The new owners of New Athens’ marina and campground had good intentions when they renovated the bar and restaurant and reopened it as Kaskaskia Riverhouse in May.
But Mother Nature didn’t cooperate. Heavy rains in June and July flooded the parking lot, nearly eliminating business for three weeks.
“We were boating people in and out from the bar,” said general manager Eric Oetjen, 37, of Belleville.
Today, Oetjen and the marina’s two owners, Stan Sirtak and Jeff Stahl, are back on track. They refuse to let bad weather destroy their dream.
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“The renovations aren’t going to stop,” said Sirtak, 57, a civilian contractor at Scott Air Force Base. “They’re going to continue until the place looks brand new.”
Next, the owners plan to repair or replace boat docks, install gas pumps and renovate the convenience store.
Bartender Zoey Hill, 22, of New Athens, is just happy to see people coming to eat at the restaurant again.
“It’s a nice little getaway,” she said. “It’s not like anywhere else because you get to see the water. The boaters are a lot of fun, and we have music. It’s really good for the whole family. The kids like to play on the docks.”
On a recent weekday, customers included the Rev. Jim Nall, pastor of St. Agatha Catholic Church in New Athens, and Bill Johnson, risk manager for the Catholic Diocese of Belleville.
“(Johnson) was in town, and I just wanted to bring him someplace different,” said Nall, 54, of New Athens. “They’ve done a fantastic job of remodeling this place, and the food’s good.”
Both men ordered a Pastrami Melt, which is pastrami, bacon and melted Monterey Jack cheese on toasted marble rye, served with housemade chips. Nall also likes the Shrimp Po’ Boy.
Head cook Ortarius “Spanky” Williams, 38, of Freeburg, makes many items from scratch.
“It’s bar food mainly,” he said. “We have sandwiches, burgers, wings and a few specialty items, like Buffalo Chicken Fries. That’s buffalo chicken nuggets on top of seasoned fries with blue cheese crumbles.
“We also have a Blackened Catfish Sandwich, and that has our homemade slaw and our special sauce on top of it.”
Kaskaskia Riverhouse formerly was known as Smitty’s. The tan metal structure floats on water. A wooden-plank walkway leads to the entrance.
The owners installed new floors, windows, light fixtures and flat-screen TVs and painted throughout.
Customers can sit at regular or high-top tables or socialize at the horseshoe-shaped bar. Walls of windows give panoramic views of the river and its wooded banks.
One room has a pool table and electronic dart board. There’s also seating on two decks with picnic tables, colorful plastic furniture, faux palm trees, strings of lights and a bamboo bar with a thatched roof.
“We’re just trying to create a fun and happening atmosphere in New Athens,” Eric said. “We’ve got a view like nobody else.”
For now, the bar and restaurant is open Wednesdays through Sundays with live music on weekends.
The owners hope to reschedule their Blues Fest and Rage Fest, which had to be canceled due to flooding. They also plan to continue with the popular Polar Bear Jump on New Year’s Day, a tradition started by Smitty’s.
“I just want to see the place brought back to its glory days,” Sirtak said.
At a glance
What: Kaskaskia Riverhouse bar and restaurant
Where: 1 Harbor Point, New Athens
Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays
Seating: About 75
Information: Call 618-475-2223 or visit www.kaskaskiariverhouse.com
On the menu
Pastrami Melt — Half-pound of pastrami, bacon and melted Monterey Jack cheese on toasted marble rye, served with housemade chips, $8.99
Eggsquisite Burger — Quarter-pound burger on a bed of fried onion straws with bacon chutney and an egg on top, served with housemade chips, $8.99
Chicken Wings — Chicken wings with a choice of flavors, including sweet and spicy, garlic, basil and buffalo, five for $5, 10 for $10 or 20 for $20
Grown-up Grilled Cheese — Cheddar and provolone, bacon, tomato and fresh basil on Texas toast, served with housemade chips, $7.99