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Published September 17 2011

Pioneer Center has become thriving area for nightlife

WEST FARGO – When Jill Carlson first opened Divas and Rockstars in the Pioneer Center here, the neighborhood was already home to O’Leary’s Pub and the wine bar at Littlefield’s. Critics said there wasn’t room for another.

“When we moved in, we heard businesspeople saying one of us would be out of business in six months,” Carlson said.

That was four years ago. Today, the same quarter-mile stretch of 13th Avenue East has no fewer than six watering holes to its name – two of which opened in the past year – and has blossomed into a hub for nightlife.

Aric Christiansen, manager at O’Leary’s, remembers when that wasn’t the case. The bar, which opened 11 years ago, was the first in the area, and Christiansen has been there from near the beginning.

“There was really nothing else for bars out there when we first started,” he said. Now, “it’s kind of West Fargo’s version of downtown Fargo” – an area where revelers can walk to a string of bars in succession.

He said he sees more customers making the area an all-night destination. “We have a tendency to see people stay around here,” he said. “You’ll see groups a couple times through the night.”

Most of the area’s growth has come in the past few years.

O’Leary’s was followed by Littlefield’s, which opened in 2002 as a restaurant and wine bar (now WF Maxwells and the Max Bar). Divas and Rockstars came in 2007. Three Lyons Pub opened just west of the Pioneer Center in 2008.

The West Fargo location of JL Beers opened across the street from the center at 810 13th Ave. E. on New Year’s Eve last year. Bar Nine, the newest establishment in the area, opened a week before St. Patrick’s Day this year at 1440 Prairie Parkway.

West Fargo City Administrator Jim Brownlee said the city’s liquor ordinances play a role in the growth of such pockets of bars. West Fargo allocates its liquor licenses by area, not by quota.

“Main Avenue also has quite a few liquor establishments on there,” he said. “We see that same thing.”

He said the Pioneer Center’s location along a major thoroughfare also helps, as does ample parking in the area.

Patrick Tweeter, the general manager at Bar Nine – the newest kid on the block, so to speak – said the bars in the area are bolstered by one another’s success.

“We all play off each other,” he said. “O’Leary’s will get business because of us. We’ll get business because of O’Leary’s or Divas. There’s always going to be people in the neighborhood.”

He said the bar’s owners knew the area was pub-heavy before they opened but viewed the others establishments as boosters rather than competitors.

“I think we all mutually benefit each other,” he said. “If we’re busy, they’re going to be busy.”

Carlson of Divas and Rockstars said it helps that each bar in the area has a distinct personality – karaoke at her bar, an established neighborhood vibe at O’Leary’s, an upscale experience at Maxwells, a British theme at Three Lyons.

“We all have our own niches,” she said.

When she first picked the location, developers told her the plan was to create that kind of nightlife center. She knew the location had potential but didn’t know how it would pan out.

“We heard they were going to try to make it kind of an entertainment hub,” she said. “It’s exciting, and we hope it keeps up.”

And for those who have yet to make it out to try the Pioneer Center pub crawl? Try it, she said.

“I think people that haven’t come out here would find it refreshing,” she said.

Click here (or on the "Photo gallery" at right) to see West Fargo's watering holes.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Marino Eccher at (701) 241-5502