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Reads Landing makes a heady return to history

Reads Landing makes a heady return to history
Bob Nihart sits in the main area of the Reads Landing Brewing Company, which has a planned soft opening this weekend. He is bringing back a part of Reads Landings history with his bar/restaurant.

READS LANDING — What was once a wild, untamed Mississippi River town with many bars that separated loggers from their money will again have a place to buy a beer, though the clientele is now expected to be more sedate tourists and boaters.

The Reads Landing Brewing Company plans to have a soft opening Saturday and a grand opening Aug. 18 in a 1868 brick building within a few hundred feet of the river.

It will begin by offering beer from smaller local breweries as well as the big-names like Budweiser, said owner Bob Nihart. Next year, he hopes to begin brewing his own beer for sale.

For the town just north of Wabasha, it's a return to its history.

"This used to be a mecca for loggers," said Patty Rice, who will help run the business.


They would come down the Mississippi or Chippewa rivers (the Chippewa joins the Mississippi just upriver of Reads Landing) on rafts of logs, or would come to the town after a winter cutting timber. Also, it was a major port for steamboats, he said.

In its prime, the town had 30 hotels and 20 bars. Those who came to the hotels and bars gave the town its rowdiness. "It was a rough town," Nihart said. "It was one of the few towns back then where people actually locked their doors."

When logging and steamboating died, so did the bars and hotels. Nihart's building was once a dry goods store and has been in his family for about 80 years. It started as a bar his grandfather ran and you can still see cigarette burns on the wood floor; later it was an Anchor Inn restaurant, until that ended in the 1960s.

The building was little used for many years until Nihart tired of working for big contractors or with his own business in the Twin Cities. He never lived in Reads Landing but spent many weeks of his youth there, so he decided to restore the building as a bar-restaurant. He's cleaned and remodeled the building, adding a patio on the north side. The business will offer lunch and dinner.

He hopes to attract people from the immediate area as well as those coming from Rochester or the Twin Cities.

"I just feel a lot of people are coming down this way," he said. "It's becoming a popular day trip. I just thought it would be fun. I want to have fun with it."

Part of the fun could be making and selling his own beer. He's been making his own beer for four years, and will incorporate that into his new venture.

Craft beers, which are those made in smaller batches, are about 10 percent of the market but their share is growing 10 to 15 percent a year, Nihart said. Big-name brand sales are relatively flat. "People are looking for good quality beer," he said.


He has not yet decided on a name for his brews but said he will brew seasonal beers such as pumpkin ale in fall or Christmas ale over the holidays. But no matter what he calls it, it will help bring back a bit of the history of that once-wild town.


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