Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

From Courtland: When fire destroys a small town Minnesota bar & grill November 23, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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The Crow Bar & Grill, Courtland, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2014.

The Crow Bar & Grill, Courtland, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2014.

EVERY SMALL TOWN needs a Crow Bar & Grill. For the food, the drinks, but, mostly as a community gathering spot. A place to lunch with friends and family and neighbors. A place to socialize and sympathize and support and celebrate.

Thursday afternoon, Courtland, located along U.S. Highway 14 east of New Ulm, lost The Crow Bar to a wind-swept fire. It’s a devastating loss in a community of only 635. According to media accounts, the blaze started in the attic area and resulted in enough water and smoke damage that the bar and grill will be a total loss. But the destructive fire is about more than losing a building and a business. It’s also about the impact on locals.

The Crow Bar, up close. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2014.

The Crow Bar & Grill, up close. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2014.

Sunday morning I chatted with a friend and distant relative who, like my mom, has roots in Courtland. Howard is part of a Faribault-based accordion trio that recently entertained noon-time diners at The Crow Bar. Now he worries how his bachelor farmer brother will adjust to losing the place where he dined four days a week with friends. They’ll likely move across the street to Swany’s Pub. Yet, it won’t be the same, Howard says.

That’s the thing about small towns. Businesses and people are intertwined in a way that stretches beyond the wallet. Locals hold emotional ownership in Main Street businesses. They care. Without them, businesses cannot survive. The Crow Bar wove into the lives of those who call/called the Courtland area home.

One need only turn to Facebook to read the praises sung for the Crow Bar:

  • Love great people that visit the crow. And one awesome owner and staff.
  • The Crow Bar has the freshest burgers around! Great small town bar and bingo on Saturday is fun too!
  • Hi From Pensacola Florida! Loved Courtland when I was there! Great food too yall!! Miss it still!
The Crow Bar in Courtland advertises food specials.

The Crow Bar in Courtland advertises food specials. Photographed in October 2015 as my husband and I drove through Courtland.

Shortly before noon on Thursday, with customers already seated inside The Crow Bar for their noon meal, the fire broke out. Everyone exited safely, including an upstairs apartment resident.

At 12:49 p.m., Swany’s Pub across the street posted this message on Facebook:

Our heart goes out to our neighbors at the Crow Bar

My heart goes out to the folks of Courtland. Having grown up in rural southwestern Minnesota, I understand how devastating the loss of The Crow Bar & Grill to the community. When the lone cafe in my hometown of Vesta closed, residents rallied to build and open a community cafe. Courtland, at least, has Swany’s Pub. And, I expect with time, those who frequented The Crow will feel comfortably at home across the street.

That’s the human, beyond-the-fire, side of the story. How will Courtland area residents adapt? How are they coping with the loss of a place that’s been a long-time part of their community?

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


21 Responses to “From Courtland: When fire destroys a small town Minnesota bar & grill”

  1. Marneymae Says:

    Are they planning to rebuild the Crow?
    … Here last year a semi lost control on one of the steep hills coming into town & barreled into the side of a building, destroying a beloved bar & grill (and killing a server who had been working at the time)… There was a huge fire & part of the building had to be demolished.
    There was an outpouring of support for the workers who no longer were employed, but I don’t know if plans are in the works for rebuilding it.
    It’s different, though – there are many other places to congregate in Ithaca.
    In a small rural town, the impact seems to be much more far-reaching, and have greater impact.
    I hope they will rebuild…

  2. Beth Ann Says:

    That’s too bad about the fire. It is true that small town hang outs like The Crow have a very special place in the community and their impact is far more than just serving food. Hopefully they will all adjust and be able to find a new place to gather together.

  3. I know what it is like to grow up in a small town and have that place you go to. The community will rally and may even help rebuild the Crow Bar & Grill because that is what small communities do for one another. Sending good thoughts and prayers.

  4. Dan Traun Says:

    Sorry to hear about the Crow Bar being lost to a fire. These types of establishment are community treasures. Thankfully no one was hurt in the blaze and that there is an alternative, however, no where near the same I suspect.

  5. Almost Iowa Says:

    “residents rallied to build and open a community cafe”

    Bully for them!

  6. Littlesundog Says:

    I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of a community gathering spot. The history surrounding such places is as much about the daily routine and friendships formed as the building itself. It’s a wonderful thing that you cover so many real life stories of small community and rural folks.

  7. Jackie Says:

    What a shame for this community. glad to hear everyone got out ok. I’m glad they still have another option for dining and conversation in this small community.

  8. I’m glad to hear no one was hurt. The small town where my father-in-law grew up in Ohio had a devastating fire some years ago in their downtown. I don’t think they did rebuild everything that burned. I hope the Crow is able to do so.

  9. Sad – no chance that they will rebuild? c

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