The city of Fargo owes much to the Coen Brothers. Their same-named Academy Award winning dark comedy — and more recently, the spinoff FX series — put North Dakota’s largest city on the tourist radar, with many visitors eagerly posing beside the original woodchipper, an infamous Fargo movie prop, in the Fargo-Moorhead Visitors Center. The movie’s bumbling characters, screwball conversations liberally peppered with “you betcha’s,” and other over-the-top Midwestern dialectic expressions — not to mention the iconic woodchipper scene — have inextricably linked Fargo’s reputation to a long-running joke. (The Fargo Brewing Co. has taken advantage of this gag, crafting Wood Chipper, an aromatic pale ale served in many of the city’s bars.) Recently, the city has undergone a renaissance, with a revitalization of downtown bubbling with inventiveness. Here are some of the best examples of the savvy Fargo of today, a nexus of creativity, sustainability, and an energetic maker movement.
An all-embracing sense of community pervades the Twenty Below Coffee Co. where local artists painted the abstracts hung on the walls, and crafted the cafe’s ceramic demitasse cups and saucers. Chemex, syphon, and seven other brew methods are available, but the owners also dispense “Pay what you can” coffee for a more economical caffeine jolt. The sunny space beckons patrons to stay awhile, serving up scrumptious in-house baked goods like peach thyme waffles with goat cheese and almond chia seed bread. Fridays are special: everyone, including customers, can contribute to a community potluck meal at noon.
Great Rides debuted in 2015 offering sturdy bikes that can be picked up and dropped off at any of 11 docking stations all over the city. The Red River Path, one of several bicycle lanes, leads to an oasis: sylvan Lindenwood Park with shaded paths allowing access to picnic pavilions and the river, where locals cast fishing lines hoping to snag catfish or walleye.
Art bedecks many of the indoor and outdoor spaces at the boutique Hotel Donaldson, known as HoDo. Each of the 17 rooms features paintings, drawings and sculptures from various regional or local artists. Some of the guest rooms resemble a gallery space, such as #13 that showcases seven raw mixed media pieces by local artist Mike Marth, who’s noted for his abundant use of found objects. The hotel’s Sky Prairie Bar, Fargo’s first green rooftop, provides stellar views of downtown from its three-story perch with its meticulous native prairie landscaping. A ribbon of a pebbled path, in the shape of the Red River, wanders among tables snuggled amid tall blooming flowers and ornamental grasses. Here, the after-work crowd as well as visitors gather for a glass of Wood Chipper or another craft beer, or any of the more than two dozen wines by the glass. The hotel’s cuisine is farm to table, with some of the herbs sourced from the roof’s kitchen.
A turn-of-the-20th century warehouse transformed into North Dakota’s largest art museum, the Plains Art Museum is impressive, both architecturally and culturally. At the core of the interior is a light-filled, three-story atrium that retains brick walls, heavy timber beams and some other original features. Among its 4,000-some pieces — including national and regional contemporary art — are works by prominent Native American artists, such as Star Wallowing Bull. His dramatically-hued drawings meld allusions of pop culture with traditional Native American symbols. Celebrating the plains region is a colorful mural by North Dakotan pop artist James Rosenquist, a work reflecting surrealist sensibilities that is prominently displayed on the ground floor. A second-floor skybridge leads to the Katherine Kilbourne Center for Creativity, an exhibition and workshop space that offers public art classes for kids and adults. (Pottery and figure study are two single-session adult classes that are regularly offered.)
Unglued is a vibrant shop chock-a-block full of contemporary, handmade works from more than 300 regional makers. Expect the unexpected here, such as woodsy beard oils for men and funky black cat greeting cards. Unglued’s workshops couldn’t be more unique: Kids can take sushi making, while adults learn to sew snarky embroidery onto dish towels.
Liz and Cari, the mother-daughter team behind c.lizzy’s, a chill giftshop-cum-art gallery, curate wildly creative hand thrown pottery, metal earrings and other striking objects d’art. Liz, the mom, is an artist who works in a medley of different styles and media, some quite untraditional. She’s mounted her copper, nature-based, hand-cut pieces atop fragments of cottonwood branches that she’s gathered from the family farm.
Ashlee Dedin, owner of AENDEE, displays her upcycled accessories: neckties, bowties, earrings, headbands and scarves all fashioned from men’s button-down shirts she finds at thrift shops. She transforms each shirt into as many items as possible, even stylish bowties for pets.
An old Goodyear Tire property along Broadway buzzes with activity on Saturday mornings as crowds throng the outdoor Red River Market. More than a dozen vendors focus primarily on locally-sourced products. Selling alpaca sweaters, Ten Seven Acres has a couple of these gentle animals on hand. Russian rye, honey oat bran, and other baked goods sold by Breadsmith came straight from their hearth. Dirt Head Microgreens specializes in nutrient-rich sunflower and pea shoots and other edible micro leaves that make a perfect salad or sandwich accompaniment. At Rogue Candies, consumers clamor for maple bacon flavored and other inventive caramels.
In an expansive space repurposed from a former car dealership and courthouse, Proof Artisan Distillers offers both tastings and tours of their distillery where all the spirits are made in a former judge’s chambers. Potatoes, barley and corn, base ingredients for the vodka, gin and whiskeys, are locally sourced. Recently, they released a cinnamon-flavored whiskey and several other spirits. Among the many vodka- and gin-based cocktails served at the bar — where bison burgers and pork tacos are on the menu — those blended with fresh grapefruit juice are especially refreshing.Janine Barone can be reached at email@example.com.