Part Two: …we stayed for the town
Around here, the words “Up North” imply so much more than a general direction. They sustain the soul with the promise of spring throughout our long, dark winters. They provide a foolproof excuse for ducking out of the office early on any given summer Friday. And in my family’s case, they represent a never-ending construction project that will someday result in the promise of a fully functioning cottage.
“Up North” is actually more of an ideal than an actual place. Its physical representation is a cabin/cottage/lake house located anywhere north of your home and south of the Canadian border. Its emotional representation is as varied as its owner. My family has been driving to the same peninsula in Fox Lake, WI for over 50 years. The cottage, as we call it, has changed dramatically over time. The feeling we get from being there has not. I believe there is no worthier way to spend a summer evening than swinging my legs off the end of a pier and watching the sun set behind the farm fields across the lake.
Many Minnesotans head “Up North” to the city of Bemidji for its beautiful lakes, surrounding forests and historic downtown. You may know it simply as the home of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox, whose massive statues welcome visitors into town. Across the street stands Paul’s nemesis Nanabozho, who allegedly beat him to death with a fish. To get the full scoop on his life and times, stop by Bemidji Woolen Mills (301 Irvine Ave NW) and pick up a beautifully illustrated pamphlet for less than $2.
Luke and I visited Bemidji in the “off season” so the crowds were (way) down and our time exploring such attractions was limited by the amount of exposed skin we were willing to subject to the elements. Here are a few of the highlights from our weekend:
Bemidji Brewing Co. (401 Beltrami Ave NW)
Not surprisingly, we found this small taproom almost immediately upon pulling into town on Friday night. It didn’t take long to mix with the locals either. All we had to do was order a couple of beer flights and they came to us.
“You guys know how to party!” said a guy sitting at the bar with his friends.
“Oh, what is that?” asked the woman sitting next to me, eyeing my Sample Paddle of 3oz pours. I explained how a beer flights takes you through a wonderful journey of flavor and variety. Best of all, it’s low commitment. If you don’t like one beer, simply move on to the next. Of course, this hinges on the fact that you’re coordinated enough to carry a narrow tray of little glasses all the way to your table without spilling everything.
Unfortunately, we had dinner reservations in 20 minutes, so we had to chug. Each beer was better than the next and we made plans to come back the following evening when we could take our time. Before dashing up the street to Tutto Bene (300 Beltrami Ave NW), we chatted with the bartenders, who also happened to be a few of the owners. During our brief conversation, we mentioned we were in the area to visit “The Lost Forty.” Immediately, the head of an older gentleman shot out from behind Luke. Something about our conversation had caught his attention. We had just enough time to purchase a Bemidji Brewing long sleeve t-shirt before arriving 15 minutes late for our reservation.
Dave’s Pizza (422 15th St NW)
We were sitting in a booth at Dave’s Pizza, splitting a pitcher of Sam Adams, when an older gentleman approached our table and inquired about our hike. He introduced himself and said he overheard our conversation at Bemidji Brewing the night before. Turns out, he works for the DNR and is very familiar with the area. We chatted about our hike, jobs and backgrounds. When our pizza arrived, he excused himself with an almost apologetic, “okay, I’ll leave you alone now.” Yet, he unapologetically returned several times to continue the conversation.
Oh yeah, the pizza was really good too.
Minnesota Nice Cafe (315 Irvine Ave NW)
Before heading out of town, we stopped for breakfast at the Minnesota Nice Café. They took great care of us – we were seated immediately, our server was friendly and attentive, the eggs and pancakes were perfect, and best of all – I was given an entire carafe of coffee to myself. I drank the entire thing, just to show my deep appreciation for that kind of thoughtfulness.
I spent the four-hour drive back to Minneapolis attempting to articulate people’s fondness for going “Up North.” After circling around a few theories involving a slower pace of life, breaking away from our creature comforts of home, or reconnecting with nature, my conclusion is this: If you’re lucky enough to have a “North” to go “Up” to, you are lucky enough.