Downtown Bemidji After Dark


If you're bored and looking for something to do at night, don't go downtown. There is nothing and no one, and odds are you'll end up walking into a bar and having a beer alone. That's because the handful of bars downtown are the only businesses doing any business after six pm.

Of course, each day brings a new set of business hours, but the surprising thing is that those hours are shorter on Saturdays -- when everyone is off of work and school, and actually has free time to window shop and burn up their expendable income. Chocolates Plus is one of the few shops doing it right; they're open until eight or nine. In fact, this is a great opportunity for a digression. This past fall during Bemidji's annual block party downtown, Chocolates Plus was the only business open on their block besides Brigid's Cross and Keg n' Cork (both of them bars). The moment I noticed that, I recognized who the smartest small business owners in this town are.

When strolling around the ghost town that is downtown Bemidji on a Monday night, you begin to develop a better understanding of which type of people go to each of the bars. You do this by looking at the quantity and type of smoker standing out front. The sidewalk in front of Hard Times Saloon was blocked by a cluster of five or six smokers. A visit to Hard Times on a Saturday night will reinforce the fact that the bar caters to a more alternative crowd of folks who are familiar with indie bands from Fargo. Inside Hard Times, there may be more than one white guy with dread locks.

On the other end of the spectrum, a Monday night tour of the sidewalk in front of Toasty Beavers will be unobstructed. This is likely because there is no one inside, as the bar's clientele spent all of their money Friday and Saturday night, sucking down sugary shots and cheap beer. The other reason is that their patrons doesn't typically smoke. These are football players and girls who drink a sugar-free red bull and call it dinner. Meanwhile, the bearded fellows over at Hard Times just finished their third Jameson on the rocks and are ready for a cigarette.

Downtown Bemidji has the type of alleys depicted in gangster movies, except they are utterly void of the required gangsters. People bringing out their garbage is the only activity. The loud sound of crashing glass might sound like a violent act, until you see a bartender open the back door and slip back inside, his task of throwing out the bag of empty bottle complete.

Over at Corner Laundry, two machines may be spinning while a woman with a long black pony tail does a crossword puzzle. She's the only beating heart on the whole block, unless you count the employee who probably fell asleep in the back room.

Looking at a city's downtown is the best way to gauge what's going on in a city as a whole. Downtown is the heart of a city -- its cultural and business center. But a city can't be judged in only one time slot. It must be a blend of what's happening downtown during the day and during the night. Bemidji actually has a pretty cool little downtown, but a glimpse of it at night may induce a yawn.
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