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Minnesota ice fishing bar is hotspot for a cold one

The Hillbillies Ice Bar usually draws a crowd of around 40 people. Sometimes, according to Spilde, it gets so warm in the small bar that she has to turn down the heat. (Meagan Pittelko/Tribune)1 / 4
A variety of liquor bottles are available for mixing. Although the bar only accepts cash, an on-site ATM is available. (Meagan Pittelko/Tribune)2 / 4
Due to the concentration of body weight on the part of the lake that houses the ice bar, management requests that guests park behind a snow bank perimeter. (Meagan Pittelko/Tribune)3 / 4
Spilde, who has managed the bar since it opened, pours a drink for an ice bar patron. (Meagan Pittelko/Tribune)4 / 4

The door to the Hillbillies Ice Hole Bar shakes open, making a slight popping noise as the seal releases. Audible gasps can be heard as a pair of women jump at the sudden sound, and a man shouts, "We're going down!"

But the ice bar doesn't go anywhere; instead, a shivering couple rushes inside and pulls the door shut tightly behind them, bringing in a wave of frigid air as they do.

For five years, the cozy bar has made Lake Lida its home, serving thirsty fishermen and curious travelers from the privacy of a frozen Minnesota lake.

According to long-time bar manager Angie Spilde, it's not only locals who frequent the ice bar.

"You meet a lot of new people from all over out here," she said. "Lots of people come out from around here, but lots of people just come out to come out, too."

The bar is an offshoot of Hillbillies Vittles and Brews, a bar and grill located in Erhard, Minn., and it serves a variety of beers, hard ciders and mixed drinks. Despite being open only two days out of the week (Friday and Saturday), the bar always draws a crowd.

"We usually have about 40 people in here at a time," Spilde said. "One weekend, we managed to get 62 people in here."

The bar, which has received a massive amount of press coverage since opening in 2012, currently sits on 10-12 feet of ice, according to Spilde. Although the recent rise in temperatures didn't stop the ice bar from opening or patrons from coming, signs line the perimeter, asking that anyone driving onto the ice park a good ways away from the small bar.

"We just ask that people park behind the snow," Spilde said. "You don't want all these cars and body weight in the same place."

One guest, a woman from central South Dakota, said that she had seen photos of the bar and had imagined it to be a little bigger than it is.

"We have a cabin near Perham and my husband is a fisherman, so he comes out here with his buddies a lot," she said. "He's been wanting to bring me out here and he said, 'This is the weekend,' so here we are."

Other guests swapped ice fishing tales, reminisced about old memories or withdrew money from the on-site ATM. The only indication that the bar is in the middle of a frozen body of water is that guests must go outside to use the bathroom. Portable bathrooms lean against one edge of the building, some complete with tiny space heaters. Still, not all guests were excited about the prospect of using a portable toilet in the middle of the lake, where frigid wind gusts are nearly constant.

"When I have to go to the bathroom," one guest remarked, "that means it's time to go home."

According to Spilde, the bar closes around 1 a.m. and is usually busy up until that point. With dice games to play, new friendships to form and cold beer to go around, the bar has created a large sense of community within its four small walls.

"People sit around, just talking or playing games," Spilde said. "They love to gather out here."