1937: Erv Anderson’s Vision
When Erv Anderson (pictured left with movie actor Bob Burns) began construction of Big Bar Harbor everyone thought he was crazy. It was 1937, and he selected a site off the beaten path on a channel leading toward Lake Margaret.
The facility was huge with part of the building suspended over the water. A lighthouse greeted boaters and provided a charming dining location once inside. Construction was completed in May 1938. Within a very short time, Bar Harbor fame had spread far and wide. At that time; however, it wasn’t because of the food.
Originally, Big Bar Harbor didn’t even have a kitchen. Early revenues were completely generated from liquor sales and gambling. Yes, we said gambling!
In the 1930’s, almost all of our favorite old nightspots were actually casinos. Technically, gambling was illegal; however, Minnesota had no laws for enforcement. When Bar Harbor first opened its doors, (people were greeted by the sounds of slot machines and card dealers. Erv himself met his beloved Audrey when she was employed at Bar Harbor as a “Chuk-a-luk” dealer.
1948: The End of Gambling
Minnesota Governor Luther Youngdahl was shocked by the gambling activity occurring at places like Bar Harbor, Breezy Point and Deauville (currently Zorbaz on Gull). In 1946, Governor Youngdahl enacted legislation banning gambling in Minnesota and the merry sounds of the slot machines faded away.
A popular rumor says that the “feds” stormed Bar Harbor and threw the slot machines into the lake. Although a lot of things probably got thrown into the lake from Bar Harbor’s docks, slot machines were not among them.
Gambling was actually very similar to today’s casinos. Slot machines were leased from manufacturers and profits were shared. Another romantic rumor relates that gangsters shared the take from the machines. This is also untrue, but some of them did frequent Bar Harbor and Erv’s brothers often took them on hunting and fishing trips.
Although the loss of gambling was a setback, Erv Anderson was anything but a quitter. He added a kitchen to Bar Harbor and enlarged the dance floor. He brought in big band like Woody Herman & Duke Ellington and soon Bar Harbor was the “Central Minnesota Fun Spot”.
1949: Winter Weather Trouble
Bar Harbor had a slight setback in 1949 when a severe winter snowstorm coupled with driving winds caused the roof to collapse. Insurance didn’t cover winter storm damage–only precipitation from rain. After much haggling with legal authorities over the definition of “precipitation,” Erv collected enough insurance money to repair the damage.
1963: The Supper Club
In 1963 a small building across the road from Big Bar Harbor was remodeled into a small supper club to serve the winter residents of Gull Lake. It was known as Little Bar Harbor.
1968: The Fire
August 8, 1968 – This was the first weekend of big races for the new Brainerd International Raceway. Thieves broke into Big bar Harbor looking for cash. Disappointed that the receipts had been removed at closing time, they torched the building. It didn’t take long for the 30-year-old wood structure to burn to the ground. It was the end of an era, but not the end of the story.
Following the fire of 1968, Little Bar Harbor grew again. This time, the famous charcoal grill, a small band stand and dance floor were added. It wasn’t long before Little Bar Harbor was “rocking” in the shadow of its famous ancestor. As the population in the area grew, the kitchen was expanded again and a patio area was added. Many people have fond memories of cocktails shared and stories told while lounging on the patio or watching the moon shine on the water from their favorite window booth.
2003: A New Structure
For more than 30 years, Bar Harbor ran as a successful supper club with a full liquor license. Bar Harbor had evolved from a hot spot for Minnesota minors to a dinner and dancing destination for cabin owners and locals in Brainerd. The Anderson family decided to remodel Bar Harbor in 2003.
The new building design incorporated the original Cape Cod design used by Erv Anderson for the Big Bar Harbor, but also includes the popular charcoal grill and patio area loved by the patrons of Little Bar Harbor.
2012: A Remodel & A New Attitude
In 2012, longtime Brainerd area investor and part-time resident, John Allen purchased Bar Harbor. While the location and history of Bar Harbor were fantastic, the quality and pace within the restaurant lagged behind the needs of the Brainerd area residents. Closed during the winter of 2012, Bar Harbor reopened on March 20th, 2012 with a focus on high quality food, service and a commitment to make sure every visitor has a fantastic experience.
The Brainerd Dispatch put together a great article about the history of Bar Harbor as well. Please take a look at the Brainerd History on brainerdhistory.com to read that publication.