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.
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.
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
Mason City Brewing
Mulligan’s Bar & Grill
Spike’s Tap & Grill
Willow Run Lounge (11/1/2014)
Wise Guys Sports Pub
*This quest is also inspired by a similar quest our friends embarked on in Fargo and the blog 76 bars.