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Last call at a Moorhead landmark: Jerry's Bar to close, reopen as music venue

Sherry Keoge stands Friday, May 19, 2017, in the bar her parents Verajean and Jerry Keogh opening 56 years ago just north of Moorhead at the time.Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor1 / 3
Verajean and Jerry Keogh are seen outside Jerry’s Bar in this undated family photo.Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor2 / 3
Jerry’s Bar seen Friday, May 19, 2017, in the bar her parents Verajean and Jerry Keogh opening 56 years ago just north of Moorhead at the time.Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor3 / 3

MOORHEAD — Sherry Keogh is an emotional person anyway, but she said she might need extra Kleenex to get through Wednesday, May 24.

That's when Jerry's Bar, a longtime landmark of north Moorhead, will throw one last hurrah before closing. But the building won't be empty for long, and the new owners plan to honor its history as they open a music venue there.

The bar at 1500 11th St. N. was opened in 1960 as Jerry's Trail Tavern by Keogh's parents, Jerry and Vera Jean Keogh, and has been owned by the family ever since.

Keogh is now finalizing the sale to new owners — but first, she's going to open one last time at 6 p.m. Wednesday.

"I said, 'OK, well, I'll have just one last thing on Wednesday,' thinking it would just be maybe a couple people," she said. "I think I might have more than a couple people, which is a good thing."

Clay County Commissioner Kevin Campbell might be the reason for that bigger attendance. He posted a tribute to the bar on Facebook Friday, May 19, encouraging people to come say goodbye. As of Friday afternoon, his post had more than 60 shares, nearly 100 reactions and dozens of comments.

"It was always fun to go there," he told The Forum.

Changing owners

Vera and Jerry Keogh leased the building to two other proprietors after the bar closed the first time in 2005. It operated as Rockin' Pete's until the summer of 2007, then reopened as Rascal's Bar in 2007 before it became Jerry's Bar again.

Even before her father died Feb. 17, 2014, Sherry Keogh had taken over the business. She decided seven or eight years ago to only open two nights a month for special events.

Monthly drag shows and Mexican nights drew hundreds of people, and she said she was glad to make people feel welcome there. Still, it was hard to make it work.

"I was barely getting bills paid this way," Keogh said.

She wanted to devote her time to her mother's business, VJ Cleaning, and said she was ready to shutter Jerry's. That's when Scott Nelson and business partner Steven Langstaff offered to buy it.

Nelson said they will reopen as full bar and live music venue Jerry's Original Music Club this fall after finishing renovations and updates of the building that will start in early June.

Ever since the toll bridge that connects 12th Avenue North in Fargo with 15th Avenue North in Moorhead became toll-free in 2015, Nelson said commuter traffic has increased to the neighborhood. There also isn't much in the way of music venues or bars in north Fargo or Moorhead, he said.

"I think the location is perfect," Nelson said. "It's been a successful bar for 50-plus years and now with the increased traffic and the way Fargo and Moorhead have grown, I don't see why it wouldn't be."

Local institution

Campbell, who figures he first went to Jerry's Bar in the early 1970s, said there was one reason why it was a hit in its early days: It was open on Sundays. It was outside city limits in 1960, and most businesses in town couldn't be open that day.

"That's how many people actually learned about Jerry's was because it was one of the very few places you could go," he said.

But it continued to be busy even as its unique status on Sundays became the norm, and the place became known for its homemade food. He said it was just as busy for lunch as at the end of the workday. In some ways, he said, it was the "Cheers" bar of the area.

"You could go in there and you could see a person on the same stool," he said. "You could hear the same stories every day if you wanted."

Sherry Keogh said Jerry's Bar catered to the American Crystal Sugar Co. shift workers for many years and was known as the "beet plant bar," opening at 8 a.m. with food ready for employees who just got off work. It also sponsored softball teams and started pool and dart leagues.

In more recent years, Jerry's Bar hosted monthly drag shows long before other bars in town were willing to open the doors to drag queens, she said.

It'll be hard to say goodbye, she said. Keogh and her sisters, Michele Keogh and Mary Kava, were born after Jerry's Bar opened.

"One way or another, whether we were toddlers coming in while my mom and dad were working, to working it, to leaving and working somewhere else and coming back and working again, our whole lives have revolved around it," she said.

Ryan Johnson

Ryan Johnson is the Features Editor for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He previously wrote for The Forum and the Grand Forks Herald.

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