Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Bar hopping, Minnesota blogger style March 7, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
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SIGNAGE VISUALLY intrigues me, specifically vintage signs or those that stand out as unique. I am drawn to photograph them in Minnesota’s small towns.

I expect our state’s metro areas may sport equally as interesting signage. But, unlike a friend who recently dissed Marshall (and I won’t repeat what she said) because she is a city, not a country, girl, I prefer rural Minnesota. I took offense at my friend’s comment. Southwestern Minnesota possesses a beauty unequal in endless skies and space that allows one to breathe and move and celebrate the land and its people.

It is a good thing we don’t all like the same places.

Given my aversion to the real and visual busyness of the metro, I seldom travel there. Rather, my journeys take me most often onto small town Main Street, you know that route too many are too hurried to consider as they rush from Point A to Point B.

In my hometown on the southwestern Minnesota prairie, the Vesta Municipal Liquor Store. I've always loved the exterior look of this building.

In my hometown on the southwestern Minnesota prairie, the Vesta Municipal Liquor Store anchors a corner of the town’s one-block business district. I’ve always loved the exterior look of this building. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Poking around in my photo files recently, I noticed that I often photograph liquor store/bar signs and buildings in small towns. Why? I’m not much of a drinker.

I suspect it’s a combination of factors. Bars often serve as gathering places. Sometimes a bar may even remain as the sole business in a rural community. And, more often than not, they display one-of-a-kind signs that have been around for awhile.

Join me on a photographic bar hop to some of Minnesota’s small towns and larger communities. Cheers.

The Frontier Bar & Lounge in Fairfax, along State Highway 19 in southwestern Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots edited file photo 2013.

The Frontier Bar & Lounge in Fairfax, along State Highway 19 in southwestern Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots edited file photo 2013.

How cool is this signage at Drive-In Liquors along U.S. Highway 14 in Springfield in my native southwestern Minnesota? Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

How cool is this signage at Clay’s Drive-In Liquor along U.S. Highway 14 in Springfield, also in my native southwestern Minnesota? Minnesota Prairie Roots edited file photo 2012.

When I was in my shooting photos off-kilter stage in 2011, I shot this image of the Preri Bach Saloon & Grill in Cambria, a small town near New Ulm, home of Schell's Brewery.

When I was in my shooting photos off-kilter stage in 2011, I shot this image of the Preri Bach Saloon & Grill in Cambria, a small town near New Ulm, home of Schell’s Brewery.

The West Concord Liquor Store, housed in a beautiful old building, once city hall. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

The West Concord Liquor Store, housed in a beautiful old building, once city hall. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

This Main Street Lounge signage in Waterville seems fitting given the city's self designation as "The Bullhead Capitol of the World." Minnesota Prairie Roots edited file photo 2012.

This Main Street Lounge signage in Waterville seems fitting given the city’s self designation as “The Bullhead Capitol of the World.” Minnesota Prairie Roots edited file photo 2012.

This unique corner entry at Broinks Bar & Grill in downtown Lake City drew my attention. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

This unique corner entry at Broinks Bar & Grill in downtown Lake City drew my attention. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

The setting sun spotlights vintage Faribo Liquor Store signage along Fourth Street/Minnesota Highway 60 in downtown Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2009.

The setting sun spotlights vintage Faribo Liquor Store signage along Fourth Street/Minnesota Highway 60 in downtown Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2009.

Signage on the Canton pub near the Iowa border. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

Signage on the Canton pub near the Iowa border. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

In North Mankato, signage at Circle Inn. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.

In North Mankato, signage at Circle Inn. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.

In Vermillion, near Hastings, a bar advertises the ever popular happy hour. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

In Vermillion, near Hastings, a bar advertises the ever popular happy hour. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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41 Responses to “Bar hopping, Minnesota blogger style”

  1. treadlemusic Says:

    They do seem to have a personality all their own. Bronks is a true retro classic design. Since we tend to avoid such establishments (I’m not exactly sure why……) we miss out on the “Cheers” flavor that they have and very much reflect who/what the specific town/area is like. Such avoidance has a lot to do with both our upbringing, I suspect. Very interesting post!

    • Randy and I walked into a bar/restaurant here in Faribault a few weeks ago on a Saturday evening because we wanted to order their signature pizza. As soon as we entered, heads swiveled and I could see the regulars wondering about our identities.

      The bar side of The Signature is dark with booths running along one wall and the bar along the other in the long and narrow room. We wove around people to get to the dining room, only to be told it would be a half hour wait. With no place to wait in the packed bar, we left. We’ll try again. The bar part of The Signature definitely has that Cheers atmosphere.

      • treadlemusic Says:

        I really like those places that have a more “dining” feel/designated area (away for the bar itself). A lot of these have awesome food and are the only place to get a meal in the evening. Our local version has wonderful “home cooked” noon specials and great burgers!!! BUT, it’s still too much of a “bar” (although nicely renovated) for DH so we pass on it.

      • This sounds like a place we may need to check out. Now that smoking is no longer allowed in bars and restaurants, etc., I’m more inclined to check out a small town bar/restaurant. The home-cooked part of your comment would be enough to draw me in the door.

      • treadlemusic Says:

        It’s not too bad…….far more food than I care to eat, though (a good thing??). It draws the guys from the elevator and Ace Tele. Of course, there are the “regulars”!!!!! LOL!

      • Small town cafes need “regulars” to keep the business going.

      • treadlemusic Says:

        They do and they need ppl to write of their awesome experiences as satisfied customers!!!!!!

      • Is that a hint? What’s the name of this cafe in Houston (Minnesota, not Texas)?

      • treadlemusic Says:

        It is “JT’s”. It’s on the main street (Hwy 16/76). There’s a really cool coffee house (in the old barber shop) called “Barista’s” (on Hwy 76 coming from the North). They serve great coffee drinks and sandwiches, scones, muffins. The little deck on the front is a fun place to sit in the summer and watch the traffic under the shade trees. The Trail Head Park/Owl Center entrance is across from the hwy from it. If you think you’ll be coming this direction for a morning, give me a call…..Definitely a “meet-up” opportunity!!!!!!

      • I think a trip will be in order once this horrible long winter has ended.

      • treadlemusic Says:

        You have my number!!!! Hehe!

  2. Marilyn Says:

    The two inebriated fish made me laugh: obviously too much to drink!

  3. Dan Traun Says:

    🙂 Love them all. I recognize quite a few…especially the one in Springfield.

  4. Jackie Says:

    You showcased bars from both towns that my parents grew up in, well they actually grew up in the country but you know what I mean. Canton & West Concord. Personally I find it kind of sad to see that beautiful town hall building now a liquor store, but I guess better that than laying in ruins.

  5. Beth Ann Says:

    I must admit I like the vintage ones the best—especially Faribo Liquor Store one. Fun post today , Audrey.

  6. Mike Spry Says:

    Great photos! I’d love to find an old outdoor Grain Belt sign. Just about every little roadside beer joint in Minnesota had one.

  7. I have to say I enjoy and love your liquor and bar signage that you discover on your adventures:) There is just something about Small Town America and the places the community hangs out at! Happy Weekend:)

  8. Mike could try contacting the folks at Grain Belt http://grainbelt.com. They have an accessories shop on their website, but I don’t think it has the vintage signs.

    I like the drunken fish sign, too!

  9. Lanae Says:

    I’m ready to leave winter behind, drown my winter blues away. Thinking I need a trip to Vesta for a fun time at the local watering hole. Soon oh I hope soon

  10. Thread crazy Says:

    Like the post Audrey; I must admit the whole time I was reading it, I was thinking of Cheers! Loved that show…then there’s the “Bronks”; I have childhood memories of a drugstore or ice cream store that looked a lot like that building.

  11. hotlyspiced Says:

    I love how one business is advertising a three-hour happy ‘hour’. I love all of these signs but my favourite would be the Main Street Lounge xx

  12. Nan Kath Says:

    Hi Audrey…I have been enjoying your blogs since I recently discovered them. I lived in Park Rapids and was reading about the story of Emmaville, just north of town. Anyway, I want to share a blog that I came across here in the wonderful state of Washington. It might give you an idea of further travels within the state of Minesota. If I remember right, he visited every county seat within this state and wrote about interesting subjects that pertained to the town. http://www.visiteverycityinwashingtonstate.com/ Have a great year. Nancy Kath Maple Valley, WA

  13. Love the Schell’s signs! And I really like your blog.

  14. They definitely are part of America, bar signs. And as for finding beauty in SW MN…yes, please no one discourage me in my search for beauty here. It is here…one just has to look a little harder for it than in the Pacific NW. Less ostentatious, perhaps? Wow. There may be some serious connections between the environment and it’s people that I never thought about before!!! May have to explore that…

    • Oh, yes, I believe in a strong connection b/n environment and its people. I always say that the prairie shaped who I became as a person, writer and photographer. The prairie, because of its starkness, causes one to notice every detail. Of course, my family and the values I was taught, etc., also shaped me.

      I’m glad to hear you’ve been able to find the beauty in sw Minnesota. I know it’s tough for you sometimes given the landscape in which you were raised.


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