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Matt Von Pinnon, Published August 17 2013

Von Pinnon: HoDo has place in Fargo's psyche

Sitting inside the HoDo lounge, it seems anything is possible.

By day, business people craft plans on the back of bar napkins. Old friends hug before sitting down to lunch.

By night, women in heels mug for cellphone photos with martinis while men in T-shirts and blue jeans join co-workers for a beer.

It’s an otherwise odd mix of people, but it doesn’t feel odd here. It feels genuine.

Ten years ago, several months before the restored Hotel Donaldson reopened to fanfare, owner Karen Stoker said she wanted the place to be hip and funky but not uptight.

“I want it to be fairly eclectic, casual – comfortable but edgy,” she said.

It’s those traits that have made the HoDo a destination for both well-to-do travelers and local folks who want to impress visitors.

After all, the HoDo represents more than just another renovation project. It represents a major cornerstone in the renaissance of downtown. It represents Fargo’s aspirational spirit to be better up close than outsiders expect from afar.

But the HoDo’s best trait is its large windows to the world, none better than in the lounge that faces west.

There, those on the inside can watch the hustle and bustle of downtown’s varied characters head off to who-knows-where.

Outside, people at the crossroads of perhaps Fargo’s most congested pedestrian intersection look in on the lounge as if looking into an exotic aquarium.

The HoDo is a place to see and be seen.

Surely, there are men and women who go there dressed to impress. A night that starts or ends at Hotel Donaldson is not just another night for most.

But the lounge is also a place where you get the feeling that anybody can pop in at any time. It has an air of unexpectedness.

Thirteen years ago, about 50 low-income residents of the

run-down building were surprised to learn they’d have to move out.

Some had lived there for 20 years or more.

For months it remained a mystery what was in store for the property or who was behind the purchase.

Eventually, Stoker emerged as the buyer. She said she was sensitive to the plight of those forced to move. She said her intentions were good, that she loved Fargo, its downtown and she had something special in mind for the place she called “the Don.”

Everyone watched and waited to see what would come of her vision.

She took her time and consulted with others. It would be ready when it was ready and, even once it opened, she promised it would change as needed.

Stoker relied on area artists, old friends and hometown chefs to create a place that was local and authentic, a place where those who once lived there might even feel welcome.

That outsiders found it surprising and refreshing just illustrates that the area had never before been one to tout its talents.

The HoDo has shown us we have a lot to be proud of right here, right around us.

Looking inside or outside those big windows on the west, we see ourselves. We see all kinds of people with all kinds of potential.

Von Pinnon is editor of The Forum. Reach him at (701) 241-5579, mvonpinnon@forumcomm.com or on Twitter at @inforumed