Ahip scene in Fargo? You betcha.

The Denver Post - - TRAVEL - By Me­lanie D.G. Ka­plan

fargo, n. d. » Some peo­ple say Fargo is in the middle of nowhere. Like that’s a bad thing.

The city, which sits on North Dakota’s east­ern bor­der, shone like a bea­con on my GPS de­vice this past sum­mer as I drove west from the East Coast. Fargo may be out of the way, but I’d ar­gue that re­mote­ness is one of its charms. You don’t end up here by ac­ci­dent, and you don’t nec­es­sar­ily stay for con­ve­nience.

When I ar­rived, my needs were mod­est: a place to lay my weary head, stretch my legs and sate my ap­petite. But as soon as I pulled up to the Ho­tel Don­ald­son, I un­der­stood that the city is far more than a way sta­tion off In­ter­state 94.

Of course, it’s hard to con­sider Fargo with­out think­ing of the Coen brothers’ 1996 dark com­edy of the same name. Most Amer­i­cans haven’t been there, yet thanks to the film, they think they know what they’d find: a frozen waste­land, roads hard-packed with snow as far as the eye can see.

Granted, I was there in Au­gust— and en­joyed my­self enough to re­turn in Septem­ber— so the threat of tun­dra-like con­di­tions was nil. But I’ll betcha the friendly, hip and quirky side of Fargo that I en­coun­tered doesn’t go into hi­ber­na­tion for the win­ter.

The Ho­tel Don­ald­son, known as HoDo, is a 17-room bou­tique ho­tel on the cor­ner of Broad­way and First Av­enue, across the street from a restau­rant called Vinyl Taco. A pi­o­neer in the down­town resur­gence over the past decade, the ho­tel is also home to a fine-din­ing restau­rant, a lounge, a base­ment venue with a wine cel­lar, and a rooftop bar and hot tub space called Sky Prairie.

Each room at the HoDo fea­tures a lo­cal or re­gional artist, and some spa­ces look more like gal­leries than sleep­ing quar­ters. My spa­cious room fea­tured Leo Kim, a Shang­hai-born pho­tog­ra­pher who now lives in the re­gion.

Be­fore din­ner, I walked around down­town and found a mix of old and new: A uni­form re­tailer, VFW, fancy oil shop and yoga stu­dio all shared a block near the re­stored art deco Fargo Theatre. If in­de­pen­dent coffee shops are a key in­di­ca­tor of down­town vi­brancy, Fargo gets the nod, with Red Raven Espresso Par­lor, Twenty Below Coffee Co., Stum­beano’s Coffee Roast­ers and Atomic Coffee.

In a rel­a­tively short pe­riod of time, down­town restau­rants have ex­panded from a few to sev­eral dozen. The Re­nais­sance Zone pro­gram, which be­gan in 1999 and ex­empts new de­vel­op­ers from prop­erty and in­come taxes for five years, has spurred more than 180 projects. Fargo is also home to an emerg­ing tech sec­tor, and North Dakota State Univer­sity brings a young en­ergy to down­town.

When I re­turned a month later, I met up with the HoDo’s owner, Karen Stoker. Her pas­sion for art and hos­pi­tal­ity led to the cre­ation of the ho­tel, which brought a level of ser­vice and warmth to town that per­haps even lo­cals didn’t know was pos­si­ble in Fargo.

The ho­tel was built in 1893 and owned by the In­de­pen­dent Or­der of Odd Fellows. In the ’60s and ’70s, Fargo busi­nesses aban­doned down­town for the sub­urbs, leav­ing the area des­o­late. When Stoker bought the prop­erty in 2000, it was in dis­re­pair, serv­ing as a la­bor­ers’ ho­tel with weekly rates.

Stoker told me that she wanted it to be a place that would cre­ate mem­o­rable ex­pe­ri­ences by cel­e­brat­ing arts; she wanted to cre­ate a light­ning rod for down­town.

Along the way, she had her fair share of doubters— she calls it geo­graphic big­otry, a phrase I heard more than once from lo­cals. Peo­ple ques­tioned whether she could find enough re­gional artists, hang a wall of raw steel in the lobby (an ode to the re­gion’s agri­cul­tural ma­chin­ery) and fill the rooms with guests. She never lost faith in Fargo and de­fends it fer­vently.

Un­like some res­i­dents, Stoker doesn’t con­sider “Fargo” a curse. She un­der­stands that the film put the city on the radar— no mat­ter what folks say about Fargo, at least they know it ex­ists.

“I’m just thrilled,” Stoker ex­claimed, “that the Coen brothers didn’t name the movie ‘Brain­erd.’ ”

The re­stored art deco Fargo Theatre sits on a down­town strip of old and new: a uni­form store, VFW, fancy oil shop and yoga stu­dio.

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