Rendez-Vous celebrating 30 years of Wing Nights

By Ken Kellar

It’s a milestone for the ages as Wing Night at La Place Rendez-Vous turns 30 this year, and there’s a fitting party planned to cap off the week.

Since its inception in August 1991, the weekly feature has become the go-to place for Thursday nights in Fort Frances, bringing crowds in no matter the time of year, with a marked bump as university and college students come home over the holidays or for their summers and reconnect with old friends. Fitting its prominent place in the town’s culture, Rendez-Vous manager Sarah Noonan said they’ve been working for a while to come up with several days of celebrations to give the 30th anniversary the pomp and circumstance it deserves, beginning with Wing Night on Thursday, August 12.

“We want to make a big party of it,” Noonan said.

“We’re making a whole weekend party out of it, with the main event being Thursday’s Wing Night. We have live entertainment, two musicians and a short comedy bit. We have Lake of the Woods Brewery coming with some samples and they’re setting up a tent. We have our main food distributor coming with food samples. And we’re going back to our original 25 cent per wing pricing. It’s going to be crazy and fun.”

In order to maximize the number of people who will be able to take part in the night, Noonan said they will be taking reservations in hour and a half long blocks. She explained this will allow the public both to enjoy their time eating wings and listening to the night’s entertainment, while also ensuring that there is a healthy amount of turnover throughout. The menu will also be scaled back a bit in order to put the focus on the wings and make sure the kitchen will be able to keep up with demand.

Wing Nights are a big deal in Fort Frances, and so it only makes sense the celebration would last more than one night. While the big kickoff is on Thursday, there is still plenty of fun to be had the remainder of the weekend. Noonan explained that Friday at the Vous will again feature live entertainment, with comedian Cedric Newman performing at 7:00 p.m., but it will also feature a fairly unique dining experience for seafood lovers and those with a bit of courage.

“We’re doing a fresh oyster bar,” Noonan said.

“They’re going to shuck ’em there, and it will be a fun night again.”

Saturday will feature the Explore Rainy Lake Digital Fishing Tournament being run in conjunction with Anglers’ Atlas and the MyCatch mobile app, and Sunday will see a Rainy Lake Scavenger Hunt, with teams being asked to register at the Vous front desk. Registration fee is $20 and there will prizes to be won, according to Noonan.

Planning for an event of this size takes a lot of work, and Noonan said they were hesitant to announce much in regards to the 30th Anniversary while heavy COVID-19 restrictions were in place, not knowing if they would lift enough in time to hold any kind of event. Even while they waited for restrictions to ease or lift, they were thinking of how to celebrate the 30th anniversary.

“It’s been on our radar, we didn’t want to promote it too early,” Noonan said.

“We decided we could do it. We wanted to make it fun. We’ve been adding as much staff as we possibly can over the few weeks, trying to handle the high volume. It’s just the times we’re in, they’re kind of uncertain. You just have to roll with the punches a little bit; we feel confident.”

Part of the joy of having the anniversary celebrations is that it’s one of the first big events to happen at the Rendez-Vous since the world went into lockdown. Following the reopening of the patio to customers and visitors there was the Canadian portion of the Can-Am International Lake Jam, which Noonan said also served as a good trial run for putting events on in-person again.

30 years is a significant milestone no matter which way you look at it, and it also serves to highlight just how much has changed over that period of time. Noonan recalled that when her father Paul first thought up the idea to hold a wing night at the Rendez-Vous in 1991, it was something of a gamble considering the opinion on chicken wings at the time.

“It took years to build it up,” Noonan said of Wing Night.

“I remember when my dad talked about how they would celebrate if they sold a couple hundred wings. Now we’re in the thousands. It was just an idea. Back then, wings were almost a scrap; it was a byproduct from the chicken no one used or cared about. You could get them dirt cheap, sauce them up, and it became this theme night. That’s not the case anymore, now wings are a premium.”

Wing Night owes its success partly to the changing culture around chicken wings, but more so to those people in the community who embraced it. Noonan said that Wing Night has become such an important part of the Rendez-Vous identity in part because it’s become an important aspect of the lives of those in the community and beyond, and vice versa.

“There are some people, I’ll drop Claude Jodoin’s name, he’s been there since day one,” she shared.

“He’s one of those guys who come almost every week and he’s been there since the start. We have Americans that book their first night’s stay on Thursday so they can come to Wing Night. It’s evolved into its own thing, and it’s nice to be known for it. It’s a nice place to gather and that community feeling is so great, that thousands of people have enjoyed it. I feel proud to be part of it, that it’s developed into this iconic night that it is.”

To reserve a spot to take part in the Wing Night 30th Anniversary festivities, call La Place Rendez-Vous at 274-9811.