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Lake Nebagamon tavern celebrates 75 years with summer of music

Outdoor concerts will take place at Bridge’s Bar every Friday and Saturday from June 24 through Aug. 27, with one Sunday performance thrown in.

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Owner Traci Bridge Longa stands behind the bar at Bridge's Bar in the village of Lake Nebagamon on Friday, June 3. The establishment has been owned by the Bridge family for 75 years.
Maria Lockwood / Superior Telegram
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LAKE NEBAGAMON — For 75 years, the Bridge family has been making its mark in downtown Lake Nebagamon.

It started in 1947 when professional saxophone player Ed Bridge and his wife, Irene, bought what was then The Indianhead Tavern on South Lake Avenue. They changed the name to Bridge’s Indianhead Tavern and soon doubled the size of the establishment with an addition that included a basement.

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Traci Bridge Longa holds a photograph of her grandparents, Ed and Irene Bridge, in Bridge's Bar on Friday, June 3. The Bridge family has owned the bar since 1947.
Maria Lockwood / Superior Telegram

Their son, Jerry, expanded the bar’s outdoor footprint by purchasing land next door. That set the stage to add an outdoor deck, serving and seating area and to facilitate open air concerts. His daughter, Traci Bridge Longa, purchased the tavern in 2013 and renamed it Bridge’s Bar. Longa’s daughter, Sophie — the fourth generation — is already involved in helping out at the family business.

To Ed and Irene’s granddaughter, the community connection is vital.

“That’s the beauty of owning this bar. It’s not just a business. Five generations of customers have been coming in here, so it’s a very nostalgic place for a lot of people,” Longa said. “The biggest thing I want to do is preserve the history, because that’s what makes the bar fun.”

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Pictures cover one wall of the bar, snapshots that chronicle 75 years of memories. Longa credits Sophie for the newest additions to the wall — recent scenes captured with an instant camera that Sophie pushed for.

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Owners Ed and Irene Bridge expanded Bridge's Indianhead Tavern in the early 1950s, roughly doubling the size of the Lake Nebagamon establishment.
Contributed / Traci Bridge Longa

Lindsey Wilson of Bennett has been a bartender at Bridge’s for the past 15 years.

“I love this place,” Wilson said. “I think it’s like family here.”

Retired janitor Bill Hesse, Longa’s next door neighbor, does cleaning and maintenance work at Bridge’s. He and his wife have become regulars at the bar since moving back to Lake Nebagamon two years ago.

“We do Monday night trivia as we were doing cribbage on Thursdays, but it got busy,” Hesse said.

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Traci Bridge Longa stands outside Bridge's Bar on South Lake Avenue in Lake Nebagamon. Her family has owned the business since 1947. Her grandparents doubled the size of the building, and her father later purchased land next to the business, which set the stage for a deck, outdoor seating and an outdoor concert venue.
Maria Lockwood / Superior Telegram

When the pandemic hit in 2020, Longa shuttered half the bar and turned the other side into an impromptu grocery store offering essentials like fruit, eggs and bread. She also began serving up signature sub sandwiches and wraps.

Named after staff members who created them, the sandwiches remained on the menu when COVID-19 restrictions lifted. They range from hot dips and corned beef to Monica’s BLT-OCH and Traci’s Chicken Blues.

The move to offering more than regular bar food is, to Longa, an echo of the past. Her grandmother Irene was known for her cooking. Another shout out to the past is the outdoor concerts that have been taking place at Bridge’s for the past three years. Ed Bridge had his own orchestra based out of Detroit when he and Irene met. Pictures on the wall show him jamming in the bar with other musicians.

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Longa said the bar’s journey into offering live music again began with a set by local musician Russ Darwin.

“Music has become a huge part of the bar again, which is great,” she said.

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Musician Russ Darwin performs at Bridge's Bar in Lake Nebagamon.
Contributed / Traci Bridge Longa

In addition to other acts, Darwin has returned again and again to Lake Nebagamon. The musician has gained a following at the bar, where he plays to the crowd and lets audience members sing.

“My wife loves him more than she does me,” Hesse said.

The concerts at Bridge’s have stepped up this year and the variety has been expanded. Acts will include The Most Wanted, Mackie Brothers, Hailey James and The Sonny Side Band. A special July 23 concert by Whiskey Trail will also serve as a 75th anniversary of sorts. Longa calls it a reunion.

“This bar has such a history,” she said. “Everyone here in Lake Nebagamon has bartended here at one point.”

The season of music kicks off Friday, June 24, with Russ Darwin. Outdoor concerts will take place at Bridge’s Bar every Friday and Saturday through Aug. 27, with one Sunday performance thrown in. Most start at 7:30 p.m. A full listing of events can be found on the Bridge's Bar Facebook page .

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Traci Bridge Longa points to some of the photos that cover one walls of Bridge's Bar in Lake Nebagamon on Friday, June 3.
Maria Lockwood / Superior Telegram

Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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