The Naniboujou Lodge is located about 15 minutes north of Grand Marais proper. Granted I had not really looked into the North Shore until days before arriving there for the first time earlier this month, but I have to say that I am a bit surprised I had not previously heard of the Naniboujou Lodge. This because it’s a place that might be best described as…unusual. And in the recent/current cultural climate in the US it might also have been expected to have become a bit controversial. But as far as I know, this hasn’t really happened. Now, I’m not wishing controversy on the place or its owners, but when you read up on its history and look at the pictures below of the design of its dining room you might get a sense of why I wouldn’t have been surprised to see it caught up in cultural appropriation discussions.
A little bit on that history—mostly taken from the hotel’s own website: It was conceived in the late 1920s not as a hotel but as a sprawling private country club. Charter members included Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey and Ring Lardner—the first two have burgers named for them on the current lunch menu; poor Lardner is not so commemorated (but maybe on the breakfast or dinner menus?). The stock market crash and the Great Depression quickly put paid to these plans and by the late 30s the Lodge had turned into a resort hotel. It has continued as such ever since under various ownership groups. At some point in the 1960s the ownership seems to have taken a markedly Christian term.
So, where is the potential source of controversy or at least discussion? Well, unsurprising given the name of the place, it’s the deployment of Native American symbols and art. “Naniboujou” itself is the rendering of the name of a trickster figure who appears in a number of Native American cultural and storytelling traditions. (And you don’t have to drive very much further north on Highway 61 to enter the lands of the Anishinaabe peoples.) The use of a name such as this for a club of decidedly non-Native American men is not something particularly unsurprising for the times. More unusual, however, and probably helping land the Lodge on the National Register of Historic Places in the 1980s, is the dining room. A large space it is painted in a style that combines Art Deco with Cree motifs. It makes for a trippy aesthetic—and it remains in wonderful condition—but it’s hard I think to not see the Cree motifs being deployed in anything but an exoticizing way.
Again, I am not saying that all of this necessarily adds up to anything objectionable (though I am less sure about the headdress imagery on the sign by the highway). I am just a little surprised not to have seen the place come up at all in recent discussions of these kinds of issues. The fact that a Native American spirit figure gives his name to a place that has been run for a while now by groups of owners with explicit Christian values—whatever that encompasses—is also an interesting twist. The co-existence of these strands in one space may be entirely business-pragmatic but it is interesting. Then again, maybe there has been discussion of all/some of this and I just know nothing about it. If you do, please point me to it?
Okay, how about the food? Well, there’s not much to say about it. It is unremarkable and frankly a little beside the point. The lodge is worth a visit—I would recommend combing it with a drive up to Grand Portage—but that’s mostly to sit in the dining room and take it in. It would be nice if the food were better, or failing that, a little cheaper—but, as at an many places in the area, you’re paying a premium for the fact that business only really runs for about six months in the year. I will say, however, that they have a well-priced children’s menu at lunch. The boys enjoyed their burgers and their chocolate chip cookies. The adults were just about gruntled with their food. As to what things are like at breakfast, high tea or dinner, I have no idea
Take a look and scroll down to see what’s coming next.
Service was a touch on the comical side. Our server seemed like a high schooler on summer vacation—various things seemed to confuse her over the course of the meal but we did get all our food. This meal was paid for by my father and so I don’t have the bill. Looking at menu prices I would guess that it probably was on par with what we paid at Angry Trout the previous day and at the Crooked Spoon Cafe the next. I’d take either of those places over the Naniboujou Lodge in a heartbeat for food but I think it would be a shame to go up to Grand Marais and not take in the spectacle of the Naniboujou Lodge, whatever you make of it. That might be worth paying a few extra dollars per head for.
Okay, only two more North Shore reports to go: a Grand Marais round-up and lunch in Duluth on the way home—I might just knock those out next week. I’d hoped my next Minnesota review would be of one last dinner at Golden Horseshoe, the Sichuan residency at Cook St. Paul that ends tonight but, alas, it is looking very unlikely that we’ll be able to make it tonight after all to eat the entire menu as we’d planned to do. I’ve been laid up since Wednesday with a severe right foot strain and walking is still rather painful—though I’m still not giving up! If any of you made it to these last few dinners please write into the comments here.