BY D’ARCY EGAN
Ray Fogg is one of the happiest guys around, and The Reel Bar stage at Put-in-Bay is where you’re usually going to find him laughing and singing, and luring people on stage to let them become a part of his show.
Fogg is still a load of laughs and entertaining tunes, but no one else is allowed on his stage these days.
“It’s a different world here and everywhere else,” said Fogg.
COVID-19 has changed all of the rules. That includes everything from a ferry ride to South Bass Island, taking a bus to Put-in-Bay to enjoy the entertainment venues and visiting gift shops. There are restrictions, from face coverings to social distancing and a ban on gathering in groups. Bars are not allowed to serve a drink after 10 p.m.
When people began to call the island to find out if it was still open, that was the last straw for Fogg.
“Not only is Put-in-Bay still a great place to have fun in a wide range of ways, it’s a safe place to enjoy yourself,” Fogg said. “As a club owner and an entertainer at The Reel Bar, we’ve had to make changes. It has largely been a learning curve to make sure all of our employees are well trained and the many new ways we have to do business.”
The big question has been is it safe?
“Heck, it’s a great time to be at Put-in-Bay,” he said. “Do you have to take precautions? Sure. Just like every place you visit these days.”
That includes not climbing on stage with Fogg, who admits there have been newspaper stories that put the vacation area in a bad light. That included the Ottawa County Health Department coming to the island and testing everyone for COVID-19.
“Do you know what makes Put-in-Bay different?” asked Fogg. “The island folks and local officials voluntarily asked that the OCDH come to test nearly all of the employees and about half of the general population for COVID-19, even through they were not exhibiting symptoms. Such a large percentage of a population being tested has not been done any where else, and we volunteered. It’s not a pleasant test when you’re not sick.”
Put-in-Bay is not a hot spot, said Fogg, and he claims it’s still more fun than anywhere else in Ohio.
“That’s what is different about Put-in-Bay,” he said. “There are a lot of ways to have fun here in a safe and sane manner whether you’ve come with friends or brought the whole family.”
Fogg can be like a carnival barker, selling visitors on the area fishing, sailing, riding a golf cart, relaxing in the park, enjoying an antique car parade, listening to music, eating a burger, bicycling, running, hiking, kayaking, jet skiing, parasailing, riding in an biplane or helicopter, shopping the gift stores, touring the island roads and trails, or sharing a sunset.
Social distancing is pretty easy, he said, even though you are on an island that’s only 3.7 miles long and 1.5 miles wide.
If you’re looking for a party, there are always the music venues on Delaware and Catawba avenues. After a couple of stumbles, with clubs being cited for breaking the rules, compliance has been good, said Fogg.
“Everyone has to realize we’re a pretty sexy target,” said Fogg. “Our businesses have to be sure visitors mind their manners.”
The spirit of Put-in-Bay is still flourishing, despite all of the cancellations, including Pyrate Fest, concerts, and even the 127th annual Inter-Lake Yachting Association’s Power Boat Regatta.
“Despite the sail and power boat regattas having both been cancelled this summer, at a show the other night I had some of the regatta regulars in the audience. They told me they missed their annual Put-in-Bay visit so much — which always included stopping for my show — that they needed an infusion of Put-in-Bay spirit.,” said Fogg.
Fogg lives in the Florida Keys in winter and Put-in-Bay during the summer season. Both have space for him to roam, whether it’s on foot, bicycle, golf cart or boat.
With liquor sales cut off at 10 p.m., are bar owners suffering?
“If you can’t get enough liquor to drink before 10 p.m., you’re not doing it right, man!” he said with a laugh. “Customers can still hang around, finish a drink and listen to the music until 11 p.m.
“Our business at the Reel Bar is about 50-50, food and alcohol. What is more difficult this summer for me and my partner, Andy Christensen, has been finding and training employees. Being a server in a restaurant is an athletic job, made even more difficult by wearing a mask and continually sanitizing everything.”