Beacon Bar is back: Neighbors support reopening of Hermantown gathering spotThe lights are back on at the Beacon Bar in Hermantown. “All the neighbors were (telling us) that they wanted their bar back,” said Lisa Rouleau, 55, who owns the establishment on Hermantown Road, near the intersection with Lavaque Road, with her husband, Bill Rouleau, 65.
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
The lights are back on at the Beacon Bar in Hermantown.
“All the neighbors were (telling us) that they wanted their bar back,” said Lisa Rouleau, 55, who owns the establishment on Hermantown Road, near the intersection with Lavaque Road, with her husband, Bill Rouleau, 65.
Some sort of business has existed in the nondescript frame building along a lightly populated stretch of the road for probably a hundred years, said one of those neighbors, Louise Bennett, 83. Bennett was settling in at a side table at the bar for lunch with two of her daughters early on Saturday afternoon.
It was one week after the Rouleaus reopened the bar, 18 days after the Hermantown City Council approved its reopening and well over a year since Hermantown police closed it in May 2012.
In earlier days, Bennett said, the building was a grocery store. It sold moonshine in bottles painted white to look like milk bottles, she said. She recalled going to the store as a 9-year-old to buy Copenhagen snuff for her dad. It has been a bar, under various iterations, for decades, she said.
Bill Rouleau, who grew up in Hermantown, said the bar eventually took on the name Beacon in reference to nearby airport beacons. He remembers a longtime owner, known to him only as Beacon John, insisting in a gruff voice: “I don’t serve hamburgers. There’s no ham in my burger. It’s a beef burger.”
In homage to Beacon John, there’s a beef burger on the current Beacon’s menu, along with chicken wings, homemade pizza and hockey-themed sandwiches — the Slap Shot and the Hat Trick among them. The chef is
Andrew Lee-Burgener, 34, who lives at Rice Lake.
On Saturday, Lee-Burgener proudly showed off samples of his homemade sauces, such as Korean sauté barbecue and house hot with chicken wings, and a Jack Daniels cheese sauce served with candied bacon.
Lisa Rouleau has owned the building for about five years, she said. Police closed the bar last year because the tenants who were operating the bar didn’t have a valid license, she said. A Hermantown city news release said there was an “investigation into potential tax delinquency.”
But the Rouleaus knew their neighborhood wanted its bar back.
“It’s a place people go to celebrate things in their life,” Lisa Rouleau said. “Everything in life is somehow celebrated in this building.”
But owning a bar with no customers for more than a year was a financial drain, said Bill Rouleau, who said he will be happy if the revitalized Beacon just doesn’t lose money.
The Rouleaus put in about $30,000 for remodeling, with Bill Rouleau — a retired contractor — and friends doing most of the work. He built buddy bars (high-top tables), refinished the bar and put in new floors.
But earlier this year, it looked like the bar might never reopen. The city recommended allowing it to reopen, but with three pages of restrictions, Lisa Rouleau said. The deal-breaker: The bar would have to close at 10 p.m.
“We wouldn’t have opened if that would have happened,” Lisa Rouleau said.
“That’s halftime on ‘Monday Night Football,’ ” Bill Rouleau added.
The bar’s neighbors, led by Louise Bennett, who lives two houses away, rallied against the restrictions on the Beacon’s behalf, particularly arguing in favor of a 1 a.m. closing.
“Well, what sense would that make?” Bennett asked about a 10 p.m. closing, as her daughters and Lisa Rouleau erupted in laughter. “If you have a class reunion … are you going to tell everyone to go home at 10 o’clock?”
After a meeting in which eight residents spoke up on the bar’s behalf and none against, the Planning Commission recommended reopening the bar with no restrictions. The City Council voted in agreement on Oct. 21. Hours are 3 p.m. to 1 a.m. Monday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.
The Beacon opened on Nov. 2 without fanfare, but word got around quickly via social media, said Troy Tuhkanen, another neighbor and patron.
The Rouleaus and their staff — they have six employees — noticed.
“I started bartending at 11 in the morning, and I was still behind the bar at midnight,” Lisa Rouleau recalled. “And I had a bartender on duty from 5 o’clock on. And both of us were just running. It was wonderful.”
The city news release had said the Beacon would have its grand opening this past Friday, which came as a surprise to the Rouleaus. They do plan a grand opening, Bill Rouleau said, but they want to get the kinks worked out first.
As it happened, they found themselves short-staffed on Friday. The Rouleaus, who have only been married since March but have learned the art of finishing each other’s sentences, explained what happened next:
Bill: “Last night we were short of help. We had two customers — ”
Lisa: “Three customers —”
Lisa: “Busing tables, pouring beer.”
Bill: “Working in the kitchen, delivering food and washing dishes for five hours.”
Lisa: “It’s nothing for customers to get up and start working.”
The support of their neighbors has been incredible, the Rouleaus say, and they want to give back to their community. Which brings us to softball.
The Beacon long has been a bastion of softball sponsorship, and when it closed as the 2012 season was about to begin, at least four teams were set adrift.
“We’re going to figure out a way to make it up to them because we really want to get them back,” Lisa Rouleau said. “It wasn’t our doing, but we really want to make it right.”