Traverse City’s Lil Bo | Food
The quintessential neighborhood bar is approaching its centenary with a new family, new menu and long-standing legacy to make locals proud
By Al-Parker | February 19, 2022
Jenni Scott wipes down the already sparkling bar, then pours an ice-cold beer for one of her regulars before pausing to talk about running one of Traverse City’s historic watering holes, Lil Bo.
“It’s been awesome,” the TC native says with a smile. “It’s so nice to laugh here again.”
Established in 1932, Lil Bo had been closed and closed until Scott and several family members purchased the historic tavern and reopened it in July.
Earlier last year, Scott saw a real estate listing listing Lil Bo for sale. She and her family sat down and talked about the beloved neighborhood bar and restaurant, its legacy and its potential — “and we decided to buy it and reopen it,” she says.
Jenni and her sister Lisa Scott are majority owners, along with their parents, Doug and Marge Scott, and Lisa’s husband, Matt Gaffy.
The chance to recreate the laid-back atmosphere of Lil Bo in the central neighborhood where the Scott sisters grew up is like a dream come true.
“We’re just going to let it be what it wants to be – a friendly neighborhood bar,” says Scott. “When I was 21 this was the place to go, and we want it to be this type of place again. Lots of smiles, great food, fun music and no fancy outfits required .
With his extensive culinary and bartending experience, Scott manages day-to-day operations. She’s built a solid reputation over the years, most recently for running a pair of food trucks, Betty’s Hot Dish and Little Betty. His award-winning chilies and killer “po’boys”, favorites of the local food truck crowd, rose to fame as stars of the Lil Bo menu.
Betty’s Cowgirl Chili ($5.50) has won the downtown chili-making contest six times. Its blend of pulled pork, beef, bacon and three types of beans provides a gentle heat for chili lovers. There’s always a warming soup of the day ($5) and regulars know to stop by on Fridays for Scott’s Nantucket Chowder ($6).
There are half a dozen different Po’Boys to choose from. Three of the most popular are Will’s Shrimp Po’ Boy ($15) with Guinness beer battered shrimp dressed in homemade remoulade, lettuce and tomato, and Meatloaf Po’ Boy ($12) with a big slice of bread. house meat, bathed in a tomato glaze and topped with grilled onions. (Note to rebels: if you like your meatloaf cold, they’ll be happy to serve it that way.)
The Fried Bologna po’boys ($11) come just as Grandma made them, served with lettuce, tomatoes and mayonnaise. All po’boys come with potato chips, but many regulars add a little spice with a stack of hot waffle fries.
“We feel a real obligation to make the locals proud,” says Scott. “This is our saloon in your neighborhood.”
For a neighborhood bar, the food choices are several notches above expectation. Many menu items are not routinely seen in a neighborhood pub atmosphere. For starters, try the Kind of a Big Dill, ($10) five crispy dill wedges wrapped in ham and savory ranch cream cheese. These are wrapped in a wonton, then fried and served with homemade honey mustard.
NOLA Brussels ($10) are shaved Brussels sprouts with bacon, raisins, brown sugar, almonds, and a touch of NOLA cane vinegar. Beau’s Badass Nachos ($14) start with a bed of freshly baked homemade tortilla chips topped with blanched ques and pulled pork, then topped with corn salsa, candied jalapenos and sour cream.
For avid carnivores, seven burger selections are available. Each is a freshly ground 1/3 pound chuck from the Burrito Market across Front Street.
“The Olive Burger is our most popular and it’s kind of a classic,” says Scott, who got his start in the restaurant game as a teenager working at another well-regarded TC restaurant, Mabel’s. Served on a toasted Hawaiian bun with fries and a pickle, the Olive Burger ($13) is topped with melted creamy provolone, lettuce, tomato and pickle. It’s a handful of flavors, especially when paired with the optional waffle fries.
Scott added some fun non-food events to keep the place lively. Every Tuesday is a trivial night, while Thursday features blues and jazz on the PA system. Live music takes over on Fridays, while Sundays are packed – it’s karaoke night. And there’s a pool table, complete with a Star Wars storm trooper light fixture, in the back room to keep guests occupied, free of charge.
The purchase continues a long tradition of families owning and operating Lil Bo. The original owners, Frank and Corrine Kucera, sold the tavern to Eugene and Phyllis Freud in 1969, and it remained in the Freud family until last April, when the Scott closed on the property.
At the time, The Traverse City Ticker reported that two previous bids on the property had failed, paving the way for the Scott family’s bid. “The third time was the charm,” says Nancy Freud, who had operated the bar and restaurant since 2005 and now lives in California. “Jen is the same age as my dad when he bought Little Bohemia,” she says, adding proudly that the tavern is only 11 years away from being 100 years in business – and owned and operated by only three families at that time.
Find Lil Bo at 540 West Front St. in Traverse City. It is open from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. seven days a week. (231) 421-3100