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Vikings legend opening bar in Two Harbors

Minnesota Vikings defensive legend Jim Marshall, left, has partnered with Two Harbors native Mark Pearson on opening this month the Viking Legends Sports Bar & Grill on Highway 61. They were joined last week by former Vikings runningback Ricky Young, right, as the final touches were being put on the place.1 / 2
The bar is filled with Minnesota Vikings memorabilia along with items from other state sports teams. There's even a Green Bay Packers section.2 / 2

Jim Marshall was poking around Two Harbors and found a dirt road to Lake Superior. He got out of his car and was met by two dogs. "They were friendly," the Minnesota Vikings legend said. "They knew I had a kind soul."

Delray Pearson emerged and was amazed that the dogs cozied up so easily. The two men then began a conversation and a friendship ensued.

The result after three decades is Marshall's foray into the bar business in Two Harbors as the Viking Legends Sports Bar & Grill prepares to open next week on Highway 61 next to the former Sonju's car dealership.

Pearson had told Marshall at that first meeting that his son, Mark, was thinking about developing the land they were standing on. That plan eventually became a reality in the mid-1980s as Superior Shores Resort.

Marshall and the son also struck up a friendship. As the two sat down at the nearly-finished bar last week, they recalled a three-week trip to Russia where Mark was hoping to find some family roots and Marshall was doing charity work for victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

They have been involved in other development projects in the past and the Two Harbors bar may be the most conventional partnership they've had.

"We hit it off," Marshall said of the friendship.

Mark took after his father in the development business but found himself in places across the continent instead of just here on the North Shore. Delray Pearson was an instrumental developer and business owner in the city. His footprint remains. He owned Pearson Motors that became the current Harbor Landing Mall, and partnered in the Scenic Point and Superior Shores resorts.

Marshall has been coming up to Two Harbors since he started playing for the Vikings in their inaugural season in 1961. He was known throughout his playing days as a robust outdoors adventurer and philosopher with nine lives when it came to close calls with death. And he never missed a Sunday, playing in a record 282 straight games.

Marshall said he had explored some ideas for businesses along the North Shore but life's moments tended to get in the way. He was working with Pearson on a project in Nevada when Delray died Dec. 30, 2009.

"We put it on the back burner," Marshall said of that project. Mark returned to Two Harbors and "we thought maybe we'd do something here," Marshall said.

Pearson came back to take care of his mother, Mary Ann. He hadn't been back for an extended visit to his hometown in years. He's not surprised to find himself, 17 months later, ready to open Viking Legends.

He's been working to remodel the former convenience store "seven days a week" since November, he said. "I love this stuff."

The bar is filled with Minnesota Vikings memorabilia along with items from other state sports teams. There's even a Green Bay Packers section. All of the photos and posters are signed by those depicted, an advantage that comes with Marshall as a partner in the business.

"He's done all the heavy stuff," Marshall said of Pearson's work in organizing the décor and other details of the bar.

Pearson recalled sitting on a plastic bucket months ago in the old Milk House store, drawing up the footprint for the bar. He said the original square footage was perfect for what he wanted. People have asked him how they fit a bar into what they considered a small store space. But take everything out and the space was just right, Pearson said.

"This is nice," Marshall said. "It's friendly, it's northwoods."

The centerpiece of the 100-seat bar and dining area is a stone fireplace.

Pearson said the obvious lure as a business owners are the tourists who come through the city on their way up the Shore. There are as high as 15,000 cars a day. But Pearson said he's also struck by the interest by area residents. "The locals are really excited."

He will keep that permanent customer base in mind with rotating food specials with "moderate" prices. The food fare from the full kitchen will include chicken wings ("the big ones"), half-pound burgers, and "great steaks."

Pearson also expects to do plenty of fund-raising for local causes, especially in helping out kids who can't afford to participate in sports.

Pearson hopes to open Wednesday but it could be next Friday depending on how the finishing touches go.

On the Highway 61 side are the makings of a patio that will host outdoor seating and include a fire pit that will attract snowmobilers in the winter, Pearson said. While it may look like the patio took out prime parking space, there are plenty of spots in back, 50 spaces in all, Pearson said.

Marshall said there will also be salutes to the historical Viking legends, the Norsemen, with swords, helmets and other regalia.

And he promises that all of his friends, including other well-known Minnesota sports figures, will be coming to check out his new bar on the North Shore. "I expect them to stop by," he said.

Viking Legends is a foray, had Marshall followed his father's advice, he should have never entered into. "My dad was in the bar business when I was growing up," he said with laughter coming on. "He said never get into this business."

It would take that chance meeting with someone else's father to eventually steer Marshall into the new Two Harbors bar.

The work toward opening Viking Legends has been solace to Pearson after losing his father. "It felt like the right thing at the right time."

And he isn't done with offering his touch on the city's development scene. With Sonju's moving down the road there's a large building vacant next to the bar. Pearson wondered aloud what someone might do with the space. He's interested as a neighboring business and as a member of the Two Harbors Economic Development Authority.

"I have a few ideas," he said with a grin.