Whitey’s Wonderbar, the legendary East Grand Forks dining and drinking establishment that survived Prohibition, a great flood and numerous ownership changes, will soon close to make room for a North Dakota rival.
Yet the famed horseshoe bar will remain.
Fargo-based Starmark Hospitality announced Monday that one of its brands, Sickies Garage Burgers and Brews, will take over the locale on Demers Avenue across the Red River from Grand Forks.
The last day of business for Whitey’s will be Friday, owner Tim Bjerk told the Grand Forks Herald. While closed, the property will undergo renovations for three months, Sickies’ owner said.
The announcement said the Sickies on Columbia Road in Grand Forks will be moving to the Whitey’s site. However, Starmark did not rule out keeping the Grand Forks restaurant operating.
“Several things appeal to us about the [Whitey’s] location,” Ross Speral, director of technology and marketing for Starmark, said Tuesday, including that “it’s a building with great architectural character that has long been a historical beacon in the community. There are exceptional design elements of this location that will blend with our retro-garage feel.”
Speral then went on to pledge that “during our renovations we will pay careful attention to how we merge our concept with these details as we understand for how long the restaurant has been a landmark in the community.”
Whitey’s stainless steel horseshoe “Wonderbar,” built in the early 1930s, “will stay where it is currently located,” Speral said. “It’s rare and iconic. We’re looking forward to keeping it going.”
Whitey’s art deco motif won attention in the late 1930s from the Saturday Evening Post and Time magazine.
Chicago gangsters and Hollywood legend Clark Gable are said to be among the early visitors to Whitey’s, which was started by Edwin “Whitey” Larson in 1925 during Prohibition on N. 2nd Street and featured bootlegged alcohol and slot machines.
The restaurant and bar overcame a major fire in the 1940s and a historic flood in 1997, which pushed the business from one spot on Demers to another on the same street a bit farther from the river and behind a retaining wall.