If you ask a group of Geist residents where the best place to go tailgating is that doesn’t involve sports or music, someone will surely reply, “Bonge’s!” Pronounced “Bon-geeze,” this out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere restaurant offers gourmet food and tailgating delights in the form of a gravel parking lot and a small, colorful building that accommodates 65 diners.
Located in Perkinsville, Ind., you’ll find a party waiting to happen here, where customers bring their own fun. With sometimes up to a three-hour wait, diners know going in that they’re going to be around for awhile. And that’s all part of the charm.
The original owner, Chuck Bonge, developed and owned the restaurant from 1944 to 1989, which is how the establishment got its name. The current owner and chef, Tony Huelster, came along in 1999, and with him came loyal followers of good food. Before he knew it, customers were flocking to this tiny town to taste his creations. Thus, the tailgating began.
“It sort of just happened, this tailgating thing,” said Huelster. “Customers would come to eat, but with such a limited amount of space, we could only seat so many people. There’s nothing else to do out here, with no shops or places to visit while you wait. Since we’re first-come, first-served, people started putting in their names, then getting out their own chairs to sit in and serving up drinks to keep them occupied.”
Since then, Bonge’s has become the place to be on any given night. This 21-years-old-and-over spot has become a ritual for many, with its own unique ambiance within the confines of a wooden fence and featuring a Port-O-Let on the side. But be aware, if you’re going to go experience an evening at Bonge’s, you have to play by the rules. These include no throwing objects, like corn hole or Frisbees, no loud music, and tailgaters must stay within the confines of the parking lot.
Huelster has seen many a memorable moment out in his parking lot, and he recalls why he doesn’t allow thrown objects. “I looked outside one time and saw some guys playing with Jarts. You remember those lawn darts that are banned in this country? And then I noticed two Jaguars and a Porsche parked in the lot. I hit the door running,” he explained. Huelster had to subdue the revelers and explain why potential damage to vehicles was not a good idea.
As for other memorable moments? Huelster has seen otherwise ladylike tailgaters “relieve themselves” on the side of his pickup truck. Thus, the portable restrooms became a part of the scene during peak months. He also recalls a time when a customer drove up to the lot with a vehicle full of fire logs and large rocks. The customer then began construction on a fire pit. Needless to say, this wasn’t appropriate in a parking lot, either.
“We also went through a phase a while back when people thought they needed to drive their fully loaded RVs into the lot. Oh, and the stretch limos were big for awhile too,” he said. But the parking lot just couldn’t accommodate that many big vehicles, and it became more trouble than it was worth for the drivers.
Today’s tailgaters at Bonge’s are a diverse group. Some bring intricate seating options with impressive trays of fruit, cheeses and other hors d’oeuvres accompanied by wine and soft mood music. Others are happy to bring a bag of peanuts, a cooler full of beer, and perch on the back of their SUVs. Groups of complete strangers often meet and become best friends before the night is through.
When it comes to tailgating options, Bonge’s is a great destination and provides an opportunity to enjoy a little fellowship in a unique, down-home environment. For more information, including driving directions and tailgating etiquette, visit www.bongestavern.com.
A Brief History of Tailgating
There are a few different versions of how tailgating came to be, but the one most believed has to do, of course, with football. Apparently, the first college football game in 1869, between Rutgers and Princeton universities, brought the initial marriage between food and sports. It was customary at the time for spectators to share a wild game and fish dinner before the games.
Participants would back up their trucks or station wagons and put the tailgate down in order to sit and enjoy the festivities or make food available. This pre-game ritual became known as tailgating, and the pastime has not only become synonymous with attending football games, but other sports in general, as well as with concerts and social events, bringing groups of people together.