Editor's Note: This story originally aired in Feb. 2014
PELICAN RAPIDS, Minn. - Winter in Minnesota means 10,000 frozen lakes on which to be alone.
But on Otter Tail County’s Lake Lida, it’s all about coming together.
“Unbelievable,” says Jerry Johnson as he surveys the 16’ x 22’ tavern into which he has stepped. Men roll dice in the center of the room, as others share fish stories near the bar.
So warm and inviting on the inside, the place could easily be found on a country main street. But Hillbillies Ice Hole bar stands on the ice, several hundred feet from Lake Lida’s northern shore.
To Josie Norgren, the bar’s owner, the idea makes complete sense. Why shouldn’t the fish house city that springs up on the lake each winter have a neighborhood bar?
“There are so many people out here, I knew it would work,” she says.
Norgren already had bar experience running Hillbillies Vittles and Brew in Erhard, a few miles away, on dry land. She once pondered setting up a bar on pontoon. The ice bar seemed more practical.
Her instincts proved correct. “It's kind of like a college frat party in here,” she says. “It gets kind of crazy.” Perhaps a fair comparison, if frat houses came with holes in the floor for fishing and 12 feet of water in the basement.
Bartender Todd Weston pulled in a sunfish and a rock bass on a recent Friday night, each prompting a whoop from the crowd.
“Got to measure and weigh it,” he says. The Ice Hole hosts season long fishing derby and keeps a list of the catches in a notebook behind the bar.
“You’ve got to get out and enjoy it because winter's a long season in Minnesota,” says Weston.
The bar was specially built for the task three years ago. It splits in two for easy transport and is stored on land in the off-season.
New this year: an ATM. “People come out and run out of money, so that’s not good,” says Norgren. She laughs, “got to keep the cash flowing going.”
One never knows when a guy might like to buy a lady a drink. If she’s special, it may even have a live minnow in it.
Sisters Tracy and Kelsey Hexum both slammed minnow shots at the bar, followed by more whoops from the crowd and a high five from the bartender.
Tracy Hexum speculated the bar’s appeal could have something to do with its limited engagement. “You know if you show up in March it's not going to be here.”