THE WOLF LODGE INN: A steakhouse for the ages
The nearly century-old Wolf Lodge Inn likely began as a small, one-room mercantile near Coeur d’Alene, selling equipment and dry goods to passing miners and travelers. As time went by, other rooms were added and the general store became a saloon, restaurant and lodge. now, it’s exclusively a steakhouse featuring “swinging steak” and wet-aged meat grilled over open fires.
Wolf Lodge Inn lies at the beginning of a canyon just east of where the clear water of Lake Coeur d’Alene becomes Wolf Lodge Bay. Motorists passing by on Interstate 90 could blink and easily miss the aged barn-red building, with firs and pines rising sharply up the mountain behind it.
The route itself is wrapped in history. The modern interstate roughly follows the path of Mullan Road, the first engineered road that connected the Great Plains with the northwest. Built between 1859 and 1862 under the command of U.S. Army Captain John Mullan, the road connected fort Walla Walla in Washington to Fort Benton in Montana.
Although details about Wolf Lodge Inn’s past are fragmentary and anecdotal, Nicole Martel, the general manager, and her husband and assistant manager, Shawn, believe it was established in 1939 as a one-room store to supply travelers, many of whom were headed to the Silver Valley. Kootenai County records indicate that construction on the property first occurred in 1920, and additional outbuildings and structures were added in 1955 and 1975.
The Martels, who have worked at Wolf lodge for 18 years—steadily moving up from servers to management—say what began as a “convenience store” morphed at various times into a saloon, restaurant and inn with lodging.
According to Nicole, Wolf Lodge’s second owner—possibly named Margie—and her family ran a saloon with cabins for rent, hence the “inn” part of the name. nicole said visitors back then could gas up their car, have a bite to eat, play pool, drink a few beers, spend the night in a cabin and then get back on the highway the next morning. Though “Inn” remains on its rustic sign, the last of the Wolf Lodge cabins was torn down about eight years ago.
Information on the first owner is even sketchier. Nicole believes the Fox Family originally homesteaded the property. She recalled visiting a daughter of the original owner in Post Falls, about 16 years ago, where Nicole was handed old photos of the place. She took these photos back to the restaurant, where they hang today—a black and white glimpse of another era.
What is known definitively is Wolf Lodge evolved into a steakhouse in the 1970s, welcoming hungry locals and travelers. Upon their arrival, guests can order grilled steaks that have been wet-aged for several months.
“The meat just sits,” Shawn said. “We try to age [steaks] up to 60 days. That’s where you get the better flavor.”
When the meat is aged appropriately, the steaks are then cooked cowboy style, following Wolf Lodge’s commitment to grilling all of their steaks over open wood-fired grills using only tamarack wood.
Besides these thick-cut and hearty steaks, Wolf Lodge Inn is one of the few restaurants in Idaho to offer Rocky Mountain oysters, also listed on the menu as “swinging steak.” ese bull testicles are peeled, pounded, sliced into wedges, marinated and breaded before they’re deep-fried to a golden crisp. With less preparation rocky Mountain oysters can be chewy, but these were relatively tender, a bit salty and tasted like fried shrimp. Wolf Lodge serves them with cocktail sauce and a lemon wedge.
Inside the steakhouse, the atmosphere is warm and intimate. Lights envelope the interior in a golden glow, revealing wood-shingled walls punctuated with rusted signs and saddles. dining spaces, despite the seemingly random merging of long-ago room additions, are largely open now with ample space between tables. a fireplace in the front room roars with heat in winter and an original rock grill waits in the middle of another for steaks to top its large gridiron. As Nicole said, “You got to do good by the beef.”
Wolf Lodge Inn
11741 E. Frontage Road, Coeur d’Alene
Open Tu–F 5pm–close • Sa–Su 4pm–close