The Lees open a tavern in Ortona

ORTONA — The building that once housed Bea’s Beauty Shop and then the Shady Gator’z Saloon was so alluring sitting under the majestic old live oaks that Linda Lee fell in love with the place the first time she stepped into the bar.

When Linda and her husband, Gary, found out the saloon was for sale in 2017, they bought it and named it the Ortona Tavern.

Gary started working on redoing the place inside and out, and he did all the construction work. Linda, wondering what kind of décor, stumbled on ’50s style furniture and, given her love of James Dean and Marilyn Monroe, the ’50s diner interior was born.

Gary also worked on the patio in the back of the tavern, extending it around to the side of the building as well. “The majority of our customers sit out back on the patio,” Linda said. “It was worth every penny we put into it.” The patio overlooks a canal, and it even has a smoking section.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News
Linda and Gary Lee opened the Ortona Tavern in the spring of 2018.

The Lees moved to Florida four years ago, at first staying in the Meadow Lark Campground, then moving to Turkey Creek. They are originally from Bedford, Penn. Linda ran a bar 30 years ago and worked for restaurants in the area, so she is no stranger when it comes to running a tavern.

Nine years ago, the couple lost their teenage son in an automotive accident. Linda opened a Lions Den Café right across the street from the school her son would have attended, the home of the Chestnut Ridge Lions.

“In the country where we lived, the kids didn’t have anything to do, so they would drive from one end of the town to another. I wanted to give them a place where they would have something else to do,” Linda said.

Lake Okeechobee News/Dale Conyers
The Ortona Tavern now serves food as well as beer and wine.

The café became a hit and was utilized by the school staff as well as local church groups.

“I don’t like to sit still, so when I saw the Shady Gator’z Saloon was for sale, I knew it was meant to be,” Linda said.

The couple opened the tavern in the spring of 2018, and it soon became a hit especially with motorcycle riders who have not only fallen in love with the tavern but the ride to get there as well.

They serve beer, wine and adult drinks made with wine such as pina coladas or margaritas. The tavern has a full menu of some of the best food in the area.
“Our burgers and pizza are our best sellers,” Linda said.

Linda’s good friend, Susie Feaster, helps her out during the day. Gary does come up to the tavern and help if Linda needs him, too.

Lake Okeechobee News/Dale Conyers
Linda Lee and her good friend Susie Feaster on the deck of the Ortona Tavern overlooking the River Oaks Canal system.

The Ortona Tavern, located at 1750 Williams Road, Moore Haven, is open from Tuesday to Sunday, noon to 8 p.m., in season. They are closed from Memorial Day to Labor Day. You can eat in or carry out. Place orders to go by calling 863-674-1763.

So if you are looking for a laid-back place to eat or drink, head on over to the Ortona Tavern. As one Facebook review put it: “The Ortona Tavern is all about the community. Love the owners Linda and Gary, and terrific staff. Cold beers, delicious food, and low prices. On the water, great outdoor and indoor spaces!”

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