Doing It Downtown: An Outsiders Perspective

Commentary by M. Eagle

MSUM Journalism

Photos and Captions by Amita Manandhar

Living life small

I live in a town of 300 people. From where I live it takes about an hour and some change to get to downtown Fargo-Moorhead. I’m not familiar with the feel, culture or any of the businesses that populate downtown. Rural life differs from city life in that everything in country living is a little more difficult. In the winter months when it’s cold in downtown Fargo-Moorhead it’s always colder in my small town, flurries in the city equal near white-out conditions where I live.

We don’t have a grocery store, no movie rentals and no fast food if you crave those amenities it’s a 15-minute trip to Fergus Falls, Minn., or as we refer to it ‘town’. We have one diner but in the winter months it closes down because the owners migrate South. What we do have and the most popular businesses by far in order are the liquor store, the V.F.W and a bar. See a pattern?

So why would anyone want to live here? The rewards for the inconveniences of living in the backwoods of Minn., are the beauty rich summers that typify the lakes country.

All revved up and ready to go

Before I went to do research for this piece I asked for recommendations of where I should visit. I had my whole itinerary planned. I was going to get some gelato, visit Leena K’s and check out some of the boutiques.

I quickly realized I had picked the worst possible day of the week to take in downtown. Not only were there a few close calls with cars in ditches on the interstate because of slick roads but it was cold, and it was Sunday.

It became apparent that my Sunday afternoon of ‘doing it downtown’ was going to consist of one of two things or a combination of the two, a bar and/or a grille. After window shopping one of the businesses recommended to me and thinking it looked like a place where a school teacher would by their clothes I wasn’t entirely disappointed.

The first place I stopped at was the Sidestreet Grille and Pub located at 301 Third Ave. N. The atmosphere was pleasant and the staff was laid back. The bar had 27 beers on tap and over 60 different types bottled. I can only speak for Sunday afternoon but the Sidestreet had a quaint cozy small town feel, minus a few customers with tattoo sleeves and huge gauged ear lobes. I downed a beer and hit the road. To visit the Sidestreet Grille and Pub’s website click here.

Visitors stand outside the Sidestreet Grille and pub for a brief smoke break.

Next I grabbed some food at the sushi restaurant Wasabi at 623 NP Ave. Their presentation of the rolls was artistic and the quality was worth the money. If you’ve never tried unagi (eel) it is some of the most sweet and tender meat you’ll ever taste. The the High Plains Reader rated Wasabi as the best sushi in the Fargo-Moorhead area but I prefer Yuki Hana located at 1450 25th St. S. To visit Wasabi’s webpage click here.

Wasabi Sushi and Asian Grille located in downtown Fargo offers variety of sushi and Asian food.

My third stop was the Bismarck Tavern at 522 Broadway N. Being an ex-blue collar guy I can appreciate places like this and it definitely isn’t right for everyone. It was a little grimey, the bathrooms were dirty and the customers that were there kept to themselves. No frills and good drink prices. I would describe it as a drinking man’s dive. One thing the Bismarck Tavern has in full is character, like an attractive person with a messed up smile. To read reviews about the Bismarck Tavern as well as see a map click here.

The Bismark Tavern located in downtown Fargo.

Finally I went to the Hotel Donaldson with plans of taking in the lounge. I had been told that a lot of artist types hang out there but when I got there it was closed. 

A visitor entering the Hotel Donaldson also known as the HoDo.

When I left across the street I noticed a women’s clinic with big black closed-circuit-television-cameras outside. Then right next to the clinic wedged between that and another business was a little closet of a bar and grille called JL Beers located at 518 1st Ave.

The size alone stuffed in between two buildings made me want to go inside and see how a business like that operates and I’m glad I did. The occupancy sign next to the door said 49 and the seating was like an old fashioned diner up at a long counter. Joe, the bartender/waiter, had a gravelly voice and a good sense of humor with just the right touch of attitude. He did a sort of 20 questions type inquiry to make sure that he paired me with the perfect beer from tap according to my tastes and he did a good job.

JL Beers offers a variety of food and drinks.

Even though I had already eaten I ended up sampling a JL burger from the menu, which was priced reasonable and consisted of two cheeseburger patties and loads of fried onions on a bun. Good humor, good atmosphere, and good burgers. Out of everyplace I visited I could see myself being a regular at JL Beers. To visit J.L Beers’ web site click here.

A witty slogan on the t-shirt of JL Beers employee Jason Cossette.

Final thoughts

I wish I had known that on Sunday’s downtown shutters up but I had a good time with what was available. Overall this experience was positive and I learned some things about downtown. I think a lot of doing it downtown is what you make of it.

Edited by Kristin Kirtz MSUM journalism major


2 Responses

  1. Nice article! And thanks for visiting Fargo-Moorhead. You hit up some great spots too. On Sundays businesses don’t typically open until noon…I especially wish you could have gotten into the Hodo. But, maybe next time, right? And yes JL Beers is a fantastic place, if I remember correctly they won best burgers in the country or something like that. Just wanted to say that I enjoyed your blog post and hope you can come visit again!

  2. Stephanie

    I really enjoyed your blog! It was nice to hear someones viewpoint that is not from this area, there are several great attractions in the FM area.

    I thought it was interesting the fact that you are from a small town yet had the motivation to go out on the town alone? I was intrigued by the choices that you made and also shows that you may be ready to continue to explore.

    Again great post!!
    JL Beers, is a great place to eat and have a beer if I may add!

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