The bartender opens a plastic container of sliced limes and holds it up. My husband and I pluck out our slices and insert them into our Corona bottles.
Youth horse racing plays on the TV. Fishing rods — prizes for a Brimson Sportsmen's Club contest — hang from the ceiling.
A young man in a tie-dyed shirt hauls two jugs of water to the till in the bar’s little store, where you can buy bait and frozen food and peruse a movie and paperback book exchange (mostly well-worn VHS tapes and romance novels).
Three local men pull up stools, order a round of light beers and chat with the bartender. A painted wood sign hangs on the wall behind them: “Beer tastes better in Brimson.”
Is that true? Who knows — Hugo’s Bar is the only place that sells it.
A group of leather-clad bikers file in and line up at the bar to order beers and to wait in line for the restrooms.
We pay our tab and head for Cadotte Lake Campground, about 13 miles northwest of there.
We'd been camping in the Brimson area before, but never got as far as Hugo’s (mostly because the area is a welcomed black hole for cellphone service and we didn’t carry an atlas with us until recently).
The first business opened on the Hugo’s property in the early 1920s. Its namesake is Hugo Hellman, who bought it in 1958 and ran the bar for 30 years.
Like many hole-in-the-wall taverns, Hugo’s has made a name for itself by serving as more than just a bar. It’s the hub of the unincorporated community of Brimson, on County Highway 44 in St. Louis County, just over the border from Lake County. It hosts farmers markets, fundraisers and classes. The bar is a biker stop, the town community center, and for many people, a road trip bucket list destination.
Brimson is about 44 miles from Duluth and 27 miles from Two Harbors. Hugo’s, as well as Brimson Sportsman’s Corner, a makeshift trailer-turned-convenience and bait store on Townline Road, are the only places to buy food, bait and camping supplies in town.
If you yearn for the Northland’s agate-scattered beaches and sweeping views of Lake Superior, craft brew festivals and paddleboard excursions, Brimson isn’t for you.
Nestled among thick boreal national and state forests, you’ll see more mosquitoes and woodland creatures than anything (we saw a porcupine waddling on the side of the road, for the record).
But, you can grab a cheap beer and kick back in an unpretentious watering hole; be the only angler casting a line on a glass-still lake; nab a private campsite with a view of the water, no reservation needed; and listen to nothing but loon calls — a rare silence that comes only with true seclusion.
That is well worth the trip.
Coming up in Brimson
Brimson Sportsmen’s Club Annual Picnic — bingo, bean bags, drawings, kids games and prizes, food and pop.
- Aug. 3, 1-5 p.m.
- Hugo’s Bar, 1898 County Highway 44.
- $10 BSC membership gets you in or you can buy one at the door.
Brimson Market — fresh produce, plants, baked foods, arts and crafts, live music, household items, clothing and more.
- Every Saturday until Sept. 7, 9 a.m. to noon.
- Hugo’s Bar.
37th Annual Brimson Sisu Run/Walk — 4.4-mile fundraiser for the Brimson Fire Department and EMS. Food and prizes.
- Aug. 17, 10 a.m.
- 6 miles north of Hugo’s at the T, take a right onto Toimi Road, quarter-mile to Petrel Hall.
- $23 before Aug. 7 and $25 after.
- Lynn at 218-848-2894.
Katie Rohman is the regional editor of the Lake County News-Chronicle, Pine Journal and Superior Telegram. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 218-723-5334.