Lamb on the Lam

“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 we’re 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 who’s 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 won’t tell), and standing well under five feet tall, Marge is a spitfire. She still runs the kitchen, makes a special appearance at every guest’s 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
wonderfully whimsical.

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 Turk’s personal motto “Don’t 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 King’s 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 Turk’s 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 Kruškovac 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. She‘s 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


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12 thoughts on “Lamb on the Lam”

  1. Even though we only spent one evening with Marge she had a big impact on us. What a wonderful, interesting woman. She will be missed by all who came in contact with her throughout her incredible life.

  2. Margie will be greatly missed. A pure legend in her time. Way back when Mom, George and Marge were in their prime I worked for them for over 15 years. Starting as a young teenager and into adulthood. The Gogian Family taught me life long skills of hard work and pride in what you do to run and care for the customers! The stories I recall are worth a book and movie!!! God Bless Margie, Mom and George whom are now once again all together.

    1. Thanks, D. Miller, for your mentioning how working at Turk’s taught you lifelong skills of hard work and pride – I only worked there for a few years but came away with the same gratitude. I have entertained my kids and family over the years with stories from “my time at Turk’s” – I think they find it hard to believe them sometimes. It was a great experience and as I walked away from the final auction last weekend, I felt a great sadness as it represented to me, Marge’s final wish that the restaurant just end with her passing. What a great loss.

  3. I love the Turks Inn! I’m a born-and-bred Wisconsinite and during the summers I spent growing up in the Northwoods, we’d always stop in Hayward for a great meal.

  4. >Thank you for your wonderful review of the Turks Inn. My family started going to the Turks Inn more than 50 years ago. Many Xmas holidays were spent with days skiing at Telemark and dinner at the Turks. I could almost taste those wonderful cheese filled pastry appetizer and her famous pickles while reading your article. I have such fond memories of playing behind the bar when I was a little girl.

    My husband and I spent our honey moon there 29 years ago (Marge reserved the back room for us and we had it all to ourselves) and we go back almost every year.

    Marge fell and broke her hip about a week ago. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that she makes a full come back. If you hear any news, I’d like to know as I’ve been calling there to tell Marge we were coming up.

    Thanks for a really fun trip down memory lane. I remember my mom and dad telling me that the Turk had planted all of the pine tree’s just North of the restaurant himself. But I also remember them telling me that George had come to the US and went back and bought his wife as a slave to bring her back here. So I was surprised to see that part of your story.

    Awesome place…awesome food!!!

  5. >It just absolutely makes my mouth water to read about the food and smile at the wonderful memories shared at the Turk's Inn. I moved to Hayward in 1969 and all of us "gals" had many a great evening there with Marge. She was such a supporter and promoter of the arts in that little Northwoods town, which was the encouragement we needed.

  6. >What my brother said! We all loved stopping on the way up and down from The Island. Sometimes with immediate family, sometimes with cousins, and I'm not certain we were always well-behaved.

    I remember the deer and other animals and bird next door and the gurgling Namekagon down the steps off the back patio, the little island and the river creatures.

    All this and the greatest food in the world. Brother Michael nailed the rest.

    Andy Driscoll

  7. >What memories! I started going to the Turk's with my family and parents on our way up or down from Madeline Island (to and from St. Paul)during the 1950's and 60's. Sometimes it was for lunch and sometimes for dinner, but always a treat for us. My parents, along with several other Island commuters had gotten to know George, Mom and, yes, the once inscrutable Marge.

    Lunch would often be the best homemade burgers you ever had, with real fries and large, succulent, homemade pickles.

    Dinner (if we could afford it and George and Mom usually made sure we could)often was some lamb dish, from kebabs grilled just behind the dining room (which we could see through a window) to chops or other. Always with middle eastern side dishes.

    Marge was sometimes there and sometimes out East, but when there, she was stunning, to be sure – and a little distant, which changed over the years.

    Now, it should be understood that George was not a Turk. He was Armenian (Gogian is an Armenian name, as Marge will affirm). But Armenia had been decimated by the Turks during and after WWI in what the Armenians still claim as genocide.

    But George was also an entrepreneur and knew a catchy phrase when he thought of it.

    We have taken our daughter and many of our friends to the Turk's and are planning to stop there again in a few weeks as we head up to Madeline Island for weekend Fall visit. If your column hasn't been posted there, I'll give Marge a copy. It really evokes the aura of the place and the times.

    Thanks, Mike Driscoll

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