The Heart of Lake of the Ozarks
Celebrating 90 years of Bagnell Dam & The Strip
“The Strip”… the icon for the Lake of the Ozarks. The current row of restaurants, bars and shops didn’t look like it did years ago. The area was originally developed by businesses that sold staples for the workers during the construction of Bagnell Dam. When the dam construction began in 1929, The Strip served as a location for workers to eat, buy clothes and groceries. When the dam was complete and the workers left, the need for these businesses disappeared. Some businesses, however, decided to remain and launched The Strip as an entertainment space for the influx of visitors coming to the Lake.
The Strip has seen many changes throughout the year, but the intent to attract and entertain visitors has remained the constant. There are currently businesses that have been there for generations, and others that are new to the area. The Strip attracts new visitors on a regular basis, in addition to those who have made it a necessary stop for years.
Sandy Sieler, a Nebraska resident, has been a regular visitor since 1964. At only one and one-half years old, Sandy began coming with her family and friends. Today, she makes the annual stop with her own children and friends.
“I remember going to The Strip as far back as when I was in elementary school,” Sandy said. “There was skee-ball, an outhouse with a talking mannequin inside, the fake jail where we would always have our picture taken and the haunted motel. We would always buy fudge when we were at The Strip,” she said.
As a teenager, Sandy would spend time at The Strip with her friends. During that time, fun meant cruising up and down the street at night in their cars. “We called the area the Dogpatch,” Sandy added. “I have a lot of great memories from being there. It was a big event to go there every year.”
Mike Page, the owner of Leatherman, Dogpatch and Grandmas Candy Kitchen, has been a business owner at the strip since 1976. In 1947 Walter Tietmeyer started one of the first businesses on The Strip, Mike explained. The Dogpatch was originally a small gas station, café, and place to buy souvenirs. Walter kept adding more shops and attractions, including chicken playing pianos, a snake pit and even a lion for people to view. In 1968, the Dogpatch arcade was added. The Dogpatch is the longest continually-operated store at the Lake. Parents who first visited the store as a child are now bringing their own children.
Mike noted that the area has seen several changes throughout the years. Up until the 1970s, the highway to get to the Lake went through the middle of The Strip. The Lake area initially earned the reputation of being a great honeymoon destination. As time went on, it became known as a prime boating and golfing spot, earning the reputation of being the “playground of the middle west.” Mike said there has been ups and downs with The Strip, but overall it has always done fine in terms of attracting visitors.
“Now, there’s more restaurants and bars than ever before,” Mike said. “In the last few years, more family-oriented activities have been moving in. I think we are going to see more of that. I think we are going to see a big resurgence of activity on The Strip.”
A visit to the Lake is not complete without a stop and portrait at Old Time Photos. Don Roelofs and his wife Linda Berchem opened the business in 1976. Today, the studio is managed by their daughters Mary VanHouten and Laura Wilson.
“My parents opened the business before they had children,” Laura said. “They were living in Wisconsin at the time. They knew they wanted to open an Old Time Photos like the one located in the Wisconsin Dells. They traveled around and decided the Lake of the Ozarks would be a good location.”
Laura started working at the studio when she was in high school. She left to attend college, then came back and continued her involvement. As a teenager who spent evenings cruising The Strip, she remembers only a few eating and drinking establishments back in the 1990s.
“I basically grew up on The Strip,” she explained. “My parents kept the business open a lot of hours. There are more family-oriented things to do than there was 10-15 years ago. The addition of so many restaurants have brought more people down. It’s now busy year-round.”
Business man George Tucker is responsible for some of those new restaurants at The Strip. Tucker’s Shuckers, Malted Monkey/Sushi Monkey and Neon Taco offer a variety of options for visitors. The Sky Trail at The Malted Monkey, a large ropes course attraction, is a main draw for families.
Neon Taco, which opened just this spring, occupies the space previously held by Beavers right next to the dam. “It’s Mexican with an attitude,” marketing director Jacky Lockhert explained. “It’s trendy in terms of food. The general manager comes from San Diego where he ran a high-volume restaurant. The restaurant serves tacos, margaritas, cervezas and more.”
While The Strip has recently only been accessible by land, George made the necessary improvements for access by water, too. There are now 43 boat slips available for boaters to dock and walk up to The Strip.
With the popularity of the Netflix series about the Ozarks, it was inevitable that a restaurant called Marty Byrdes would open. Marty Byrdes opened a few years ago, but was purchased this past January by Craig Wood, Monica Wood and Richard Hutchson.
Hailing from New Mexico, COVID took its toll on a few restaurants they had opened there. They decided to sell everything and look for a new place to live and work. Missouri ranked high on their list of options, and it’s here they found Marty Byrdes.
Craig explained that major changes have already taken place at the restaurant. “We are in the process of adding a full sports bar with pool tables, darts, pinball machine and foosball,” he said. “We have live music every weekend and dress up theme parties throughout the year. We cook everything fresh and from scratch, and we are proud of our portion sizes. And we are the only place on The Strip where the kitchen is open until the bar closes.” Craig said their focus is on providing the best customer service, prices and food possible.
One of the most recent additions to The Strip is Dam It Larry (and omg Vicki). Owners Vicki and Larry Giampa were the owners of Blondies from 2017-2020. Due to health issues, they were forced to sell. Recovered and feeling healthy, the couple decided it was time for another business.
“People kept saying they missed our food,” Larry explained. “So here we are. We bought Blondies because we wanted to bring Vienna bread and Chicago-style food to the Lake.” The couple said their ½ lb. burgers are made fresh, and never frozen. Chicago-style hot dogs, made with Italian beef and Italian sausage, are also menu choices.
“We’re having a lot of fun,” Larry said. “We like the growth on The Strip and we like being at this end of it.”
A tradition at Lake of the Ozarks since 1953, Stewart’s Restaurant is always packed with early-morning diners and those coming to order a famous giant cinnamon roll. Another historic hotspot is Casablanca, a local watering hole that’s been around for over 80 years.
In addition to restaurants, a number of shops and boutiques are located on The Strip. One of the most unique is Dirty Girls Crystals & Rocks.
Entering their sixth year in business, owners Sharon Anderson, Mary Derringer and Susan Reinhold met at the Lake and became friends. The women share a love for crystals and have been traveling to Arkansas once a year to dig for gems. They decided to open their own shop, featuring crystals, rocks, jewelry and unique home décor.
“We were mining in Arkansas and we were dirty and muddy,” Sharon explained. “The owner of the mine told us we were the best dirty girls she knew. That’s how we got our name.”
“The Strip is iconic,” Sharon said. “It’s been changing since I’ve been here. There’s so many new businesses and it’s just awesome. We love our customers, and last year was amazing for us.”
Other stores include high-quality boutique clothing stores like Gold + Gray and Split Arrow Boutique. Several swimsuit shops and stores where you can get Lake of the Ozarks T-shirts are located along the stretch. Summer USA is a popular spot for souvenirs, swimsuits and the wall of T-shirts everyone must check out.
Whatever your age, there is something at The Strip for you. This ever evolving historic space offers a variety of restaurant and food options, souvenir shops, boutiques, salons, ice cream parlors, specialty shops, an arcade, water activities and even an escape room. The Strip serves as the location for several Lake events, including car shows and parades. It is the heart of Lake of the Ozarks.