A 72-year-old riverboat that’s become one of the best-known floating restaurants on the Ohio River across from Cincinnati is now undergoing a $2 million renovation.
The Mike Fink, a 200-footlong former steam-powered tow boat with a signature red paddlewheel, left Covington on Feb. 23 for a 160-mile trip to South Point, Ohio, where McGinnis Inc. planned to install a new welded steel hull.
“If you’re a history nut, this was the way – before planes, trains, automobiles, buses – this is the way people got around,” said Alan Bernstein, co-owner of the restaurant, which offers views of the Cincinnati skyline from its Kentucky waterfront mooring.
The restaurant, which was being towed by two escort boats, was to arrive in South Point yesterday (Tuesday), Bernstein said. The trip had been scheduled to leave earlier this month but operators had to wait for the Ohio River to recede so that smokestacks wouldn’t hit bridges along the way.
The makeover is intended to restore some of the boat’s glitz.
“It’s time that we give it some tender loving care, and we just need to get the boat back into its original aesthetic, classic look,” Bernstein said.
After getting a new hull, the Mike Fink will return to its spot at the Covington, landing across from downtown Cincinnati for work to restore the boat’s abovewater, white-red-and-black exterior and for a grand updating of its restaurant interior.
Bernstein hopes to have the restaurant reopened by Labor Day.
The boat, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was built by Dravo Corp. in 1936 at Neville Island, Pa., according to records. It was christened the John W. Hubbard and started its career as a tow boat on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, pushing coal and oil barges.
It was sold in 1947 to the Ohio River Co. and three years later took the name Charles Dorrance. Three owners later, Capt. John L. Beatty in 1960 renamed it the Mike Fink, for the hard-drinking, brawling riverboater, and it has been in Covington since the mid- 1960s.
The family of restaurateur Ben Bernstein took over in 1977 and has operated the restaurant since.
The Mike Fink no longer has its steam engine, which once occupied most of the first level above the waterline, and no longer needs the first-level storage area for the wood and coal it once burned.
The second level, once the crew’s living area, also was converted for banquet use long ago.
It has had the same hull since 1965. A lot of work has been done to the hull over the years, but only from the boat’s interior.