Sailed away

The Wharf’s owner moves boat
to Prestonville; to re-open in May

Don Ward

(February 2005) – The Wharf floating restaurant, a 15-year mainstay along Madison’s riverfront, in January was moved to Prestonville, near Carrollton, where owner Gary Gillespie lives and has drydocked it along the Kentucky River for hull repairs, following the recent flooding of the Ohio River.

Gary Gillespie

Gary Gillespie

Gillespie, who bought The Wharf 2 1/2 years ago, said he did not plan to return the boat to Madison. Rather, he plans to open it sometime in May as a land-based restaurant. The location is along Hwy. 55 between Preston-ville and I-71 exit at English. Gillespie previously operated Admiral’s Landing restaurant there.
Sharlene Ballard, who managed the restaurant for Gillespie, said she plans to continue operating the restaurant when it re-opens. She was not sure if it would retain the same name, however.
“We hated to leave Madison because it was a great business for us down there, but we have to do what’s best for our business,” she said.
The Wharf had a lease agreement with the city of Madison and paid monthly rent of $500, plus a percentage of gross sales that began after the restaurant reached a certain dollar volume. When the water rose, the boat’s hull was damaged, allowing water to seep inside, Gillespie said. Pumps were used to remove the water long enough to get it to Prestonville.
Madison Mayor Al Huntington said he was sorry to see The Wharf leave Madison because it offered a unique on-the-water dining experience for tourists and residents, alike. “The riverfront is certainly a showplace for our community, and a lot of people like to go down to the river year-round for their enjoyment. Gary and Sharlene worked very hard to make it successful, and they certainly put a lot of money into improving it and renovating it.”

The Wharf

Photo by Don Ward

The Wharf now sits at owner Gary Gillespie’s property along the Kentucky River
on Hwy. 55 near Prestonville.

He noted that three other restaurants, Key West Shrimp House, Tugboat’s and Lanthier Winery Restaurant, continue to operate along Vaughn Drive. He said no other company has yet approached the city about operating a floating restaurant there, and he noted that even large cities such as Louisville and Cincinnati struggle to maintain viable floating restaurants on their riverfronts.
“It takes a certain type of person who knows the restaurant business and can also deal with the challenges that the river presents to be successful,” Huntington said. He added that the city would be interested in talking to restaurateurs interested in operating a business there.
Bonnie Poore and her late husband, Lloyd, first brought The Wharf to Madison in 1990, along with their Bonnie Belle excursion boat. After six years, the Poores sold The Wharf on contract to Bill and Terri Eldredge. The Eldredges operated the restaurant until September 2002, when Poore retook possession of the boat and sold it to Gillespie, a former carnival operator.
The Poores originally bought The Wharf in 1981. It had previously been a ferry called the Cary Bird and was used to haul new vehicles from the Ford automotive plant in Louisville to Cincinnati. They first operated it as a gift shop and boarding station for the Bonnie Belle along the riverfront in Jeffersonville, Ind. When local officials began lobbying for one of Indiana’s new casino boats, the Poores left Jeffer-sonville under political pressure, Bonnie Poore said, and moved their operation to Madison.
Early last year, Gillespie applied for a grant from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management to build additional transient boat dockage in Madison. He was hoping to add 20 boat slips, restrooms and shower facilities for boaters. The previous location in Madison could accommodate about 30 boats at 375 W. Vaughn Dr. Gillespie said in late January that he never received the grant.

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