In 1925 Edwin “Whitey” Larsen started Whitey’s started a bar. Problem was it was Prohibition and illegal. This did not stop him so under authorities noses in East Grand Forks, Minnesota and using smuggled in alcohol from Canada, he operated his art deco styled dining, drinking and gambling den. It is hard to say when they first Manitobans entered the bar. It is quite possibly the suppliers such as the Bronfman family from Brandon and later Winnipeg who plied whiskey south of the border.
Grand Fork was the good sister and East Grand Forks was the naughty sister across the river. In the 1930s, a stainless steel horseshoe bar was built and it remains in the bar today and will beyond the closure. It has gone through a fire, flood and a relocation farther up the street over the years on Demers.
The two Grand Forks are separated by a bridge that crosses the Red River. Even after Prohibition ended, North Dakota to the west was more proper with drinking age of 21 and Sunday closures and no lotteries. Minnesota was 19, open Sundays and had lotteries. Things have evened out. The drinking age everywhere is 21, both are open Sunday and lotteries are available everywhere.
In 2011, Whitey’s had a near death experience when business dried up. Despite having Cabela’s across the street, foot traffic had collapsed and the long recession hastened a sale. From that near closure, it became a steakhouse and seafood place. However, for Grand Forks people who lived increasingly in the suburbs, the destination was a bit far for fare they could find at Columbia Mall environs.
A week ago, the bar closed and patrons came to say goodbye. It will continue as a restaurant owned by a Fargo-based restaurant group. Sickies Garage Burgers and Brews intends to occupy the space. They presently have a stripped down version of the restaurant on South Columbia nearer to the University of North Dakota than to Columbia Mall. It seems uncertain whether the old Sickie’s will continue or not. Its present location has seen an Arby’s, Padron Chile and Sweet Burrito in short order.
The old horseshoe bar is said to be a centerpiece to Sickie’s new location. The food served is 50 burger and 50 beers. That is presumably one at a time. Good old fashioned burgers have made a comeback.
Winnipeggers continue to shop in Grand Forks although most might be surprised to find this and other places closed. This past year Columbia Mall saw Macy’s, Zales and Yankee Candle store close among others. Nearly 1/5 of the mall and 12 stores have shut down as of the beginning of June. The mall still draws 25% Canadians but 11 new strip malls have gone up in Grand Forks which also affects traffic patterns.
People still go out for dinner and drinks so it remains to be seen whether Whitey’s transformed into Sickie’s will work. As mentioned it survived Prohibition, burning down in the 1940s, flooding in 1997 and near death experiences till now. Will anyone from Canada even recognize Grand Fork this fall?
This has been a editorial by John Dobbin.
To read more from John, visit his blog Observations, Reservations, Conversations