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Harbor Bar owner 'lucky' to clean out after flooding every year he says

Harbor Bar in Hager City has endured years of flooding on the Mississippi River. Owner Brad Smith said the bar was recently filled with nearly two feet of water the first week of April. Drone photo courtesy of Patrick Schulz1 / 2
Overlooking the Mississippi not far from Red Wing, Harbor Bar looks more like a floating restaurant than a place for customers to enjoy a meal and a drink on the outdoor patio. It is expected to be back open before the Flood Run on April 20. Drone photo courtesy of Patrick Schulz2 / 2

The long-standing riverside Harbor Bar and restaurant just outside of Red Wing, Minn. is no stranger to annual flooding.

The bar and restaurant, which also features a 32-slip marina, has been in operation since the 1960s on the Mississippi River. It survived some of the most devastating springtime floods which occurred in the late 1960s and again in the early 2000s that filled the place with 5 or more feet of water.

This year the business is holding an unofficial amount of almost 2 feet of water which was last checked the first week in April, owner Brad Smith said.

Smith took over the original tavern business in 1984 after purchasing it from his parents Marilyn and Dick Graw, adding a kitchen and establishing it as a full-service restaurant and bar.

Smith and his staff prepare for flooding beginning in the fall and have what Smith calls "the drill"—the process of cleaning out the mud and flood water debris—down to a science once the flooding hits.

The clean-up is so anticipated each year that Smith has a rack of rubber boots waiting to be used by a group of about a dozen people who help share the task.

"We have to move everything we own either off the flood plain or up high enough to prevent the flood from touching it," Smith said. "When the flood is over... we start with shovels and start pushing the mud out in sections and graduate to squeegees and power washers. We use scrub brushes with a bleach and Pine Sol mixture and soap. Everything has to be cleaned two to three times before we are cleaned up enough to open for business."

Of course, this includes restoring every item a restaurant and bar uses, down to the details like glassware and silverware.

In a matter of a few weeks to sometimes a few months, Smith said every year his crew has the place up and running again "ready to sell beer."

"Luckily Harbor Bar is a very popular place and our loyal customers come back as soon as they know we are open again," Smith said.

This year, after nearly 2 feet of flood waters recede hopefully by April 8 and the crew gets inside early enough to revitalize the place, Smith plans to be open by the annual Flood Run on April 20.

But for Smith, "the drill" is not a burden, it is a blessing.

"In 2012 I found out I had a stage four tumor on my tongue and went through the radiation and chemo cancer treatments..." Smith said. "I am lucky to be alive to endure another flood so even a (crappy) day is a great day. I have life and that is all that counts."

Despite all the trauma the building has endured and the health issues Smith has overcome, Smith said he refuses to give the place up or move it.

"It's part of being on the river. It's my parents' place. This place will support me for the rest of my life. If it means dealing with floods, it's just dealing with floods. You can keep moving forward," Smith said.

Smith said he and his staff are looking forward to seeing their friends and loyal customers once the 2019 spring clean-up is complete.

Rachel Helgeson

Rachel Helgeson

(651) 301-7864
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