Written by Ross Pattermann
Winter WI - Whether you’re looking for great fishing and canoeing, savory meals and refreshing drinks, beautiful landscapes or just a place to get away from it all, Bucktail Lodge has got you covered. The lodge and restaurant sits on picturesque Barker Lake near the village of Winter in southern Sawyer County, and offers the best of Wisconsin all year round.
Bucktail Lodge is just one of the many hidden gems tucked away in southern Sawyer County, and has been serving up great food, views, and a strong drink or two, for years. Located on W7014 Circle B Road in Winter, Bucktail Lodge boasts several deluxe cabins and a restaurant menu that will satisfy any appetite.
The restaurant and lodgings have been in the same family for over twenty years after Joseph Schnering purchased it from his parents John and Roseanne, who themselves purchased it in 1997 back when it was the old Circle B Resort.
While Joseph has spent most of his years living in Burlington, Wisconsin, he’s a longtime acquaintance of northern Wisconsin, and has been coming up to Bucktail Lodge to help his parents since he was 21.
“I came up with the summers, helping out of here and there. So, in my teenage years, I worked for restaurants, you know, cooking, blah, blah, all that wonderful stuff. In my 20s, besides being a carpenter, I also worked in bars, and I started managing a bar.”
Schnering went back into union carpeting and has also spent 26 years in the army reserves and logistics, but now 48, he decided he was ready for a change. He sold his houses in Lake Geneva and moved up to Winter to be closer to his long-time girlfriend, Krista Haus.
“My dad had been trying to sell this place for about five years, so I told him that I'd buy it from him,” Schnering says. “We ended up changing hands of the place on April 25th of 2022, so this is a two-generation resort.”
Joe says part of the appeal in owning a bar, restaurant and resort was his love of people and good conversation, but also everything Sawyer County has to offer, with its abundant fishing lakes, UTV/ATV trails and beautiful landscape.
“Our vision is to keep it as a family-oriented place. It's in a great location, between six miles from the flowage and six miles from winter. There’s around half a dozen different great fishing lakes and some great UTV trails in the area.”
From Vision to Reality
Of course, having a dream is great, but Joe knew the Bucktail Lodge needed a pretty big makeover, not the first of which was the bar itself. When his father John owned it, the bar was a straight-line bar that seated ten people. Joe knew that was the first thing that had to change.
“Everybody wants a seat at the bar. A straight-line bar has never been my favorite type of bar so both me and Krista decided a U-shape bar was the way to go,” Joe says. “That way you have people that sit across from each other and talk. You can have people sit in the corners and groups of four can sit in the corner and have a conversation without leaning over and trying to talk to the fourth person in line.”
Bucktail Lodge’s bar wasn’t the only thing to undergo renovations. Schnering also made changes to the dining area. In its original layout, the dining area was three feet lower than the bar, so Joe and Krista made the decision to raise the floor, which in turn allowed for the lodge’s new U-shaped bar. It also had the added benefit of adding more seating.
It’s a good beginning, but Schnering says he has more plans in store for Bucktail Lodge, including expanding the kitchen. A kitchen is the beating heart of any restaurant, and Schnering knows that for what he and Krista had planned, they will need a bigger kitchen.
“We knew the kitchen was really small. I mean, for how much food we pump out of there on a busy night, I'm actually impressed. But you sit there and go ‘it needs this. It needs this. It needs this.’ I bought all this stuff, and I have all the equipment, the hood and everything. Just have to get it in.”
A Room With A View
As the name implies, the Bucktail Lodge has lodgings, and like the bar and dining area, Joe and Krista have made improvements with their overnight accommodations. The cabins come stocked with the usual niceties but are updated and equipped with modern conveniences like internet, WiFi and Smart TVs, so you’ll never miss your favorite shows while on vacation.
“All the cabins have shower units. They all have kitchens, a little dining area, a little living room area. I brought the Internet to all the cabins. They all have a smart TV that if you are paying for an app that you can download your app on the smart TV and be able to watch TV on it,” Joe says. “I always tell people ensure that you sign out when you leave though, because in other words, you're pushing and letting the next customer use it. And if you don't mind, I don't mind either, but I'll ensure that you know.”
All the cottages at Bucktail Lodge enjoy a view of beautiful Barker Lake and are set far apart to ensure everyone’s privacy. Other features of the deluxe cabins include a refrigerator, stove, microwaves, coffee pot and basic cooking items like pots and pans.
Barker Lake offers majestic pine trees, wildlife, the calming sounds of nature and is a photographer’s dream.
A full listing of the cabins and what they offer is below, the links do take you to VRBO in a new tab:
(4-9) bdrm w/2-full beds in each room, full (hideway-mission couch) and 2 bathrooms 1 w/shower
(2-5) 2 bdrm w/1-full bed in each room, full (hideway-mission couch) and 1 bathroom w/ 1 shower.
(2-3) 1 bdrm w/1-full bed, full (hideway-mission couch) and 1 bathroom w/ 1 shower.
Save Room for Dessert
There are certainly many places to enjoy delicious food in northern Wisconsin, but Bucktail Lodge’s menu may just be its best feature. There’s the classics, like hamburgers and plenty of traditional, but Joe and Krista are also keen to put their own spin on the dining experience, and with its panoramic view of Barker Lake, Bucktail Lodge offers plenty of gastronomic delights.
“So, for our appetizers, our special is our homemade Crab Rangoon. Krista started it last year on a Monday night for a special, and it went just great. Krista really wanted to have something on our menu that nobody else has. Most places that serve Crab Rangoon, it’s lots of cream cheese, little meat. Ours is meaty and Krista makes a huge batch from scratch, and we go through a lot.”
Joe’s culinary passion comes through when he talks about food, and he’s proud of his menu. But he still has plenty of favorites that he’s carried over from when his father John owned Bucktail Lodge.
“Probably one of our best-selling items is our Philly sandwich. We don't use the green peppers, we actually use the sweet, yellow, orange and red peppers. It gives you some more unique, better taste overall. We also have a marinade chicken sandwich. People love our rib eye steak. It's an inch and a half thick cut. We cut it ourselves. My dad was a butcher so that's something that he always did, and that's something that I thought we needed to bring over.”
Joe’s father John only did the rib eye steak once a week on Saturdays, but Joe offers it every night. But no place in northern Wisconsin, with its wealth of freshwater lakes and fish, would be complete without a signature fish dish. The Bucktail Lodge definitely does not disappoint.
“We do grilled walleye every night, and you can get it either with Cajun seasoning, blackened or lemon pepper. Then we do our Friday Night Fish Fry. See, I'm a big believer since we're in freshwater America, we serve freshwater fish. So, I do fried bluegill, a fried walleye, and a fried perch.”
Another carry over is Johnny’s Wings, made famous from when Joe’s father owned the Bucktail Lodge. Whether it’s chicken, fish, beef, burgers or soups, the Bucktail Lodge is sure to have something to whet the appetite.
For a full list of the dining hours and menu, see the breakdown below:
Restaurant is open from 11:00 am until 11:30 pm, and they serve up both basket food and specials.
Friday & Saturday
Basket Food: 12pm – 4 pm
Fine Dining: 4pm – 9 pm
Chicken Wings (12) and Fries
Gyro Basket: 12pm - 4pm
Fine Dining: 4pm - 9pm
Fine Dining: 4pm - 9pm
16oz Flame Broiled Ribeye, Surf-N-Turf, fantail shrimp, fried chicken dinners, and steak sandwiches
A Night Out With Friends
Of course, no visit to the Northland would be complete without sampling some of Wisconsin’s beers, ales, and mixed drinks. Bucktail Lodge has several specialties, like the Tex-Mex Michelada and Bloody Mary’s made from scratch.
“I put my margaritas up against anybody, and we also make our bloody Mary’s from scratch. I don't buy premix. I'm not a strong believer in premix. It's something that, you know, I think you get a better taste. There are some really great premixes out there, don't get me wrong, but I’m kind of an old fashioned type tech guy when it comes to making drinks.”
The most interesting drink at Bucktail Lodge is an interesting twist on that old Wisconsin staple – the Old Fashioned. A typical Old Fashioned cocktail is made by muddling sugar with bitters and water, adding whiskey, and garnishing with an orange slice or zest and a cocktail cherry.
But Wisconsin is known far and wide for its maple syrup, and just as they do with their fish, Joe and Krista use of local products and local flavors to make something completely unique.
Treat Your Patrons Like Family
Wisconsin might not have the best reputation for weather, but Bucktail Lodge always has something for everyone, even in the winter. Once the snow piles up and the frost sets in the ATV and UTV trails make great snowmobile trails and there’s plenty of opportunities for skiing, snowshoeing and ice fishing, and the Bucktail Lodge offers hunting and fishing packages with local area guides.
Above all, Joe and Krista have created a warm and welcoming place filled with good food and good times. Their vision is growing and what they love most about being owners of the Bucktail Lodge is their customers – who get to share and enjoy that vision.
“You know, repeat customers that always come back, they're like family. You know, it's like seeing a cousin you haven't seen for, you know, whether it's a week or two or maybe it's the guy who stops in every day. I mean, those to me are the best parts about this job. Those connections you make with your patrons is second to none. I mean that to me is why you do it.”
For more information on Bucktail Lodge, or to book a reservation be sure to visit Bucktail Lodge’s Facebook page