When we visited North Dakota in 2017, we didn’t know about Hanson’s Bar.
Our research to that point had included a lot of the oldest bar lists and some other cursory research. The only bar that came up during that time was Peacock Alley in Bismarck. So that’s the one we visited.
However, with additional research done since then, we’ve determined that Hanson’s Bar is the oldest bar in North Dakota that has been in continuous operation and in the same location since its founding… unless new information comes to light.
Located in Robinson, a town with a population of 37 people in 19 households, Hanson’s has made its claim to fame. Back in 2016, Hanson’s registered a trademark in the phrase “Geographical Center of North America”, garnering headlines as far wide as the Wall Street Journal, and “stealing” the moniker from the city of Rugby — which let its trademark lapse.
Despite the dubious claim, Hanson’s can be fairly said to be close to the geographical center of North America. And you can grab a beer here, too, and say that you drank not just in the oldest bar in North Dakota, but at the center of North America.
Perhaps the most “historical” bar in North Dakota is the Peacock Alley American Bar & Grill, which was officially established in Bismarck in 1933 at the end of Prohibition.
Located in the lobby of the old Patterson Hotel (now a Senior Living facility), drinks have reportedly been slung since around 1911, when the Patterson Hotel was first established.
Yes, that date is prior to the federal Prohibition that took place in 1920. However, North Dakota chose to be a dry state when it was admitted to the Union back in 1889. So anyone who wanted to serve liquor had to do it on the low as a speakeasy. And the Patterson Hotel was rumored to be one of the most popular ones in Bismarck.
However, after we visited the Peacock Alley in 2017, further research has shown us that it cannot lay claim to being the oldest bar in the state. Or at least not the oldest continuously operating bar. Between sometime in the late 1950s and early 1980s, the Peacock Alley was out of business. Only after a decade of purchases and restorations did it finally return to its old grandeur.
Nevertheless, Peacock Alley was a fun stop and a welcome oasis during our drive through the Great Plains.
Set in the former, grand, and luxurious Patterson Hotel, Peacock Alley successfully takes patrons back in time to the roaring 20s. Dark paneled wood, stained glass, crystalline lighting, and a demur atmosphere set the mood. Classic cocktails are mixed with precision and crafted with ease. The service, in contrast to the setting, is understated but friendly.
Historical pictures of downtown Bismarck cover the walls and take one back in time. Peacock Alley understands its roll in preserving the local historical record. But it does not allow that past to overshadow its present.
The Hub Pub
The Hub Pub in Grand Forks has operated since 1940 and since 1946 in its current location. It is a part of the fabric of the community and has survived calamities such as the Great Flood of April 1997, when the Red River overflowed its banks and filled the Hub with four feet of water. Not to mention filling the basement and destroying tens of thousands of dollars of inventory.
Nevertheless, the Hub reopened within a year and has become a center of entertainment in Grand Forks. Live music now pumps up a young crowd eager to find the next big act.