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Travellin' man plants roots at Maiden Rock bar

MAIDEN ROCK--Craig Kent has been a man on the move.

Most recently, Kent drove a taxicab in the Twin Cities. He's also tended bar in the Cities and on the West Coast, where he's lived at various times and locales. Then there's his interest in motorcycling, which brought him to Maiden Rock.

"My wife and I ride cycles a lot," he said Thursday, indicating they have Harley Davidsons.

One of the cycling events they've regularly attended is the flood run, which draws thousands of riders from the Cities area down the Great River Road each spring. He said Ole's Bar along Hwy. 35 has always been a stop for them, a place they've enjoyed and a business they now own.

When Kent began looking for a small bar to operate in Western Wisconsin about a year ago, he included Ole's in the search, he said. Previous owner Ruth Martinson hesitated to sell at first, then changed her mind.

"Some fixtures were needed, but otherwise it's in pretty good shape," he said, acknowledging the major renovation that occurred there after a fire several years ago.

Food offerings remain largely the same under the new management, he said. The establishment, known for its hamburgers, also has buffalo burgers, a variety of sandwiches and pizza. Among a full line of appetizers are onion rings, fries, cheese curds and poppers. A breakfast menu is even available, with such fare as bacon, eggs, hashbrowns, biscuits and gravy, pancakes and omelettes.

"We mostly serve breakfast on weekends, but sometimes on weekdays, too," he said.

Taco Tuesdays and Friday fish fries, from 5 to 9 p.m., are other weekly attractions, he said. Rhonda Berger and Tim Wood are the cooks, members of a staff of six employees.

Berger said she doubles as a bartender. Bloody Caesers are the most popular drinks on Ole's list, Kent said, but other mixed drinks and beer are served as well.

He's expanding the live music played at the bar, he said. While Martinson emphasized rock 'n roll, his Saturday night lineup calls for blues and acoustic music. For example, a local group, "The Dutch Lillies," with their bluegrass and old tyme country sounds, are scheduled for June 14. The next Saturday, June 21, "Bayou Hazard," a Cajun group, will perform during Maiden Rock Summerfest. The last Sunday of each month, a new acoustic music jam is planned.

"I've got friends from the Cities who are going to come and play," he said, noting he himself not only plays guitar and harmonica, but sings. He's been recruited as a member of the Summerfest music committee.

The public is invited to enjoy the juke box and pool table on the premises, he said. A deck overlooking the local park with camping and Lake Pepin is a favorite gathering spot.

Although Kent said Southern California was once his home, he claims the Cities as his native community. He was bartending in Santa Cruz, Calif., when the 1989 earthquake hit that region.

"Bottles went flying off the back bar," he said.

Besides bartending in Seattle since 1970-71, he's been a bartender on the Cities' West Bank. He worked at the Vikings Bar and the Five Corners Saloon in the neighborhood he referred to as his "old stompin' grounds," plus was night manager at the Union Bar in the mid-70s.

Minnesota regulations make running a bar more expensive there than here, he said. The Gopher State's Dram Shop law adds a liability component resulting in bar ownership being a riskier venture than in Wisconsin.

The former driver for Rainbow Cab Company now lives in Maiden Rock, he said. Wife Lynn is a computer programmer in the Cities.