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Taking it to the max: Lounge offers fine dining experience at fraction of the cost

Eric Halvorson is one of the bartenders at Max Lounge in West Fargo. Photos by Dave Wallis / The Forum1 / 3
Max Lounge is now open in West Fargo. Dave Wallis / The Forum2 / 3
Bottles of wine are available at Max Lounge in West Fargo. Dave Wallis / The Forum3 / 3

WEST FARGO - West Fargo may have lost a karaoke lounge, but it has something new to sing about.

The Max Lounge opened on May 16 in the space that was Divas & Rock Stars at 1410 9th St. E. The new spot is leaving the performing to the professionals and taking the lead from West Fargo's best-known fine dining establishment.

The Max Lounge is operated by the same people who own W.F. Maxwells, just across the parking lot.

"The whole purpose was to have the same service as Maxwell's but in a lounge setting and more affordable," says Aaron Hanson, a manager at Max Lounge.

Hanson and his co-manager Nicolette Berge both worked at Maxwells before moving over to the new space.

While they both say Max may serve as a starting or meeting point after a dinner at Maxwells, the new spot has its own identity.

"At Maxwells, it's a bit more classic," Berge says. "We're more modern, which would attract a younger crowd."

"We'll have over our regular crowd as well, but when the lights go down, it will get a little louder in here. A lot of people may not want that, but a lot of people will," Hanson says. "If someone doesn't want to go to a pub but a lounge, that's what we're trying to offer."

While there's no physical barrier at Max, the space is pretty much divided in two. The area to the east is more of a bar with tall-top tables and metal chairs.

The old Divas stage remains and will be used for more seating on nights when bands aren't playing. In its first 10 days, the stage has already welcomed pop band Tune in Tokyo, the string jazz band Carluster Crumplebee Orchestra and the Americana act Boots. Pat Lenertz is booked for June 13.

The west side of the space is more of the lounge, with tall, wingback chairs, couches and love seats and lamps.

Lights are a big part of the décor, with a blue-green chandelier above the door. The Max Lounge logo is projected onto the floor close to the door while above LED lights in the ceiling and under the bar that rotate colors.

The 10 TVs around the room outnumber the abstract paintings on the walls.

In the back west corner, a VIP area big enough for eight people is nestled in and capable of being curtained off.

Perhaps the biggest draw to the Max is its food and specialty drink menu, both of which may be short, but sweet.

The menu is prepared by Maxwells' Chef Mike Wald, taking a fine dining approach to bar food, with avocado BLT sliders and a chicken fajita quesadilla alongside chicken and waffles and mahi mahi tacos, all ranging from $4 to $7.

On the more inexpensive end is one of the most intriguing items - the Ultimate Deviled Duck Egg, duck eggs with crisp duck prosciutto for $4

Over a smear of mustard, a hard-boiled duck egg is halved and sprinkled with the bacon-like meat for a filling salty treat.

On the drink side, the Triple Crown Mint Julep is an early favorite, Hanson says. A splash of lemon delivers an up-front tartness to balance out the Basil Hayden's bourbon, and the strawberries are a nice surprise. After the drink is dry, you'll want to fish out the berries and the mint for a bit of dessert.

The Jamaican Mule runs a close second and is Hanson's personal favorite as it mixes Bacardi, Ron Zacapa and Pyrat rums and lime juice. But it's the Regatta Ginger Beer that delivers its distinct taste.

"We'll keep the focus on the food at Maxwell's and the focus on the drinks here," Hanson says.

While such signature cocktails are $9, beers on tap range from $4 for a Coors Light to $8.50 for an Old Rasputin Imperial Stout. The Fargo Woodchipper is $7.

"It's an eclectic line of beers," says Ross Almlie, seated at the bar last Thursday with two co-workers from nearby Jamieson Capital Advisors.

It was their first time in, and they wanted to see the space.

"It's kind of got a throwback feel to the 1980s," he says. "It's a little higher end."

Josh Hintz likes the drink options. Sitting with three friends at a tall-top on the bar side, they were switching from cocktails to beers as their food came out.

He likes the space and said it would be good place for a group of people to meet.

The capacity at Max Lounge is around 100.

Berge says they've been getting a lot of people stopping in since they opened.

"We had a lot of people checking to out to see what we're about," she says.

Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533

Max Lounge

Address: 1410 9th St. E., West Fargo

Hours: 4 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Contact: (701) 356-7464.