The town of Syracuse was founded in 1837. Just a few years shy of a hundred years later, The Frog Tavern opened its doors for the first time in 1932. At that point, it was a haven for ice fishermen. There, they had a safe place to gear up to head out onto Lake Wawasee, or warm up with food and exchange tall tales over a pint before heading home.
As time went on, The Frog Tavern gained a reputation for serving incredible food, hosting live music, and having a relaxing location that can be reached by land or water.
In the 89 years this restaurant has been open, there have only been six owners. The current owner, Doug Shoemaker, has owned it since 2014. However, he and Frog Tavern go further back than that. “I had my summers off in college, so I would come up here and was put to work. I love the environment and I love the work,” Shoemaker explains. The owners at that time, Bob and Karen Fawcett, saw potential in Shoemaker and began setting him up to eventually take over the business.
People of all ages enjoy the traditional American favorites that The Frog Tavern serves. Plus, the restaurant is a great place to come unwind after a hard day at work or a long day on the water. “We’re more casual and laid back. We’re a tavern and serve tavern food,” Shoemaker says.
At night, The Frog Tavern comes alive with music and entertainment. “The Frog’s unique. People come in for lunch and dinner during the day, but at night, we’re pretty much the only place that’s got live entertainment late at night with bands. We’ll get 250-400 people running through here just at night.”
The type of music can span the gamete from rock to pop covers. “At 11 o’clock, everyone that’s been at the sandbar all day … come in. They like to have fun until about 2 o’clock in the morning, then we send them all home and do it all again the next day.”
Thanks to The Frog Tavern’s unique situation on Lake Wawasee, Shoemaker also owns the SS Lillypad, a 110-passenger double-decker dining yacht, captained by Scott Albon. “We’ll cook the food inside The Frog and take it out. We’ll do buffet-style dinners,” he says. With private reservation, the Lillypad is also open for other meals and events. “We get a lot of compliments. They love the food and the atmosphere. It’s just a good way to take in the sights of the lake.”
The Lillypad is open for public cruises occasionally. “About 25 to 30 times a year, we’ll take it out to the public for dinners, luncheons, and fundraisers,” Shoemaker says. Those dates are available on the Lillypad website and require a reservation.
Every Sunday in season, between Memorial Day and Labor Day, the Syracuse-Wawasee Ministry Association holds Boat Church on the Lillypad. “They broadcast from the boat, they have ministers on there, and entertainment,” Shoemaker says. “It’s free to the public; first come, first serve.” Anyone interested in attending can find the boat anchored by Oakwood Resort. Details are available at wawaseecompass.org.
Above all, Shoemaker appreciates that, between The Frog Tavern and the Lillypad, no two days look the same. It’s also a gathering point for community. “People come in with their kids and say, ‘Oh yeah, my parents used to bring me here for lunch when I was a kid.’ You get five generations of people who’ve been coming to the Frog,” he says. “Altogether, I’ve been here 15 years. Kids that were six or seven then are teenagers or in their 20s.”
The Frog Tavern and the launch for the SS Lillypad is located at 1116 S Harkless Drive, Syracuse. To see who’s playing at the Frog or to discover the dates of public cruises, visit them online at sslillypad.com. To book the boat for a private gathering, call 574-529-3300 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.