Still a Hub of downtown GFThe Hub Bar is celebrating its 70th anniversary, making it the oldest bar in Grand Forks
Owner Rae Ann Moe remembers the exact date she bought the bar from Gary and Steve Larson — March 6, 1995 — “because I had two good years and then the flood came.”
Liz Lunde was a regular visitor to The Hub Bar, the kind of place where everybody knew her name, before spending some time in the Twin Cities that showed her how lucky she had been.
“It’s like my ‘Cheers.’ In Minneapolis, I don’t have that,” she said.
Lunde said she likes knowing she’ll find a relaxed atmosphere and not have to worry about the stresses of the more fast-paced nightlife destinations.
“I guess I know what to expect,” she said. “I feel like if I want to play some really lewd song on the jukebox and my friends dance around, it’s fine.”
Lunde’s very own “Cheers” is the oldest bar in Grand Forks, celebrating its 70th anniversary. The Hub is holding a customer appreciation event Saturday that will feature food, drink specials and prizes.
Things are going well right now, owner Rae Ann Moe said, but it hasn’t always been like this.
She remembers the exact date she bought the bar from Gary and Steve Larson — March 6, 1995 — “because I had two good years, and then the flood came.”
Becoming her bar
The Hub opened in 1940 near Fifth Street and DeMers Avenue, moving to its present location on North Third Street in 1946. Moe grew up in the city and attended school nearby but said she didn’t know much about the bar.
“I was a ’69 graduate of Grand Forks Central, and I always knew that there was a bar here,” she said. “But I didn’t realize that someday I’d own it.”
In 1974, a college friend got her to take a job at The Hub. She eventually decided she wanted to own a bar because she “didn’t want to work for somebody the rest of my life.”
Moe got her chance in 1995 when the Larson brothers wanted to sell. “Then, it was just kind of the next step was buying it and the boys wanted to get out of it,” she said.
The record April 1997 flood brought about 4 feet of water into the main level of The Hub and filled two basements that were stocked with $40,000 of inventory.
Moe said she didn’t know what the bar’s future would be and had to wait to find out where the dike would go. It was eventually built east of Third Street, meaning The Hub would be protected.
After 11 months, she reopened for business March 20, 1998. But her spot in downtown Grand Forks, now considered by many a nightlife destination in the city, didn’t hold much appeal at the time.
“When I opened up, it was me and the Herald,” she said. “That’s all that was open.”
Moe said she had to go through “some lean years” after that as the city recovered, working several shifts a day to cut down on payroll costs. It took the support of loyal customers who continued to visit The Hub to make it, and things have improved quite a bit since then.
“I wasn’t going to roll over in the corner,” she said. “I just figured someday it would come back to where it was, and it has.”
Despite the challenges of rebuilding her business, Moe said she “just couldn’t quit,” and the area has since re-emerged as a main spot of nightlife. That resurgence has brought more and more younger residents downtown for drinks and entertainment.
She said her bar is “all 21-35” during the later parts of night, but she doesn’t base her plans on just one age group. “Your customer base can’t just be one base; otherwise, next year, they could go somewhere else,” she said.
She started booking live music after the flood because some friends had kids who played in a band. Since then, The Hub has become “kind of a startup bar” for new local bands, which has helped draw even more customers, and she added Tuesday open mic nights in 2008.
Moe has also worked to get a reputation for having good food, especially her Hub burgers, but she said the real secret is not cutting costs. She buys leaner hamburger than most places, she said, and tries to give the customer a “good product.”
She said she would enjoy getting into the catering business and bringing in bigger bands, but her bar isn’t big enough for that. Still, she was OK with where she was at with The Hub.
“I like the people, I’ve always had good help, I never have fights in here and I try and run a good place,” Moe said. “I’m a people person, and I guess it just comes together.”
Jeremiah Johnson said he’s visited The Hub regularly for about a year and now makes it two or three times a week to play in a dart league, watch live music or just relax in the “chill” atmosphere.
He likes getting a Hub Beer, the bar’s trademark large mug of draft beer, but said it’s the diversity of the business that keeps him coming back. “It seems like it’s a lot more accepting of all types of people,” he said. “I come here more than any other place.”
Before the 1997 flood, Dave Kaufman worked at Whitey’s Cafe — an East Grand Forks bar that is 15 years older than The Hub, opening in 1925. He said he was a regular customer even while he was a Whitey’s employee, usually ordering a $1 shot of schnapps and some other drinks when he visited.
He became a part-time bartender at The Hub about 10 years ago, and said he likes the job because he knows the regulars and it helps him keep in touch with younger people. “We have such a mix of customers in here,” he said.
Rep. Earl Pomeroy stopped by one Friday, the night before the UND Potato Bowl parade, and Kaufman gave him a T-shirt and hat with Hub logos.
He said he was standing along DeMers Avenue the next morning with his son when Pomeroy spotted him in the crowd and walked out of the parade to show off his Hub loyalty.
“He said, ‘Dave, how are you doing? I’m wearing the T-shirt,’” Kaufman said, explaining how Pomeroy undid a few shirt buttons and showed what he was wearing underneath his dressy attire.
Pomeroy sent The Hub a signed photo of himself standing in front of the U.S. Capitol wearing a white dress shirt, a tie and his Hub cap. “I often wonder if he’s wearing the T-shirt under,” Kaufman said.
Johnson reports on local business. Reach him at (701) 780-1105; (800) 477-6572, ext. 105; or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.