The Every Bar In Mason City (And Slightly Beyond This Time) Quest: Rookie’s & WiseGuys

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.

Every Bar in Mason City Graphic

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.

Last weekend we proceeded by visiting one of our favorite places, Rookie’s, before heading to WiseGuys Sports Pub.

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.

IMG_3321Rookie’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.

Popcorn Machine Watermarked

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.

Whiskey watermarked

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
Kozy Korner
Mason City Brewing
Mulligan’s Bar & Grill
Patrick’s Bar
Sidewinder Bar
Spike’s Tap & Grill
Sportsmans Lounge
Willow Run Lounge (11/01/2014)
Wise Guys Sports Pub (11/08/2014)

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

Reader Suggested Bars Throughout North Iowa
Elly’s Lakefront Tap, Clear Lake
Lake Time Brewery, Clear Lake
Signatures Sports Bar & Grill, Northwood
Tanks Bar & Grill, Rudd


  1. Beth Ann Chiles

    So how was the whiskey? I am not a hard liquor drinker unless it is in something else. 🙂 Not sure if I could take that every bar I went to either!!! You are well on your way. I love this series–maybe a bit too much.

    • Jeni Flaa

      The whiskey was bitey! I’m not an experienced whiskey drinker, though.

  2. Janice

    You want Cheers. Well, there isn’t a big bar, but Lake Time Brewery in Clear Lake shouldn’t be missed. Bob and crew are fantastic and the beer is wonderful too. It’s our Cheers. They might even call me Norm when I walk in sometimes. So, I may be biased. 😉

    • Jeni Flaa

      Thanks for the suggestion Janice! We’ll add that to our list. I love hearing about other people’s favorite places. This made me smile.

  3. Amanda Paa

    can’t wait to follow along with this quest. i am also a firm believer that a side salad and fries are a good test of dive bar. and the popcorn machine – always key! that’s why i love billy’s on grand here in st paul.

    • Jeni Flaa

      Thanks for following Amanda! The side salad test rarely lets us down anywhere:) How long would it take to do a Every Bar In Minneapolis Quest?

  4. Derek Arnold

    As a former resident, you are doing yourself a disservice if you don’t move Pastime up the list for dinner and some beers sometime soon.

    • Jeni Flaa

      I had lunch at Pastime a while ago and it was memorably great! I will move it up the list. It would be nice to enjoy dinner and a drink there. Plus, I’m craving the chips and cheese.

  5. Dawn Havey

    You HAVE to try Elly’s Lakefront in Clear Lake! You will be taking a walk back in time. It is located south of The Clearlake Chamber of Commerce. It is in a basement and has a history all of its own. Ellie no longer owns it but all of the regulars and new regulars are there.

    My husband hates bars but he loves this bar. Hopefully I have you curious. Check it out.

    Dawn Havey
    PS during the winter dance party there are people from around the world that are here and that is the only bar that they will go to.

    • Jeni Flaa

      Thanks for stopping by and telling us about why you love Elly’s! You definitely have me curious.

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