MOORHEAD - It started with a few beers with bowling buddies in Allen Schmidt's garage nearly two decades ago. The arrangement was casual: After games, Schmidt and his friends would mingle for a few drinks and a game of cards.

Then word started to spread, and the crowds started to gather. "By the end of the bowling season, I must've had three-fourths of the bowling team out there," Schmidt said. "One of them said, 'You know what, Schmidty, you ever buy a bar, you have to call it the Garage.' "

Seventeen years later, he made good on the suggestion, opening the Garage Bar at 3108 9th St. S. in Moorhead last weekend.

The location has been home to a number of other bars over the years since it opened in 1975 - Doc and Eddy's, Lippy's, the Purple Pickle, JD's, Pistol Pete's. Most recently, it was the nightclub Eclipse, which closed in 2006.

It first caught Schmidt's attention a few years ago when he and his son were taking guitar lessons at nearby Marguerite's Music. Schmidt noticed the bar was for sale.

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"I thought, 'How crazy would that be?' " he said. "I used to play pool in there."

Schmidt, who also owns a concert setup and tech service business, was originally looking for a place to open a concert venue. It took him more than a year to negotiate a deal to buy the bar, and another two to remodel it.

He designed and refurbished much of the interior himself. The look isn't flashy - perhaps the fanciest touch is the steel tread plate that adorns the bar - but the stage is roomy and the lighting and sound systems are points of pride for Schmidt. He himself is a drummer, and the drum kit on stage is his.

"I wanted to put a professional look on a smaller stage," he said. "There are bigger venues in town, but I want to have the same quality sound and the same quality show as these places put on."

The bar will feature regular jam sessions during the week, though Schmidt stressed he's looking for local artists playing their music, not top-40 cover bands practicing.

Aside from music, the bar's draws include foosball and a homemade oversized Jenga game a few feet tall. It's technically a bar and grill, though the grill part is still a work in progress.

"We're just trying to create an atmosphere where people can come and have a good time and see a really decent show," Schmidt said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Marino Eccher at (701) 241-5502