Anyone who spends any time at Barnacle Bud's has seen Shane Bonner, aka "Gilligan," running around the patio, making drinks, serving drinks, cooking food, serving food, tying up boats to slips, untying boats from slips, chatting with customers, laughing with customers, drinking with customers – and usually doing a bunch of these things all at once.
"I'm also the urinal cleaner, drunken taxi caller and first responder when a drunk falls into the river," says Bonner.
Barnacle Bud's is a bar and restaurant located on the edge of the Kinnickinnic River, and according to Bonner, a customer falls into the river, or jumps into it, a couple times per season.
"If they jump in, we throw rocks at them. If they fall in, we throw a life ring at them. If they're really freaking out then my dumb ass has to jump in and hand them a life ring," he says.
For six years, Bonner – who's usually clad in beachy attire that includes a "Gilligan-esque" cotton hat – has worked at Bud's as a "customer satisfaction specialist." He sometimes starts his day at 7 a.m. in the kitchen and will sleep over on one of the docked boats (with permission, of course).
Having grown up on and in water his entire life, Bonner is skilled at winterizing boats, getting them ready for spring and general maintenance. Often, he trades two nights of sleep on a docked boat for 10 hours of work so he can stay at Barnacle Bud's overnight. (There are locked showers beyond the public restrooms for people who pay to dock in the area.)
It's not that Bonner doesn't have a place to live. He actively co-parents with his daughters' mother and says they have a duplex together. His daughters are 24, 18 and 17. He says he and his former wife get along well.
"I'm the luckiest ex in the world," he says.
The smiling, long-haired Bonner's work is also his way of life. During the winter months, he continues the island lifestyle in Florida, where his oldest daughter lives.
Bonner's Milwaukee "island lifestyle" started early this year. Barnacle Bud's opened on Feb. 18, the earliest opening date ever. "This makes for a very prosperous and smile-filled summer," he says.
Bonner says he was born and raised a "red neck" in Burlington, Wis. He has always been an adrenaline junkie and enjoys extreme sports like motocross and snowboarding. He's also an avid animal lover who has been a member of the World Wildlife Federation since he was a kid. And as hard-core kayaker, Bonner says anyone who spends any time on the water knows him.
Prior to Bud's, Bonner had a variety of interesting jobs including building houses and dams in Kentucky for the Peace Corps and as a flight attendant for Apple Vacations.
"It was a great job. I got up, flew people to the Dominican Republic, hung out for two or three hours and flew a bunch of sunburned, hungover people back to Milwaukee," he says. "This was a good opportunity for me. At the time, I was a poor kid from Burlington. The farthest I'd been was Minocqua."
Bonner believes Bud's menu has a lot to offer, and although the wings are award winners, he thinks the crab cakes are the most phenomenal food item. He also recommends the fresh oysters, which will be in season in a few weeks. Bonner claims Bud's sold $40,000 worth of oysters last season.
"No frozen fish sticks here," he says.
Although mostly a Jameson-on-the-rocks guy, Bonner says the Pirate's Punch, a lesser known Bud's cocktail – made with rum, Jameson and a variety of fruit juices – is also a dangerous-but-delicious favorite.
Bonner has an endless supply of clever, almost Willy Wonka-ish / Dr. Seuss-ian, one liners. This reflects the general attitude of Barnacle Bud's – a place with mucho personality and a snarky sense of humor. Even the verbiage on their menus is sassy.
"We're not happy 'til you're not happy," Bonner says at one point, and later, "If you're in a hurry, you've come to the wrong place."
According to Bonner, about 70 percent of Bud's customers are boaters. The small shack and massive patio were originally a yacht club, but Barnacle Bud's owner Gene McKiernan signed a long-term lease from neighbor Skipper Bud's. The business started out mellow, according to Bonner, as a place for boaters to hang out, have a couple of beers and play cards.
"And then it exploded. Word of mouth," he says.
Bonner says Milwaukee's boating culture is a close-knit group that's "safety conscious but knows how to throw a soiree." So how drunk does it get?
"Probably about a .24," jokes Bonner. "But seriously, Friday and Saturday nights, people get messed up. Sunday night, your mom's here embarrassing herself."
At some point during the interview, Bonner changed into a new hat. This one's even more "Gilligan-y." And he keeps running off from behind the bar to tie up a boat or greet a group of people.
When asked if he has to clean up a lot after drinkers, Bonner says yes, he's mopped up his share of puke, but he prefers to call is "emesis," the scientific word. Bonner goes on to say that one of the best parts of the job is that he never has to buy sunglasses.
"People leave so many pairs here. We hang 'em up for a while, but after a while, if nobody claims them, they're mine," he says.
Bonner is undoubtedly a happy-go-lucky chap who had led an interesting life, but he says there are a few things he would still like to accomplish. He says he would like to try scuba diving and watch his daughters graduate from college.
"Once my last kid graduates from college, you're gonna see this cat in Key West, going Gilligan all the way," he says, walking toward the river.
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.