Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The Doublewide, where everybody probably knows your name February 24, 2017

The Doublewide is home of the signature The Doozy Bloody Mary.

The Doublewide is home of the signature The Doozy Bloody Mary.

DOWN THE HILL from Saint Nicholas Catholic Church and along the street named Saint Joseph rests a doublewide trailer. No one lives there. Rather, the doublewide is The Doublewide, a popular bar in Elko New Market.

Not that I’ve ever stepped inside the bar. I’ve only photographed the exterior and checked out the business website and Facebook page.

The bar hosted a vintage snowmobile show and beer bash in January.

The bar hosted a vintage snowmobile show and beer bash in January.

Why bother? Because I’m interested. And what I learned indicates The Doublewide is more than just a place to grab a beer and shoot a game of pool. It’s a place for the community to come together whether for a meat raffle; entertainment in the form of BINGO, live music or karaoke; a vintage snowmobile show; a combo fashion show-wine tasting; open mic night; bean bag league; and more.

 

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It seems fitting that the bar is situated along a street named after a patron saint of working people. I’m inclined to think that good hard-working Minnesotans are drawn to The Doublewide for the sense of community, of caring for one another.

TELL ME: Is there a Doublewide in your community?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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In Hayfield, Part II: The Flying Monkey November 15, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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IF FLYING MONKEYS terrify you, then stop reading this post. Unless you drink.

 

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I recently happened upon Flying Monkey Saloon in Hayfield. I didn’t set foot inside the small town bar. Not because I’m afraid of flying monkeys. But because the time had not yet reached noon. I wish I’d broken my self-imposed rule and at least poked my head inside a bar with a catchy name and equally appealing graphics.

 

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My sole source of info about this Main Street Hayfield bar comes from the internet. Hannah and Craig met and drank beer here. And now they’re engaged to be married in February 2017.

The burger baskets are endorsed as “awesome,” an overused word that I particularly dislike. But I’ll trust that Flying Monkey burgers really are delicious.

Flying Monkey apparently chooses a Customer of the Week. I have no idea the process or what the honor entails. But it sounds good to me. Maybe you get a free beer. Or burger.

Bikers and cruisers are drawn here. So Facebook shows me. That’s as good an endorsement as any for a small town bar.

 

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If I ever return to Hayfield, I promise to check out the Flying Monkey Saloon. Even if I’m there before noon.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Exploring La Crosse Part IV: Bars aplenty October 23, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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A flight at Turtle Stack Brewery.

A flight at Turtle Stack Brewery.

LA CROSSE, WISCONSIN, HOLDS a reputation as a beer-drinking town.

Want booze with your breakfast? During Oktoberfest you could attend Kegs & Eggs, starting at 6 a.m.

Want booze with your breakfast? During Oktoberfest you could attend Kegs & Eggs, starting at 6 a.m.

 

Weeks after La Crosse's celebration of its German heritage, Oktoberfest signs are still posted.

Weeks after La Crosse’s celebration of its German heritage, Oktoberfest signs are still posted. Overhead permanent signage also directs you to bars.

The city’s annual Oktoberfest and volume of downtown bars back that up. Or just ask any college kid in La Crosse and you’ll likely get the same assessment.

I ate at Buzzard Billy's, which includes a bar, and then walked through The Starlite Lounge (a 1950s style cocktail lounge) afterward.

I ate at Buzzard Billy’s, which includes a bar, and then walked through The Starlite Lounge (a 1950s style cocktail lounge) afterward.

On a recent visit to this Mississippi River town, I spent some time downtown drinking beer (at a brewery), dining and shopping. If I was bar-hopping college age, I could have hung around into the evening and drank until bar closing time. Not that I encourage excessive drinking, but I was once young…

I believe all bars in Wisconsin are now smoke-free.

I believe all bars in Wisconsin are now smoke-free.

Digger's Sting is a retro steakhouse and cocktail bar.

Digger’s Sting is a retro steakhouse and cocktail bar.

Advertised drink specials alongside a sign that

Advertised drink specials alongside a sign that reads: Tavern League of Wisconsin…A Responsible Server.

By far the most creative bar signage.

By far the most creative bar signage.

I noticed, in particular, how La Crosse bars really try to draw patrons inside with creative signage. Take The Library, which clearly aims to attract college students via this message bannered across its awning: If Mom calls, tell her I’m at The Library! My second daughter, who attended the University of Wiscosnin, La Crosse, confirms that The Library truly looks like a library inside. She worked at the library. Not The Library. But at UW-L’s Murphy Library.

Anyone know how many places sell alcohol in downtown La Crosse?

Anyone know how many places sell alcohol in downtown La Crosse?

Should you happen to visit La Crosse, take note of all the bars. Try to count them. I wonder how many line the streets of this historic downtown.

#

Check back Monday for the final post in my La Crosse series. And click here, then here and here to read my first three posts.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Exploring La Crosse Part II: Drinking & dining October 21, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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Turtle Stack Brewery, 125 Second Street South in downtown La Crosse.

Turtle Stack Brewery, 125 Second Street South in downtown La Crosse.

FROM PREVIOUS VISITS to La Crosse, Wisconsin, I don’t recall the downtown as crazy busy as last weekend. Friday evening we circled block after block after block trying to find a parking spot near a newly-opened brewery. Construction doesn’t help. But even without that, there seems an obvious shortage of street-side and other free parking spaces in this Mississippi River town.

The IPA I tried.

The IPA I tried.

Randy's flight.

Randy’s flight from Turtle Stack Brewery.

After finally securing parking, my husband, our daughter Miranda and I popped into Turtle Stack Brewery, one of La Crosse’s newest breweries. For a Friday evening, this sparse place with shiny wood slab tables supported by pipe was surprisingly quiet. Randy and Miranda ordered a flight of four brews while I selected a single sample. After tasting the beers—ranging from lager to ale, stout and IPA—we weren’t raving about any of them. Not that we are experts. But we’ve each tried enough craft beers to know when we really like a brewery’s offerings.

Buzzard Billy's

Buzzard Billy’s, 222 Pearl Street. It’s frustrating to see empty lots like the one next to Buzzard Billy’s with signs threatening towing if you park there and aren’t a customer of the business owning the space. And, yes, that’s a parking ramp. But we didn’t want to spend money for parking when we were already dropping a lot of money downtown.

From Turtle Stack, we headed around the corner for dinner at Buzzard Billy’s, a favorite of Miranda, who’d eaten there while attending the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse. Normally I would not wait 45 minutes to be seated. But I determined that Creole and Cajun food would be worth the wait. So we secured our spot in line then crossed Pearl Street to check out The Cheddarhead Store, source of Wisconsin cow and cheese related merchandise including cheese.

Pearl Street West includes Cheddarheads, a Wisconsin gift shop on the right in this image.

Pearl Street West includes Cheddarheads, a Wisconsin gift shop on the right in this image.

Inside Cheddarheads you'll find lots of Wisconsin themes t-shirts like this one displayed in the window.

Inside Cheddarheads you’ll find lots of Wisconsin themed t-shirts like this one displayed in the window.

Another view of Pearl Street in historic downtown La Crosse. I love the old buildings and the signage here.

Another view of Pearl Street in historic downtown La Crosse. I love the old buildings and the signage.

Eventually, after also perusing Art—211 Pearl, in the same complex of businesses known as Pearl Street West, photographing some nightscapes and stashing my camera in the van, we headed back to Buzzard Billy’s with 15 minutes to spare.

Finally, we were seated in the noisy bar area, where waitresses, hands balancing large trays of food overhead, squeezed between standing room only bar patrons and tables. It looks like a disaster waiting to happen.

While I didn’t care for the bar dining spot, I loved the food. We all did. I chose a spicy Shrimp Creole. Miranda opted for a Crawfish Platter and Randy a pasta with Andouille sausage. Service was quick. It helped that we had our menu choices pre-picked and that I told the welcoming and friendly waitress I was really really hungry. She took our food orders to the kitchen before bringing beverages. Not long after, our meals arrived piping hot. I tried my first ever hush puppies and crawfish sampled from Miranda’s platter. I will confess here that I thought hush puppies were potatoes rather than corn meal. Can you tell I’m a northerner who’s not well-traveled?

Another dining option a half a block away from Buzzard Billy's.

Another dining option a half a block away from Buzzard Billy’s.

Hungry for pizza? This was a busy place.

Every college town needs pizza places.

I love this Prime Rib sign.

I love this Prime Rib sign.

Once my left-overs were boxed, we headed upstairs to walk through The Starlite Lounge, a 1950s cocktail lounge. Oh, how I wished I hadn’t left my camera in the van. The lounge is now on my list of places to patronize the next time I’m in La Crosse. This throwback setting of curving aqua couches and swivel chairs appears the perfect place to try my first ever martini.

Signage marks another La Crosse bar.

Signage marks another La Crosse bar.

No shortage of places to have a beer in downtown La Crosse.

No shortage of places to have a beer in downtown La Crosse.

Yup, another bar...

Yup, another bar…

The sophisticated Starlite Lounge seems out of place in La Crosse, known for its beer-focused Oktoberfest and downtown bars frequented by college students. But that’s OK. With so many drinking establishments, bars need to distinguish themselves. And let me tell you, there are a lot of bars in downtown La Crosse.

The Pearl, a quaint shop serving homemade ice cream.

The Pearl, a quaint shop serving homemade ice cream.

CHECK BACK TOMORROW for a look at another downtown eatery and an ice cream shop.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

My impressions of East Ellsworth, Wisconsin November 18, 2014

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A section of East Ellsworth's compact business district.

A section of East Ellsworth’s compact business district.

I DON’T KNOW QUITE HOW to describe East Ellsworth. It’s not a separate town of its own, as far as I can determine, but the eastern side of Ellsworth, Wisconsin.

Love the original bar name and signage.

Love the original bar name and signage.

Jaspers Eastender Bar & Grill.

Jasper’s Eastender Bar & Grill.

East Ellsworth is heavy on the drinking establishments with at least four bars within a stone’s throw of each other. My husband and I didn’t venture inside any of them on the October weekday afternoon we visited this community. But plenty of vehicles lined the streets, causing us to wonder where all those folks might be. Inside the bars?

Wisconsinites love their Packers as evidenced by this sign on the corner Packers bar, painted green and gold.

Wisconsinites love their Packers as evidenced by this sign on a corner bar, painted green and gold.

Packers' colors prevail even on the exterior of this corner bar.

Packers’ colors prevail even on the exterior of this corner bar.

Not that that’s good or bad. I’m just saying that as outsiders viewing East Ellsworth for the first time, we got the sense that this could be a pretty wild place on a weekend evening or during a Sunday afternoon Packers game.

Another shot of the East Ellsworth business district.

Another shot of the East Ellsworth business district.

Words like rugged and hardscrabble pop into my thoughts.

Businesses besides bars exist in East Ellsworth.

Businesses besides bars exist in East Ellsworth.

How's this for an exterior bar attraction.

How’s this for an exterior bar attraction.

This sign in a storefront window grabbed my attention. So small townish...

This sign in a storefront window grabbed my attention. So small townish…

We observed a business district that appeared rough around the edges. Grass wedged between spaces in the cracked and uneven sidewalk. Orange traffic barrels leaning. Pavement that looked more jigsaw puzzle than street. Aged buildings, some in need of paint touch-ups. The whole area appeared tired and worn.

I should clarify that this assessment should not be taken as harshly critical, simply as an honest reaction. First impressions can be powerful.

The Big Cheezy seems a fitting name for a business in cheese-producing Wisconsin.

The Big Cheezy seems a fitting name for a business in cheese-producing Wisconsin.

Even though my eyes noted the roughness, my spirit appreciates East Ellsworth. This place possesses small town Americana character. Strength of individuality, not found in cookie cutter chain businesses, exists here. I will take an East Ellsworth any day over a strip mall along a four-lane in Most Anywhere, USA.

What's not to love about this business sign?

Simple signage like this possesses a certain charm.

How about you?

FYI: Click here to read my previous post about Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery and its famous cheese curds.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Photo bar hopping in rural Minnesota, Part II March 19, 2014

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The rather non-descript R & L's Pit Stop photographed in Hope in 2011.

The rather non-descript R & L’s Pit Stop photographed in Hope in 2011.

THE SMALL TOWN liquor store or bar rates as more than simply a place to grab a cold one or wolf down bar food.

New Richland bars, 2011.

New Richland bars, 2011.

Oftentimes, these rural establishments serve as community gathering spots. Locals belly up to trade stories, talk crops, solve the world’s problems. There’s a certain comfort in that, in the familiarity of sharing gossip and opinions and woes within the confines of a dark space, sheltered from reality.

The seemingly popular Cabin Bar in Nicollet, photographed two years ago.

The seemingly popular Cabin Bar in Nicollet, photographed two years ago.

Sometimes these places remain as the sole business along an otherwise vacant Main Street. On a Friday or Saturday night, vehicles line the streets. Folks gather to shoot a little pool, drink a little beer, tell a few jokes.

One of my favorite buildings and attached vintage signage. I need to return and explore this place.

The Monty Bar anchors a corner in downtown Montgomery and features wonderful vintage signage.

For awhile, troubles vanish, the body rests, a sense of community togetherness prevails.

Creative graphics for a bar in Kilkenny.

Creative graphics for a bar in Kilkenny.

All of this I imagine as I photograph the exteriors of small town Minnesota bars and liquor stores. Unique signage, creative names, architecture and more draw me visually to these watering holes.

The Roadhouse Bar & Grill is a popular dining spot in Wabasso. During the summer, old car enthusiasts and motorcyclists gather here for a weekly "Ride In" that draws up to 1,000 people. There's plenty of outdoor seating on a sprawling patio where a hamburger bar is set up for the popular event. The grill offers an extensive burger and sandwich menu with everything reasonably priced.

The Roadhouse Bar & Grill is a hot spot in Wabasso. During the summer, old car enthusiasts and motorcyclists gather here on Tuesday evenings for a “Roll- In” that draws up to 1,000 people. There’s plenty of outdoor seating on a sprawling patio where a hamburger bar is set up for the popular event.

Each holds a story. And if you, a stranger, venture inside, heads will swivel, eyes will bore and the locals will wonder. What is your story?

BONUS BAR PHOTOS:

The Old Town Tavern advertises its Dam Days specials. Great place to eat.

The Old Town Tavern advertises specials and more during Morristown Dam Days 2013.

A misguided attempt, in my opinion, to update the American Legion in West Concord. Photographed in 2010.

A misguided attempt, in my opinion, to update the American Legion in West Concord. Photographed in 2010.

The Pub in Canton, near the Iowa border.

The Pub in Canton, near the Iowa border, photographed in 2012.

CLICK HERE TO READ “Bar hopping, Minnesota blogger style.”

© Copyright 2014 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