What was once the Viking Bar is taking shape to have an entirely different look and feel.

Terry Wood, who now owns the bar with his partner, Tony Cole, stood outside the Third Street business Monday adding a fresh coat of paint to the outside wall. The bar, now known as On The Rocks, features accents inspired by Rainy Lake to bring the ambiance of lake to downtown.

“There isn’t a place downtown International Falls – the entrance to Rainy Lake – with a lake feel,” Cole said. “We want to be part of the lake even though we don’t sit on the water.”

And with the lake feel, comes the bar’s new mascot. The Rainy Lake mermaid not only serves as the signature image for the bar, but also inspired the name.

The Rainy Lake mermaid, which was constructed by Gordon A. Schlichting, a Minneapolis architect in the 1930s, sits on a rock located in Silver Island Narrows, near Copenhagen Island. The phrase “on the rocks” not only describes the mermaid’s perch, but ties into alcoholic drinks served over ice.

“It just fit,” Cole said of the name. “It has dual meaning.”

A new vision

The idea to purchase a business surfaced last year when the men started searching for opportunities to invest in the community.

Cole, who owns Salon 437, also has history behind the bar. He started bartending at The Flame, spent time at the Border Bar and also at The Roadhouse.

“I was out at The Roadhouse for quite some time,” he said. “I like being behind the bar. It’s social and fun.”

When they started discussing purchasing the Viking Bar, the idea quickly came to life.

“The potential of this little tavern was just dynamic with being able to see the vision,” Cole said. “We saw a potential for the patio on the open lot.”

Wood agreed.

“We visited a few other places on the Iron Range with a similar feel and a patio really set places apart in the summertime,” he said. “Now, we’ll have a 36 X 25 foot patio to offer this summer.”

Construction of the patio on the building’s east side is expected to begin this week and will allow for outdoor seating. In addition, Jennifer Gustafson’s Cater For You food truck will be located on the property.

“Right now, we will have the one food truck, but there’s room for more in the future,” Wood said.

Unexpected challenges

When Wood and Cole first purchased the bar, they set a target date of June 1 to officially open their doors. It allowed them time to get the things behind the scenes ready and make sure everything was in place.

Then, the pandemic hit.

While Wood said the unknowns of how COVID-19 would impact the business made the men nervous, it also allowed for opportunities. With Cole not being able to work in his salon, both men were able to be on site at the bar cleaning, painting and changing its overall look.

“When we first started thinking of how things would go before COVID, we figured we’d open June 1 and start slowly making changes late at night,” Wood said. “Instead, it’s mid-May and we’re almost done.”

As of Monday, guidelines from Gov. Tim Walz on how bars and restaurants will be able to reopen hadn’t been released yet, and the men were unsure of what June 1 will look like, if they’re able to open.

“Our set up already includes tables spaced 6 feet apart,” Cole said. “So we’re trying to distance things as much we can before the guidelines come out.”

Whenever they’re able to, the men said they are looking forward to sharing the business with members of the community as well as those passing through.

“We have a lot of ideas,” Cole said, adding they are working on a signature drink and will also have apparel for sale featuring the mermaid. “We’re looking forward to opening On the Rocks.”

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