Winter is coming. Winter is here.
The first snow fall has hit North Iowa and we’re two bars into our Every Bar In Mason City Quest. That’s right. Every bar in Mason City. We’re new[ish] to the community and thought this quest would be an interesting way to explore our new city of residence.
Now that I’m thirty, I’m too old and grumpy to fight over free seafood on the crowded rooftop at Stella’s or vie for a bartender’s attention at a fancy place where people are dressed to the nine’s. I want the Cheers experience. Not that I want to visit a bar frequently enough for everyone to know my name, but I seek places with less frills and and stronger drinks. Bars where people don’t put on airs and make friendly banter with strangers. I want to figure out what puts the cheer into a Cheers bar and so I’m embarking on this quest.
Rookie’s is located in Clear Lake, but it’s a place we keep returning to so I’ll take this moment to tell you why. First, we like how it feels to sit around the long horseshoe bar. I’ve heard Rookie’s can become wilder on weekend evenings since it’s a popular destination for bachelor and bachelorette parties, but when we’ve visited for dinner, we’ve found an easy-going atmosphere and friendly company. Once, a very drunk and very friendly man who looked like Mark Zuckerberg made our date night more interesting when he insisted on buying us fireball shots.
Whether it’s summer or off-season, we always get a neighborhood vibe that fosters regulars and friendly banter with whoever’s sitting closest. The bartenders make sure everyone’s well taken care of and we can bet our drinks will be cheap and poured strong.
Rookie’s is connected to the restaurant Sevens making it possible for customers to order more than the typical bar food. One of my “Do they care?” litmus tests for any restaurant is the quality of their side salad. The first time we visited, we were delighted to find crisp salads and house-made lemon vinaigrette. We order them each visit.
We also order their flat, crinkle-cut sweet potato fries sprinkled with an addicting seasoning salt and served with a creamy dip that tastes of bacon. Are these a frozen product? Are they homemade? All I know is that they arrive hot and crispy from the fryer without dripping with grease. As I’ve stated before, a good fry job covers a multitude of sins.
When we don’t feel like eating burgers or fried food, we order the seared lemon pepper cod. Any food’s bar food if it’s enjoyed at the bar, right?
Plus, there’s a self-serve popcorn machine.
After dinner, we headed to WiseGuys Sports Pub to toast happy birthday to a friend. This is where things got interesting.
WiseGuys is a small bar located next to Pete’s Kitchen. The bar itself only sells bags of salty snacks but customers can order food from next door. From the bartenders to the other patrons, we found the vibe welcoming.
Jake ordered his favorite beer while I asked the bartender if he could recommend the quintessential WiseGuys drink. He looked at me quizzically. I rephrased and asked for their signature cocktail or most frequently ordered beverage. This is what he poured me after checking that I actually wanted a whiskey neat.
The gentleman next to us overheard our conversation and laughed, mentioning he was afraid I’d end up with a whiskey neat. It only cost $4 and I wasn’t so sure it was a sipping whiskey, but I tried to anyway.
“What if you end up with a lot of whiskey neats?” asked Jake.
I shrugged and replied that I’d have to order them. After all, bartender’s choice is one of the rules of the quest.
We watched people play darts and cheered on my friend as he kicked-off the evening’s karaoke festivities before heading home. We called it an early night since I had to work early the next morning. Our visit to WiseGuys was brief, but I’m sure we’ll be back. It’s probably our closest neighborhood bar and several of our friends recommended Pete’s Kitchen for gyros and submarine sandwiches. God knows, we’re suckers for a good gyro.
The quest will continue at Sidewinder or the Clarion’s River City Bar & Grill because readers informed us they close on December 1st. Am I missing your favorite bar? We always appreciate recommendations for food and libations in Mason City and throughout greater North Iowa. Leave a comment below or send me 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 (11/01/2014)
Wise Guys Sports Pub (11/08/2014)