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BODEE’S RESTAURANT - OJAI
Fine Dining and Boxing History in Matilija Canyon


Brook Side Patio Dining Bodeee's photoSitting 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.

Boxing History Picture Wall Bodee's Restaurant photoHiram 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.

Pop Soper and Boxer Champs photoBodee’s 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 down the road at Bodee’s. The photos on the wall of the current restaurant attest to the boxing past lost when the camp closed in 1957.

Bodee's Original Fireplace photoThe 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.

Margarita and Crab Cakes Bodee's photoChef Myk Aviles, a Ventura County native who returned home from learning his craft on the East Coast in 2009 to make the most of the small kitchen, turning 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. Or just 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 Travel West

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Bodee's Restaurant

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