FARGO - It was July 22, 2016, when Pete Sabo watched his beloved Bison Turf bar and restaurant burn.

In shock, he looked on from the parking lot of the iconic green and yellow North Dakota State University watering hole, as firefighters chopped through the roof to knock down the flames and smoke.

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"I couldn't believe my restaurant was burning down," he said Friday, July 20, nursing a cup of coffee.

Sabo vowed he'd reopen at 1211 N. University Drive in a few months.

But turning the scorched Turf into a phoenix was a battle.

Sabo wrestled with meeting stringent city planning and building code requirements for the building, originally built in 1933. There were hiccups through construction, and personal health problems.

It wasn't until May 8 of this year that the Turf reopened to the public.

Asked what he planned to do Sunday, the second anniversary of the fire, the 70-year-old opted for humor.

"I can drink for free at the Turf, that's one option," he said.

It cost $1,350,000 to rebuild the Turf and add a new rooftop bar and patio. Insurance paid $940,000. The rest came out of Sabo's own pocket.

Patience pays off

He's unhappy about some of the things that the city made him do, like spending $60,000 to get his water from a line on 12th Street, rather than letting him tap into the nearby North University Drive line. But in the end, everything turned out for the better, he said.

The fire had left the building in tough shape. The northwest corner of the structure had collapsed. Insulation drifted on the floor and you could see through the ceiling and roof to clear sky, where firefighters had chopped through to get at the fire.

That was "the worst of the worst," Sabo said at the time.

The revamped building is now "super insulated," and the HVAC and fire suppression systems are state of the art.

"It's impossible to burn this place down," Sabo said. "It looks like the old building. But everything is state-of-the-art inside."

"Now I have something that will probably be here for 100 years. Everything is true. Everything, is green lumber. In 1933 they built it with what they had around," Sabo said. "It needed everything that we did to it."

It would have been cheaper to take a bulldozer, raze the building to the ground, and start fresh, he said. "But then it would have been (like) another Applebee's."

The Turf's original bar is the first thing you see as you walk in the west side front doors. Many tables were saved, too, with the initials of NDSU students past, and words of youthful - or drunken - wisdom and wit carved deep into the heavily lacquered wood.

The second floor used to be a run-down three-bedroom apartment.

It now has a spacious party space with a 1,500 square foot deck. Garage doors can close the area off during inclement weather, and swing open on rails when the weather is mild.

The upstairs bar is a survivor, too. The 1933-vintage bar was purchased from an Iron Range hangout in Virginia, Minn., Sabo said.

The deck, with its Brazilian teak floor, affords an unrestricted view of the southeast part of the North Dakota State University campus and up and down North University Drive.

"I'm prejudiced, but it think it's the nicest view in town," Sabo said.

Health issues

The Turf's rebuild wasn't made any easier by health problems the last couple years, Sabo said.

Early in 2016, before the fire, he had a hip and femur replaced after he broke them falling out a bed in Florida.

He had a kidney transplant Jan 9 of this year.

And he had a cornea transplant on his right eye last week.

But he looks in good shape. Tanned and trim, his white hair is covered by a white Polo brand cap. And he sports a neatly trimmed white mustache and goatee.

An easier road had been available to Sabo.

He said he was offered $1 million for the burned out husk of the Turf.

"I had probably 10 serious buyers on the place," he said. "I never once, even for a second, considered selling it."

The grand re-opening was a great experience, Sabo said. The first three days broke sales records. And it didn't hurt to hear he was missed.

"The No. 1 think I heard from both customers and neighbors was, 'We didn't know what we had until we lost it,'" Sabo said.

Sabo bought the place in 1988, and said he won't go easily.

"When Hanson-Runsvold (funeral home) comes in and picks me up," he jokes.

But he'd prefer the northside icon stay open with his children at the helm once he's gone.

"This is really something to leave your family and carry on," he said. "I'd be amazed if someone sold it (from) my family in 50 years."