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Barb Sergot and her husband, John Reuvers, are regulars at the muni, coming most Friday nights to play pull-tabs and enter the meat raffle. Barb said she doesn't mind it when she hears a profanity spoken. "At my age, you've heard everything," she said. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Issue of foul language in municipal bar causing schism among Nevis residents

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The Friday night meat raffle packs the house at the Nevis liquor store and bar.

Patrons fill the place, buying pull-tabs and a $1 chance to win one of several shrink-rapped packages of meat displayed in the corner of the bar, a weekly fundraiser for the Nevis Fire Department.

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Friday the 13th the talk in the "muni," which sits kitty corner from the self-proclaimed "world's largest tiger muskie," was about a proposed city crackdown on the raunchy tenor of the establishment that's irked some patrons and threatens to cause a schism in the town of less than 400.

Prompted by customer complaints, the City Council last week discussed whether it was wise or necessary to enforce a city ordinance mandating "respectful" behavior in the joint.

"I think it got blown out of proportion," said Nevis resident Russ Hensel. "We might accidentally say something during a game of pool but I don't go on a tirade and swear across the bar."

The council is taking aim at use of the F-word; it's become a point of contention late at night when the booze is flowing and the tongues get loosened up. Patrons disagree over whether it's a matter of free expression clashing with family values, or it's just plain wrong to characterize the issue as that.

"It's not free speech if it's offensive," snapped barmaid Barb Hanson, who admittedly is fed up with the late night blue hue the bar takes on.

"But it's not like it's a new policy," she said of the city ordinance. "Some just have to get the message."

Nevis is a town unaccustomed to this kind of spotlight. It's an all-for-one, one-for-all type of community. Its shining star is its school district, where the average class size of 15-20 students has been steadily drawing kids - and their accompanying state aid - from neighboring districts.

Paul and Amy Schroeder are public school teachers who run the Nevis Triathlon every summer. The hugely popular event fills nearly a year in advance. The Schroeders return the proceeds piecemeal to youth and city projects.

Last summer they thought bigger. They learned of a skating rink in Grand Rapids being mothballed, so they dedicated $10,000 of the triathlon proceeds, rounded up a group of volunteers and trucked across the state to pick up the pieces. They built a community skating rink with little more than sweat equity, complete with donated warming house and a new streetlight for night skating.

Paul Schroeder, a city councilman, donated the land. He's been caught in the middle of the morality play, and while recognizing the city is dealing with a bar, he believes striking a balance between decorum and reality is in the city's best interests.

"I do think this issue can be and will be resolved but making comments and/or giving my opinion through the paper may just add fuel to the flame at this point," Schroeder said in a prepared statement Tuesday. "Obviously this issue needs to be discussed and revisited by the City Council and I'm sure it will be discussed more openly by the next City Council meeting."

The town comes together every year to celebrate Uff Da Days, a festival that draws hundreds of good-natured Scandinavians to town. It's these community efforts that make the discord over the muni confusing to some residents.

Liquor commissioner Heidi Schmeichel posted a sign in the muni, prominent in most Minnesota bars, that read, "BE GOOD OR BE GONE." It was later removed.

"I don't care if you're at home in the bedroom or in the kitchen," said patron Barb Sergot. "It's gonna slip. People are people. It doesn't stop. But it's not gonna drive me out of here. At my age you've heard everything."

"I'm Ralph Gorecki, the best Polack in this county," Gorecki said by way of introduction. "A bar is a bar. It's all gonna come out. Somebody gets mad at somebody else and uses it."

But Gorecki said it shows a lack of creative thinking to use F-bombs every third word. "Some of these young bucks, they just use it all the time," he said.

As a practical matter, Gorecki thinks the cursing could be contained by a diligent bartender.

A 30-day suspension, if the ordinance is enforced, "would be unfair to the taxpayers because this is a muni," he pointed out.

"A warning is enough. We're losing money as it is," Gorecki said. "You want to be that tough? They'll just go down the street" to the Iron Horse Saloon, half a block away.

One patron wonders if the randy language is a mounting expression of frustration at the economics of the region. "A lot of people have sh#tty days," he said.

"Occasionally it gets a little ripe but it's something that can be handled without a lot of hubbub," said Sergot's husband, John Reuvers.

He and many of the patrons believe the city should let the matter rest; it's dividing the tight community.

Hanson isn't so sure. The tourist season is nearing, when the decorum takes a downward turn, she said. She's not looking forward to it under a laissez faire approach.

"They're out drinking and fishing and then they come in here really soused," said Sergot. "That's when it gets bad. But I'm usually home by 7 so I miss it."

The debate will wage on, and likely die out eventually. But it has caused a chink in a small town's armor.

"It's dividing the town and it's dividing the customers - absolutely," said Reuvers.

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