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RESTAURANT - OJAI
Fine Dining and Boxing History in Matilija Canyon
Sitting among the valley oaks with the gentle sound of a babbling stream
enjoying a perfectly cooked steak or melt-off-the-bone baby back rib,
savoring a fruity sangria made from ingredients all picked fresh from
the farm property or a Blood Orange tinged Margarita. A most satisfying
outdoor dining experience in the Ojai Valley is found a bit out of the
way, on the road from the Ventura coast through the back mountain pass
of the Matilija Canyon to Maricopa. The stream is man-made and the trees
planted, but Bodee’s Restaurant is revitalized from a genuine colorful
past. The current restaurant maintains the flavor and history of the
first Bodee’s reflected in the original hand carved sign still
over the stone fireplace.
Hiram Imboden Cromer was a physical therapist in 1939 whose patients
called “Doc” Bodee. He and his wife Anne came to the Ojai
Valley in California in answer to an ad to manage the bath house and
therapy room of Wheeler Hot Springs After working in the aircraft industry
during WWII, and bartending on Catalina Island, Hiram "Bodee" returned
to the quiet glens of the Los Padres forest with the idea to open his
own spa near the springs. He bought a bulldozer and a former army barracks
on property from the Ojai Valley Inn.
first opened in 1947, soon becoming a popular roadside watering hole
with a regular clientele of Hollywood movie celebrities
like Rory Calhoun and boxing champs like Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, and
Rocky Graciano (the one played by Paul Newman in 'Somebody Up There Likes
Me') from Pop Soper’s boxer’s training camp retreat just
up the canyon. The workout camp run by Soper trained over 500 boxers
in its heyday of the 1930's to the 50's, getting its start from Jack
Dempsey who first came upon the cottages in the Matilija Canyon in 1925.
Dempsey thought the rugged out-of-the-way spot up the old stagecoach
route of Maricopa Highway from Ventura, with its natural springs
was the ideal place to train. Soper didn’t allow liquor at his
training facility, but one could always stop off to bend an elbow just
The photos on the wall of the current restaurant attest to the boxing
past lost when the camp closed in 1957.
The original Bodee’s caught fire in 1951 and its namesake owner
was killed trying to save his dream and his family. Anne rebuilt and
operated the roadside bar as a familiar hangout for locals, recovering
and rebuilding again after a disastrous 100 year storm mud slide in 1969.
The restaurant was completely restored and re-opened in 2005 and is the
pride of Bodee’s and Anne’s granddaughter Michelle Cromer-Bentivolio.
Bodee's is a family affair. Mom can still be found occasionally helping
out at the bar, and dad, Bodee's only son who survived the fire in '51,
designed the inviting rock masonry patio and the river stream.
Myk Aviles, a Ventura County native who returned home from learning
craft on the East Coast in 2009 to make the most of the small kitchen,
out an inventive menu of steaks and seafood specials. Dining is on
the outdoor patio or in the rich dark woods of the original tavern.
stop by to bend an elbow at the bar in the company of friendly locals
and the pugilistic ghosts of Matilija Canyon's past. © Bargain
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