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Ice Hole bar making a splash

Dave Wallis / The Forum The Ice Hole bar on North Lake Lida is nestled among the fish houses on the frozen Minnesota lake. The bar serves patrons from noon to 2 a.m. Thursday through Sunday.

If you spot an interesting person at the latest drinking establishment in Otter Tail County, you might want to be careful how you break the ice.

It's the only thing holding up the Ice Hole bar, a structural hybrid that's part fish house and part watering hole located near the public access on the north side of North Lida Lake.

But not to worry, say business partners Chris Haugen and Josie Norgren, who opened the Ice Hole in mid-January and have been doing big business catering to the ice-fishing crowd.

They check the ice frequently. Although it's a mild winter, Norgren estimates the ice depth at 2 feet or more, thick enough to support the building as well as the vehicles customers use to cover the quarter-mile of ice it takes to reach the bar.

The Ice Hole is open from noon to 2 a.m. Thursdays through Sundays, though it may close earlier if an evening is slow.

Norgren said the last weekend in February will probably be the bar's finale for the season, though they plan to open again next winter, given that their initial experience was, as Norgren put it, a big-time success.

She added they may expand to other lakes, such as Otter Tail Lake, but nothing's been decided.

The Ice Hole offers a full bar as well as two ice-fishing holes, which are often put to use.

"It's pretty exciting. We've caught some nice walleyes out of there and some nice northerns," Norgren said.

Haugen, who has a business renting fish houses in the area, came up with the idea of a bar last year while on an ice-fishing outing with buddies.

The notion crystallized after he started doing business with Norgren, who operates two Erhard businesses - Hillbillies Vittles and Brew, which is a bar and restaurant, and Manny's-Rocky's Bait shop.

The bait shop provided Haugen's clients with fish fodder, and Haugen let Norgren in on his idea about setting up a bar on the frozen expanse of Lake Lida.

They agreed to a joint venture, with Haugen constructing the building and Norgren providing the licensing needed to open the bar.

"I met Josie, we hit it off, and the bar's open now," Haugen said.

A contractor by trade, Haugen said the mild winter has been a double-edged sword.

Nice temperatures make outdoor projects easier to accomplish, but they also gave Haugen pause when he was preparing to set up the Ice Hole.

When the ice depth reached about 16 inches by mid-January, Haugen knew it would be OK.

"I'm out there every weekend checking the ice and fishing myself," he said.

The Ice Hole caters not only to thirsty patrons but to hungry ones as well.

"We've done meatballs and rice. We've done chili and cornbread, sloppy joes and chips," Norgren said.

Haugen estimated 70 percent of their customers are locals, with the rest coming from far and wide.

Getting national media attention hasn't hurt, he added.

"We've had people from California, people from Ohio, people from Las Vegas," he said.