GRANITE FALLS - In Granite Falls, they are hoisting glasses of Minnesota-produced craft beers and wine, all the while saluting native son Andrew Volstead, the late congressman known for authoring the legislation that made Prohibition the law of the land.
No irony is intended, because it's all made possible by the other legislation for which Volstead is known: the Capper-Volstead Act that made cooperatives possible.
The Bluenose Gopher Public House that has opened its doors in this community's downtown along the Minnesota River is a full-fledged cooperative, according to Sarina Otaibi. She's the chairwoman of its board of directors, as well as a local Granite Falls City Council member and a coordinator for the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota's Main Street program.
Otaibi said she believes the Bluenose Gopher is the only cooperative-owned public house in Minnesota, although there are cooperative craft breweries in the state.
The Bluenose Gopher celebrates its grand opening Saturday. Not so coincidentally, it happens to be the weekend of National Beer Day, which celebrates the return of legal beer sales on April 7, 1933, several months ahead of the end of Prohibition.
Otaibi and the more than 250 member-owners of this public house have many reasons to celebrate its opening. It was nearly seven hard years in the making.
"It was definitely the most difficult project that I have ever done in my entire life," she said.
Otaibi and other founders, including her family members, devoted many volunteer hours to raise funds and memberships, as well as renovate the turn-of-the-century building that is its home.
Its founders originally wanted to open a craft brewery and pub. They were looking to emulate the success of private ventures in area communities, such as Talking Waters in Montevideo, Foxhole Brewhouse in Willmar and Goat Ridge Brewing Company in New London.
They found the right building early on, Otaibi said. Once owned by the Jacob Schmidt Brewing Company, the building offers a downtown location with a view of the Minnesota River.
But things went as flat as a bad beer from there. Otaibi said they learned how difficult it was as a cooperative to raise the money needed to open a brewery.
"There were definitely moments through the whole process where we almost gave up," she said. "We looked at each other: Are we crazy? Why are we doing this?"
The turning point came at a membership meeting in 2017. An overwhelming majority agreed to change focus and open a public house instead of a brew pub. They also found support from the Southwest Initiative Foundation, and things started to come together, she said.
The Bluenose Gopher Public House is very much in keeping with the original goal of making possible a community gathering place while building and supporting a local economy. The public house features an ever-changing lineup of craft beers and wines, all of them Minnesota-made. Beers from the craft breweries in Montevideo, Willmar and New London are featured, and so too are beers brewed at locations from St. Cloud to the North Shore.
Equally popular are wines hailing from Minnesota vineyards, including some from right down the road at Hinterlands Vineyards near Clara City and the Grandview Valley Winery near Belview.
Like the area's brew pubs, Bluenose Gopher also features live music, trivia contests and activities such as beer choirs. Most of all, Otaibi said, it's offers a pub and coffee house vibe where people can visit with friends while enjoying local brews - and soon local foods as well. The cooperative is currently in the process of lining up suppliers so that it can offer its own menu.
The doors first opened Feb. 1. Patronage has surpassed the original expectations, Otaibi said. The cooperative is taking its first steps cautiously. Board members are working as volunteers to serve customers.
Its name is a nod to Volstead. An editorial writer once slapped Volstead with the moniker "bluenose gopher" for being a Minnesotan who advocated a strict moral code.
While he's reputed to have been a teetotaler, Otaibi believes Volstead would appreciate what is being done in his name today: Using his cooperative model to help shape the rural community's economic destiny.
The grand opening is from 1 to 10 p.m. Saturday with free wine and beer tasting in the afternoon and live music in the evening.
Regular hours are 4 to 10 p.m. Thursdays; 1 to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; and 1 to 6 p.m. on Sundays.