Meet Tim Poole, who manages Whiskey Island Still & Eatery for FDL Marine Services, which leases the marina and restaurant from the Cleveland Metroparks.
Whiskey Island lets Clevelanders feel like they’re at “a resort five minutes from home,” says Poole, who’s been managing since 2006, when the land was owned by Cuyahoga County.
From May 1 through Oct. 14, Whiskey Island Still & Eatery serves fried perch and burgers to crowds as big as 800, sitting on picnic tables near where the Cuyahoga River meets Lake Erie. About 250 boats dock in the Whiskey Island Marina, with another 250 loaded into a giant dry storage garages next to the water.
The property and adjacent Wendy Park has been owned by the Cleveland Metroparks since 2014.
“We’re a destination, not a location,” says Poole, of Fairview Park, who before managing Whiskey Island worked in his family laundry business.
Rock the Lake talked to Poole about Cleveland’s boat culture and his favorite spot for sunsets.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
The restaurant here is called Whiskey Island Still & Eatery, but it used to be called Sunset Grill. It must be really pretty to watch the sun set from here, with the boats.
This is one of the most beautiful spots in Cleveland because of the sunsets. We used to have a whole row of chairs out here. And when the sun was about to set, everyone would get up from their tables and come sit until the sun dropped into the water. The whole skyline turns orange.
Why doesn’t Cleveland have more of a boat culture? Like why don’t we see more boats being towed on the highway and parked in driveways?
That’s the million-dollar question. Cleveland has just never got it through their heads that they have this beautiful resource right here.
What do you do in the off season?
I shut the marina down and the holidays I spend with my family. Then after the first of the year, we do contracts – bands, food, beer. It’s a lot of business stuff we have to do. Once we open it’s just hold onto the reins because it’s non-stop until Labor Day.
Who owns the boats here?
It’s not a big yacht club. It’s blue-collar/white-collar, about 20 percent sail boats. We’ve sold out every year. They might go out on the lake to swim or down the Cuyahoga and see the industry. They might go to Vermilion and have dinner at one of the restaurants there. It costs $1,500 to $5,000 to rent a dock for the summer. But probably about 15 percent of the boats here are used weekly. A lot of them just sit here.
Do you think Cleveland’s lakefront is experiencing a renaissance?
I think the renaissance in Cleveland is in downtown Cleveland. The real change in Cleveland is happening in the center of Cleveland, and if we can get corporations to dump money in it, it spreads money all over. The Metroparks have probably had the most impact on the lakefront. They’ve made the biggest improvement