Last call at Mick's Office came at 4:45 p.m. Tuesday. The Moorhead bar was shutting down at 5 o'clock, following orders from Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz that the state hopes will slow the spread of the coronavirus.
"Last call for alcohol!" loudly chortled Clay Harkness, a customer sitting at the end of the bar.
This drew some laughs and a few raised glasses, cans and bottles from the dozen or so people still in the beer-and-burger joint near the railroad tracks downtown. They mostly sat around the bar elbow-to-elbow, not practicing social distancing.
Bartender Cameron Wheeler called out the countdown as the top of the hour neared, reminding folks when they had five minutes or three minutes or a minute to finish their drinks.
"Five, four, three, two, one. That's it!" Wheeler bellowed when the clock struck 5.
There were handshakes and even a couple of hugs around the bar, six-foot virus barrier be darned again. A couple of coronavirus skeptics, and they weren't the only ones in the place, bumped elbows. But it was more a show of mockery than a safety measure. A few people wondered when they'd see each other again.
"It's kind of sad, you know?" said Harkness. "For Moorhead, this is a place to gather. You maybe come here for a couple of hours to see your friends and have a couple beers. I've just ... I've never seen anything like this."
Nobody has. America is shutting down, city by city and business by business. Where this goes, how it ends, is anybody's guess.
It's happening right here at home. Minnesota bars won't re-open until March 27 at the earliest. Then things might be a little more normal.
For now, though, Moorhead and Fargo have turned into a sort of East Berlin and West Berlin. A tale of two cities, truly. On the east side of the Red River, in Minnesota, bars and restaurants are closed in the name of safety. On the west side of the river, in North Dakota, it's business as usual.
Although, that's not really accurate.
Tuesday was St. Patrick's Day, one of the most booze-fueled days on the calendar, and the two most popular Irish bars in Fargo were as quiet as they've ever been on March 17. Duffy's and Dempsey's, normally jam-packed and rockin' on this day, had maybe 20 people each.
"This isn't a St. Patrick's Day crowd. This is just a regular day at Duffy's," owner Duane Litton said, sitting in a booth in the dark and wonderful old place.
He's worried about what happened in Minnesota and nervous about what's coming next in North Dakota. Asked if he though Gov. Doug Burgum was going to order bars and restaurants closed in his state, Litton didn't directly answer.
"We still have to keep the economy moving. I still have employees to pay. If the curtain comes down, there's nothing on the other side for these people," Litton said. "I'm not one of these high-roller New York City guys with a bunch of money in the bank. And I guarantee the city of Fargo is still going to send a bill for sewer and water and everything else."
What about trying to stop the spread of the virus?
"People need to go out. Even if you have to stay six feet apart and shout at each other because the music is too loud and you can't hear. People need a sense of normalcy even when we know things aren't normal," Litton said.
Dempsey's, manager Klaus Meyers said, was dead most of the day. The crowd at 5:30, really not much of one, was the high point of the day. There wasn't an influx from anywhere, much less Minnesota.
"If they shut things down for three weeks, I don't know," he said.
Over at Vic's Bar & Grill in the Moorhead Center Mall, there wasn't an open seat at the bar and several tables were filled an hour and 15 minutes before mandatory shutdown. No worries about flattening the curve there, either.
Outside, Skip Larson and Char Kemper were taking a smoke break. Kemper is a cook at Vic's and it's her family's only job with her husband on disability. Known for its excellent burgers, Vic's is going to try curbside pickup when the bar is closed and Kemper is hopeful that will generate some business.
"This is my living. This is it. I was upset last night when they announced this was going to happen, but we're just going to have to see what happens," she said. "We're just going to have to ride it out and hope for the best."
While Kemper said she understood what the state was trying to do, Larson was less forgiving. The ex-Marine who said he saw two tours of duty in the Vietnam War was fired up talking about Vic's closing temporarily. It's his favorite hangout and he's been going there regularly for years and now they're taking it away.
"It irks me to the jaw," Larson said. "But when the state, federal and city governments say this is what you're going to do, this is what you're going to do. I'm 70 years old. I have a pacemaker, I have COPD, I have health problems. But I spent 11 years, eight months and 22 days in the Marine Corps and fought in Vietnam and I made it through all of that. If this thing hits me, I'm done anyway. I'm not worried about it."
But the point of shutting down places like bars is to keep vulnerable people like him safe, he was told.
"If this is what is going to kill me, this is what is going to kill me," Larson said.
So when Vic's closes, are you going to go across the river to Fargo to have your drinks?
"You're goddamn right I am," he said emphatically. "I'm a stubborn old Marine."
Even a wall like the one that used to be East Berlin and West Berlin couldn't stop him, it would seem.