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Opinion

River Falls bars cater to diverse crowds

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February 5, 2009

Ah, yes, downtown River Falls-a place full of options that never fails to please. I’m talking bars, of course.

I began conducting my River Falls bar research this summer, taking notes that progressively got sloppier as the night went on.

Analyzing the atmosphere, specials, music opportunities, overall cleanliness and bathrooms (keep in mind that’s the female bathrooms only), I’ve brought the first half of my review to you.

Emma’s

There are three things you will never miss at Emma’s: a diverse crowd, cheap drinks and that I’ve-been-here-for-75-years authentic Emma’s aroma (which actually is more diluted in the a.m.).

Emma’s is a place to plant your ass instead of shake it. If you’re looking for karaoke, you won’t find it here. 

There aren’t really any specials since everything is pretty cheap. And if you painfully discover it’s after 9 p.m. and still need some booze, beer or a keg for whatever the reason, Emma’s is one of two bars on Main that are licensed to sell until midnight.

In my summer notes I found written: “From the bar to the bathrooms, it’s like a whole new world, sung by Pocahontas herself.” And although it’s actually Jasmine that sings this Disney classic, I agree with the still legibly written quote. And the bathrooms don’t lock-so get in, get out, and get on with it.

I’d recommend visiting Emma’s on a Tuesday night, when Bartender Jack will be serving you. He makes the meanest dead Nazi shots in town and always greets you with a smile under a waxed and curled mustache.

Mainstreeter Bar & Grill

The cleanest bar in town, Mainstreeter’s isn’t the “let’s get drunk” bar. This bar is backed by regulars and the people who come for the food-and it is damn good food, too.

This January, Dave Wood, a River Falls Journal columnist, voted Mainstreeter’s burger night the number one reason to live in River Falls, saying “Because every Tuesday you can get a dynamite steak burger at the Mainstreeter for less than a River Falls preliminary parking fine.”

If you’re not into burgers, make sure to take advantage of Wednesday’s jumbo tacos for less than $1.50 each. Pair it with a $2.25 bottle of Mexican beer to make the combo complete.

Karaoke runs every other week, beginning this Saturday. Monday boasts happy hour all day long, and Tuesday brings domestic pitchers for $5 from 10 p.m. to midnight.

Lazy River

“Eat, Drink, Be Lazy” pretty much describes it all. It’s a place you can swing by, fill the tummy, tip a few back and talk with your friends. Never too loud, too busy or too crazy, here you never have to worry about getting run over.

The highlight of Lazy is the outdoor patio where, come warmer months, bean bag toss completes my life. And if you don’t want to meander outdoors (the patio is right next to the Kinni), there’s always good ol’ shuffleboard for some friendly competition.

Grab some great grub here between 4 and 10 p.m. Wednesday is wing night ($.50 a wing) and $6 Miller Lite pitchers are available. There are also Monday night open euchre tournaments beginning at 7:30. 

Lazy River is the perfect bar to bring a date-especially a first date. Start the night off with a meal, play a game of shuffleboard (where you are far apart from each other) and move onto more games that get progressively closer together (foosball, pool, darts). If everything goes well between you and your date, you may be inches away from each other playing Buck Hunter by the end of the night. Whatever you do at Lazy, you’ll always be able to hear each other talk. And to top it off, you’ll never have to embarrass yourself singing karaoke here, because they don’t have it.

Coach’s

Sometimes it feels like you won’t be served unless you’re a smokin’ 12, but that may have something to do with the population inside. This is the place to be for college students to who like to get a bit jazzed up and shake it to mainstream tunes that make the subs go boom-boom.

There’s always something going on here. Daily drink specials make is easy for the college kid to get tipsy, especially with delicious daily two-for-ones from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. Buy a $5 mug, use it every Monday to get $1 domestics or $1.50 other beers. Karaoke also starts at 10 p.m. on Mondays.

Wednesdays offer live acoustic music and one free keg. Get up by the bar on Fridays after 9 p.m. to take a free shot every hour, and sometimes the owner hops on a mic and pays for your City of River Falls parking ticket or gives away $60 in drink chips.

With booths, stand-up bars, tables and a back bar, there’s always somewhere to set your drink on. Just make sure you know which drink is yours so you don’t grab the wrong one. The back patio is open in the warmer months, but don’t expect much of a view; sit out there to enjoy who you’re with.

If there’s one place that should be private, it’s the bathroom. There’s some magic door inside the ladies’ bathroom that leads to a storage room that male employees sometimes have to access. It’s never been a big deal to me; the looks on girls’ faces make up for the awkwardness. And make sure to knock off your heels as you leave the restroom: the TP that isn’t in the dispensers can usually be found there.

Mel’s


Grab your Carhartt or come straight from work, Mel’s is the second home to the working man-and woman. The tiny townie tavern has been around so long the stalactites have even started growin’.

One of the best days I’ve had in my college career involved some Delta Theta Sigma kids and I shooting pool at Mel’s and stumbling out when it was still daylight. And I’m pretty sure I didn’t spend much cash since the drinks are so ridiculously cheap.

No karaoke, no live music. Instead, what Mel’s has over every other place in this town is the best beef jerky. While most Mel’s-goers know it’s a valid statement, you should definitely try it if you don’t believe me. And if you don’t like it, I’ll eat it.

Go to Mel’s to find out about rabbit hunting contests, to watch NASCAR, listen to some country tunes or have a pizza and pitchers of beer with your friends. Here they also sell off-sale alcohol until midnight.

Mel’s is one of the cleanest bars in town, even though it has carpeted floors. Mel’s may not be your thing, but if it is, you won’t leave. In my most recent visit to Mel’s I asked if they have any specials. As the tender politely replied that they don’t, a 20-some year-old kid chimed in saying “Drinks are so cheap they don’t need specials-and they still have the best damn service.”

Johnnie’s

As soon as I bellied up to the bar I started jamming out to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. There’s something about Johnnies where a person can forget all their sorrows and enjoy themselves, the people around them, and the atmosphere.

And it’s not just me who thinks this. Five years ago, Johnnie’s was voted one of the Top 10 dive bars in the nation by Stuff magazine. For those who think that’s a bad thing, think again. A dive bar is a local, neighborhood bar where people feel comfortable.

If you’re not sure what to drink at Johnnie’s, there are always $1 mystery shots available. The bathrooms are clean and solid-no flimsy doors or insecure locks. Actually, the whole bar is incredibly clean.

There’s a back room where patrons can catch live music at least once every other month. If you follow the Tommy Bentz or Jonathan Earl bands, you can usually find them here.

All in all, the set up of Johnnie’s is better than many. Darts, pool tables, and entertainment-purpose-only video gambling machines are tucked in places where people won’t get in your way and you won’t get in others’ ways (it’s never good to walk through a dart game).

Change it up, check out a different bar. You may see some things that I haven’t, and you’ll probably appreciate some things that you never knew.

Next week I’ll add my reviews of Ground Zero, Bo’s ‘n Mine, Shooter’s Pub, The Library, The Corner Saloon and PR’s Place.

Abby Maliszewski is a student at UW-River Falls.