Ice Hole serving thirsty anglers [UPDATED]Published 11:10am Friday, January 27, 2012 Updated 12:59pm Friday, January 27, 2012
Beer and ice fishing have often been brought together, but Lake Lida fishermen may have now seen the most inventive way to do it. The Pelican Rapids-area lake is home to the Ice Hole bar, which brings a drinking establishment as close to anglers as possible: right out there on the ice.
The Ice Hole is located in an oversized fish house about a quarter mile out from Lida’s north public access on County Highway 4. It was made possible through the business partnership of Josie Norgren, owner of Hillbillies Vittles and Brew in Erhard, and Fargo businessman Chris Haugen.
On Thursday evening, anglers and a few lake residents filtered in and out of the 10-by-24-foot establishment while Norgren or Haugen served drinks from a small alcove built onto the west side. Jokes were told in the cozy environment as patrons traded bar stools and visited with old and new friends.
The bar was the brainchild of Haugen, who already was in business renting fish houses to visiting anglers on Lida.
“Last year, my banker and my brother-in-law came out (to Lida) for a guided trip, and in the midst of a conversation over a couple of beers, my brother said, ‘You’re out here all the time; you should have a bar,’” Haugen said.
He later met Norgren (who had the liquor licensing Haugen needed) through a business deal with Hillbillies’ sister business, Manny’s-Rocky’s Bait, and the two decided to open the Ice Hole. From that point, there was little else to do in terms of regulations between making the decision and flicking on the open sign.
“It’s such a new thing so that nobody knew what to think of it,” said Haugen. “There was nothing stopping us.”
The Ice Hole serves soups and sandwiches, but the main draw is the full bar, which is stocked daily by Norgren and Haugen (the building is also cleaned out every night so as not to tempt unwanted visitors).
“Obviously we have limited things available,” said Norgren, adding she and Haugen will try to cater to regular customers as much as possible. “If you want it, we’ll try to get it out there.”
The bar, which operates from Thursday through Sunday, first opened for business on Jan. 19. After one weekend of being open, Haugen said, the venture can already be called a viral success.
At first, a few people curiously ventured into the building to see what was going on. Those people were impressed by the seemingly diminutive building’s space, the beer selection and the holes drilled in the floor for ice fishing (those holes are closed when the bar starts to get busy. “Holes in the floor after people have been drinking is never a good idea,” said Haugen).
“Everybody was calling all their friends saying, ‘Hey, there actually is a bar on this lake,’” Haugen said.
The bar’s publicity blew up. Within the next few days, the bar was packed, and Haugen and Norgren’s idea was getting attention from local, regional, and even national press, with the bar getting coverage from CNN. “We just want to be by the bar” is a phrase Haugen heard from multiple people who were renting fish houses that weekend.
Safety on the ice is an issue, but it’s one the Ice Hole’s two operators have accounted for as much as possible. They waited to launch the bar until the ice was thicker than the DNR-recommended driving thickness of 12 inches, and they are cooperating with Last Leg Taxi Service to get safe rides home for patrons. They’ve also erected a nearby shelter for people to stay if they’re unable to get a safe ride home.
Going into their second weekend, Norgren and Haugen are already pleased with business. In fact, said Haugen, it’s a business model he thinks could be replicated elsewhere.
“If Josie’s on board with it, I have full intentions of having one up on Otter Tail Lake next year,” said Haugen, adding that a location on Detroit Lake might be another possibility.
That would be fine with one of the Ice Hole’s patrons, who identified himself only as Gerald. A lake resident, Gerald was a first-time visitor on Thursday, and he liked what he saw.
“I enjoy having a beer on my way out to the fish house he said,” adding that he’d even caught a couple of northern from one of the Ice House’s fishing holes earlier in the day.
“I’ve met some good people here,” he said.