personal heirlooms depicting the rich history of the place.
The result is a veritable museum of an bygone era.
We spent hours enthusiastically snooping around. Pictures are unceremoniously crammed in amongst the copious quantities of memorabilia. No playing favorites here.
We uncovered photos of singers, actors, politicians, sports figures and celebs like Priscilla Presley, Mickey Rooney, Dina Shore, Jim Ed Brown, several Kennedys, Russ Feingold, Thommy Thompson, Walter Mondale and Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun.
Anyone whos anyone and been in the neighborhood has stopped by The Turk’s Inn, some, with severe mugshot phobia, declined to be photographed.
At the age of 16, George The Turk left Istanbul and arrived in Philadelphia to live with an uncle. After a few years, his uncle decided George was having too good of a time and a marriage was arranged with Isabella, a college student in St. Paul. Isabella and The Turk were married for 55 years.
After losing a successful candy company in Philly to the Depression, George, with twenty-five cents in his pocket, headed to Hayward and the Turk’s Inn was born.
Today, the flat-out, hands-down finest attraction of the Inn is the daughter of George and Isabella, Marge Gogian. Most likely in her eighties (she wont tell), and standing well under five feet tall, Marge is a spitfire. She still runs the kitchen, makes a special appearance at every guests table (as her always father did) and will tell stories that will leave you wide-eyed with disbelief.
Marge has changed nothing, literally nothing. The Inn is exactly the way her dad left it. The kitchen is vintage (Marge doesn’t believe in microwaves), the cash register with the handwritten No Credit sign underneath (in The Turk’s own hand), the bar and the tables are all original, perfectly functional and
Always prepared, The Gogians (including Marge) have the bar stocked with enough booze for several Wisconsin winters and must have ordered bazillions of paper goods decades ago — the cocktail napkins, match books (strike on the FRONT cover — when is the last time you saw that?) and postcards are truly classic.
Each emblazoned with The Turks personal motto Dont worry ’bout.
Marge says they had quite the time in the old days. The local sheriff kept tabs when government men were hanging around and kept The Turk abreast on the situation.
As a young girl, Marge would be helping out in the kitchen and remembers the racketeers showing up with their entourages. She recalls being afraid only once, when a particularly menacing set of gangsters came in one evening.
Even as a child Marge had keen instincts, as later that night gunshots were exchanged in town.
In the off season, the family traveled. Marge told us of a trip she took
with her father as a teenager. They happened to be at the hotel where King Saud, founder of Saudi Arabia, was also staying.
George, never having met a stranger, chatted him up. They ending up hanging out together and a picture taken by the Kings photographer
of seventeen year old Marge is hanging on the wall in the Inn’s dining room.
In the ’60s, Marge wanted to visit Afghanistan even though Americans weren’t allowed to. The Turks answer was, Why the hell do you want to go to Afghanistan? The ever feisty Marge decided to head on over anyway. She arrived in India but was not allowed through, so she stubbornly sat at the Embassy until they relented.
The terms of her visit were that she would be escorted by two Englishmen and a driver, could only travel within a 50 mile radius and would have to stay in Afghanistan for two weeks to qualify for an exit visa.
Marge arrived during the holy month of Ramadan and there were no women to be seen. She remembers thinking, what kind of place is this? As soon as The Turk got wind of the situation, he called Bobby Kennedy.
He put a trace on me, laments Marge. They knew every hotel I stayed in during my entire trip. An exit visa was finally obtained and Marge was sent home.
George attempted to arrange a marriage for his headstrong daughter– once. The poor boy showed up in Wisconsin, and Marge put her foot down.
I told my father to send him back where he came from, she says with a mischievous smile. I’m glad I’m not married — I’m so fussy, but my parents were fussy and I learned that from them.
So instead Marge went to Washington, D.C. for college. There she met John and Ted Kennedy. Later on, when invited to JFK’s inaugural ball, Marge took her father, after some strong convincing.
The Turk was concerned about attending, as Hayward was a Republican town and the Kennedys were Democrats.
But Marge says, Dad loved to have a good time, so he ended up going anyway. No one in Hayward cared. Completing college in D.C., Marge attended New York University and took the city by storm.
She became a fashion designer, stylist and modeled shoes and hats. Marge bemoans that she couldn’t be a fashion model because of her diminutive size. Believe you me, she was absolutely stunning.
When her father’s health began to decline, Marge was brought back home to help out at the Turk’s Inn and she has been there ever since.
The opulent atmosphere compliments meals fit for a sultan.
Marge still ages and hand cuts every steak on site. The pilaf is magical and the lamb legendary. The cucumber-horseradish dressing tickles your taste buds like an undulating belly dancer.
Our meal ended with the Inn’s fresh and homemade baklava. Marge explained that she prepares her syrup with rosewater and lemon juice, so it is different and less sweet than the Greek version.
Not ready for the night the night to end, we were glad to accept when Marge invited us to try Krukovac at the bar after the customers left. We chatted and sipped while she and the staff cleaned up and cashed out.
Marge works hard, and expects the same from her staff. Shes tough on them and they love her right back. After all, she and the Turk’s Inn are institutions.
The running joke among the employees is half of us quit every night but they’re back to say it again the next night.
When you visit the Turk’s Inn, bring cash.
The Turk didn’t take credit cards, and neither does Marge.
Remember nothing changes.
David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com