Introducing The Every Bar In Mason City Quest

Winter is coming and I want to visit every bar in Mason City. Every single bar.

I don’t care where it’s located or how divey it appears. As a new[ish] Mason City resident, I’m taking Jake on a quest to explore Mason City via interesting bars.

Sure, I’ve visited restaurant bars and fancy bars during happy hour, but the neighborhood bar is a new experience for me. I rarely consumed adult beverages in college, and when I first moved back to the Twin Cities after graduation, I lived in Uptown where friends introduced me to happy hours. We felt very Sex & the City as we vented about adventures in dating and work and recounted our latest breakthroughs during our therapy appointments over mojitos at Palomino’s and $5 pizzas at Figlio.

This year, Jake introduced me to the television show Cheers. Cheers. The bar where everyone knows your name. Not that I want to frequent a bar enough for everyone to know my name, but I want to find those places where people aren’t afraid to make friendly banter with strangers and don’t put on airs. Where there are less frills and stronger drinks. Popcorn machines are good and fried bar food is better. I want to figure out what that je ne sais quoi is that makes a Cheers bar a Cheers bar.

I found some Cheers sharing ketchup with the folks sitting next to us around the horseshoe bar at Rookie’s in Clear Lake, IA and I felt it watching the bartenders banter with customers at Joe’s Knight Hawk in Waverly, IA. After we participated in CREATE: The Community Meal, we found the vibe visiting around a high top at Billy’s Victorian Bar located in the Frogtown neighborhood.

I’ve done the crowded Stella’s rooftop thing and feel too old for places like Chino Latino. I want the Cheers experience and so I’m on this quest to experience every bar in Mason City.

Every Bar in Mason City Graphic

My drink order will be whatever the bartender recommends as that establishment’s quintessential beverage. If there’s bar food, all the better.

We began our quest last weekend at Willow Run Lounge, a little bar perched along the main drag between the Willow Inn Motel and a drive-through liquor store. A sandwich board facing the street advertises homemade tacos to curious passerbyers.

On the Saturday after Halloween, the bar was packed around 6 p.m. We sat near a group of people who were playing cribbage around a large table. The bartender was dressed like a superhero and when Jake noticed the two people ahead of him ordered a 7 and 7, he did too. Both of our cocktails were cheap and hella strong. It’s a good thing we ordered a taco because I felt like my face was melting away off a third of the way into the drink. We’re used to cocktails composed of 1/3 liquor and 2/3 seltzer at twice the price and our superhero lady bartender flipped this ratio upside down.

77 Willow Run watermarked

Don’t hesitate to order a taco. You’re not going to find anything fancy, and with drinks this strong, that’s OK. We devoured our taco which was filled with flavorful ground beef, cheese, chopped white onion, crunchy iceberg lettuce, and pickled jalapeno. A server provided big squirt bottles of sour cream and a salsa that tasted much fresher than any Tostidos stuff. The Willow Run taco reminded me of the type my parents used to make, except better.

The menu listed other food options, though I don’t remember seeing anyone else eating. The establishment accepts cash only and an ATM is located near the bar. The vibe was friendly and no one made us feel unwelcome. You could definitely say we felt a Cheers thing going on.

And the quest continues. We’ll start with dives and neighborhood bars before visiting restaurant bars, giving higher priority to non-chains and places we haven’t visited before. If we’re missing a bar or you feel we should give special consideration to a restaurant bar or bar outside of Mason City, leave a comment below or send an email.

The Every Bar In Mason City Quest
Burke’s Bar & Grill
Candy Bar Nite Club
Homer’s Sports Bar & Grill
Kozy Korner
Mason City Brewing
Mulligan’s Bar & Grill
Patrick’s Bar
Sidewinder Bar
Spike’s Tap & Grill
Sportsmans Lounge
Willow Run Lounge (11/1/2014)
Wise Guys Sports Pub

Restaurant/Hotel Bars
Chop Eleven
LD’s Filling Station
Pastime Gardens
The Quarry Tapas Bar
Rib Crib
River City Bar & Grille at the Clarion Inn
Whiskey Creek
Wok ‘n Roll

*This quest is also inspired by a similar quest our friends embarked on in Fargo and the blog 76 bars.


  1. Beth Ann Chiles

    I am in awe of your quest—and I think as the cold weather begins you might be tempted to extend your list to other neighboring towns because baby–these Iowa winters can be brutal. Nice to know that the drink at Willow Run Lounge was hearty. I hate it when you pay for a drink and it is all fluff and no bang, if you know what I mean!!! Cheers!!!

    • Jeni Flaa

      I agree! There’s some places in Clear Lake we need to explore, not to mention our friends in Mitchell County, Franklin County:) I’m such a light weight that if I’m not feeling a cocktail, there’s something very wrong.

  2. Road Tips

    I have a tendency to gravitate more toward the neighborhood bars than the corporate places in my travels. They usually have pretty good food – burgers, especially – and you can generally find someone to talk with – if you want to – when you sit at the bar. While I do agree with Beth Ann that you probably need to check out some of the small town bars in North Iowa, you generally don’t get the same neighborhood feeling when you walk into those places. In smaller towns, people seem to be more suspect of a stranger walking through the door. But I’ll guarantee that after they’ve quizzed the hell out of you as to why you’d walk into their dive, they’ll be more friendly.

    • Jeni Flaa

      Thanks for the tips:) The Willow Run which is a smaller bar and the bar seats were full. Seems to serve a close-knit community and we were happy to find people were super friendly. We’ll keep this in mind and try to sit at the bar instead of a table.

  3. Lacey

    i too am in Awe of your quest. I read your list and the ones I highly recommend is Mulligans and Chop. They both have delicious food too. If you head to mulligans go on a Friday or Saturday night they always have great drink and food specials. I personally LOVE their garlic mashed potatoes. And as far as chop they are a bit more pricey but their appetizers were great. I agree with visiting other north Iowa towns before you head to a chain restaurant you will get much better interaction with other people. Try Signatures Sports Bar and Grill in Northwood they make the best Margaritas next to Carlos O Kelly’s of course. Good
    Luck on your new adventure and let me know if you need any other recpemdations.

    • Jeni Flaa

      Thanks Lacey! I really appreciate your suggestions. The list is kind of overwhelming but it’s nice to know people’s favorite foods and drinks.

  4. Feisty Eats

    What a fun mission! A great winter activity. I can’t wait to hear your reviews. Enjoy & cheers!

    • Jeni Flaa

      Thanks-I love a good quest:)

  5. Amy

    You will have such fun on your quest! Neighborhood bars, divey or not, are usually great places to meet some fun locals and have a good burger, if nothing else. We have been stopping in bars all over Iowa since the mid-90’s and currently have 642 bars in our “Bar Book.” I agree, sitting at the bar gives you the best experience! If you have time, check out our post on the bar book, We need to get up to Mason City and check out some of those places, too!

    • Jeni Flaa

      Thanks Amy-I will check out your Bar Book. I love reading your blog. If you ever come up here, we’d love to say hello:)

  6. Will

    It is too bad you missed out on Dillinger’s Bar and Grill, it closed a couple of years ago and was exactly what you were looking for. I would suggest Tailgaters on Federal and for a restaurant bar, The Prime N Wine, get one of their signature Martinis, such as the white chocolate, raspberry kiss, or a traditional. You can not beat the Appetizers!

    • Jeni Flaa

      Thanks for suggesting Tailgaters! We will check it out soon. We’ve been to Prime N Wine a couple times-I really appreciate suggestions for their martinis. There are so many options, it’s fun to have specific recommendations of drinks to order.

  7. Lindsay

    Just a heads up, if you plan on hitting The Sidewinder, do so before the end of November as they are closing the first part of December. Also another fun spot to hit, especially if the Hawkeyes are playing is Tailgaters. They have excellent pizza and good bloody marys!

    • Jeni Flaa

      Thanks for the heads up Lindsay. We will make sure we get there soon. Are they typically a seasonal bar?

      • Lindsay

        Actually they are open year round but 11/29 is the last party, FOREVER. It’s sad but they are shutting their doors for good.

        • Jeni Flaa

          I’m so sorry to hear that they are closing for good. We will try to stop by before December.

  8. Deeann Grant Kite

    Thank you for your kind words about the Willow Run Lounge. I have been a regular customer there for 20 years. I also am the PR person, doing their Facebook page and being the person who is behind the Karaoke shows. (Booking them, setting up the parties). We love our bar and our bartenders. I invite you to come back as we have remodeled a bit since your visit. New seating, lights and wall Deco. Again thanks and we hope you visit us again. 🙂

    • Jeni Flaa

      Deeann, We had such a great time! I’ve always thought you did a wonderful job with your Facebook page. So many restaurants around town don’t update their Facebook page that often and you are always consistent and fun. We’d love to return.

  9. Liza Bauer

    Sounds like great fun! The “Willow”, the “Kozy”, & Burke’s are favs of ours, along with “Sporty’s”. The drinks here in Mason City DO take some getting used to, but I’m sure you’ll find a “good time”, every time here! Party on!!!

    • Jeni Flaa

      Thanks Liza!

  10. Sam


    • Jeni Flaa

      Thanks Sam. We visited once and enjoyed some blackened fish and chicken sandwiches! Unfortunately, I forgot my ID on that visit so a return is necessary:)

  11. melody

    Love this idea… it may not be in Mason City, but you seriously need to go to Bernie’s Bar in Forest City, it’s small but has one of the most incredible and funny drink menus you’ll ever see around North Iowa!!!! Tell them “Mel” sent you, you won’t be disappointed!!! Good luck on your adventure☺

    • Jeni Flaa

      Thanks for the rec. I’ve only been to Forest City once but would like to further explore. We’ll check out Bernie’s:)

  12. melody

    Love this idea… it may not be in Mason City, but you seriously need to go to Bernie’s Bar in Forest City, it’s small but has one of the most incredible and funny drink menus you’ll ever see around North Iowa!!!! Tell them “Mel” sent you, you won’t be disappointed!!! Good luck on your adventure☺

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