Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

From Mazeppa: When fire destroys a community gathering place March 12, 2018

 

PERUSE THE FACEBOOK PAGE for WD’s Bar & Grill in Mazeppa and you get a strong sense of what this business means to the folks of this small southeastern Minnesota community north of Rochester.

 

 

Here locals gather to celebrate special occasions like Valentine’s Day with prime rib and jumbo shrimp dinners. Or birthdays with burgers and a beer. And during this season of Lent, a Friday Night Fish Fry draws crowds. This seems the place to be—to meet your family, your friends, your neighbors, to commune over good food and conversation.

 

 

But no more. Early Sunday morning this 1900 brick corner building in the heart of this town burned. I can only imagine how locals are reeling from the loss of a community gathering spot. When a town of around 800 loses a business, it loses part of its identity. I should note, though, that Mazeppa still has other bars/restaurants/gathering places.

 

 

I visited Mazeppa in October 2016 and found it an especially interesting community to photograph given the historic buildings and also the incredible building signage created by resident sign painter Mike Meyer. If only I’d stepped inside WD’s Bar & Grill during that brief visit. There’s a lesson to be learned in that. Although I documented this town with my camera, I didn’t really experience it. I didn’t walk into that long-time bar and grill and observe the locals, feel the heartbeat of this community. I regret that now.

Even if WD’s chooses to rebuild, something will have been lost. Not in the people. But in the setting of history, of a rooted sense of place.

 

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

 

FYI: Click here to read a post from November 2015 about another small town bar and grill destroyed by fire. Last time I passed by nearly two weeks ago, a new building stood on the site in Courtland, presumably the rebuilt The Crow Bar & Grill.

Please check back soon for more photos from my October 2016 stop in Mazeppa, including the signage of Mike Meyer. It’s time I post those forgotten filed images.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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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

 

Exploring La Crosse Part III: Eats & treats October 22, 2015

HOW DO YOU DECIDE where to eat in downtown La Crosse, Wisconsin? You don’t. You allow your daughter to choose the restaurant.

A coaster at The Old Crow. I love the simplistic design and minimalist decor.

A coaster at The Old Crow. I love the simplistic design and minimalist decor.

Last Saturday, searching for a place to eat lunch, Miranda’s eyes landed on The Old Crow, an American Gastropub. I was expecting the usual limited fare of burgers and other sandwiches. Instead, we found those and plenty of creative menu choices. Like a burger served between glazed doughnuts. I ordered the smoked bacon, chicken and cheddar flatbread. The daughter and husband both ordered sandwiches. We all liked our food, although getting our meals took awhile. Granted, it was the busy lunch hour and we’d waited 15 minutes to be seated.

My smoked bacon and chicken flatbread cheddar. I wouldn't expect anything less in Wisconsin.

My smoked bacon and chicken flatbread with lots of cheddar. I wouldn’t expect anything less in Wisconsin.

I’m not a fan of sports bars. Typically, I’ve found the food isn’t that great. Nor is the atmosphere. But lots of natural light pours in through large street-side windows at The Old Crow. It features minimalist décor. And, as you might expect, an excessive number of televisions. A Badgers’ football game distracted my husband from conversation. That’s the primary reason I dislike sports bars. I’m out to eat and engage in conversation, not watch football, basketball or hockey. But that’s me. Sports bars fit a need. At the table next to us, a contingent of Badgers fans wore red team attire.

For a sports-focused bar and grill, The Old Crow wins with me in both food and decor.

Antique Center of La Crosse, Ltd., 110 South Third Street

Antique Center of La Crosse, Ltd., 110 South Third Street, with 18,000 square feet of merchandising space.

Details, like this tiled exterior entry, added to the charm of Antique Center.

Details, like this tiled exterior entry, add to the charm of Antique Center. This building once housed Ganterts Furniture Company.

I spotted lots of Oktoberfest buttons. La Crosse recently celebrated its annual Oktoberfest.

I spotted lots of Oktoberfest buttons. La Crosse recently celebrated its annual Oktoberfest.

A small section of the first floor merchandise in this sprawling building.

A small section of the first floor merchandise in this sprawling building.

The store offers an extraordinary amount of merchandise.

The store offers an extraordinary amount of merchandise.

I spotted two vintage dollhouses, wishing I still had mine from my youth.

I spotted two vintage dollhouses, wishing I still had mine from my youth.

I was tempted by this poster because I love vintage graphics.

I was tempted by this poster because I love vintage graphics.

It's fun to look at the clothing and wish I was about 30 years younger than I am.

It’s fun to look at the clothing and wish I was about 30 years younger.

After lunch, we checked out the neighboring Antique Center of La Crosse, Ltd., doing our share to support this business housed in an old furniture store and spanning three floors. We didn’t even hit the basement. You could spend hours in this shop teeming with customers.

With this signage, you can't miss The Pearl.

With this signage, you can’t miss The Pearl.

The Pearl offers m

The Pearl offers many ice cream flavors and types of ice cream treats. The ice cream is homemade by The Pearl.

Even though a tad chilly, we ate our ice cream outdoors. We ordered white chocolate raspberry, maple nut and Cappuccino Oreo.

Even though a tad chilly, we ate our ice cream outdoors. We ordered white chocolate raspberry, maple nut and Cappuccino Oreo.

The old-fashioned look of The Pearl is its charm.

The old-fashioned soda fountain look of The Pearl is its charm.

This clutch of birds dipped their beaks into spilled ice cream outside The Pearl.

We watched this clutch of birds dip their beaks into spilled ice cream outside The Pearl.

The ice cream and candy shop is housed in the complex known as Pearl Street West.

The Pearl Street West complex houses the ice cream and candy shop.

But we had a schedule to keep and ice cream to eat. Not that we were hungry after the filling lunch at The Old Crow. Still, we could not leave downtown La Crosse without eating homemade ice cream at The Pearl Ice Cream Parlor. It’s a must stop, for the old-fashioned soda fountain atmosphere and the creamy ice cream. After that treat, I was ready for the 2 1/2 hour drive back home to Faribault.

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CHECK BACK tomorrow for more from La Crosse. Click here to read my first post from La Crosse and click here to read my second post in this Exploring La Crosse series.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling