The difference between a tavern and a bar is, according to Wikipedia, that at a tavern you are a “guest” while at a bar you are a member of the public. But a quality tavern is more than that – what makes a tavern is more than hanging up a shingle with the letters “TAVERN” in wild-west rustic face font.
The historic White Horse Tavern, Newport, RI
Turning the page in American history, the historic taverns were where the Continental Congress met, where the US Marines were first formed, and where General Washington would launch his victorious assault on the British by crossing the Delaware.
A quality tavern is a gathering place, a quality tavern is full of curious characters, a quality tavern is a place where one can stumble upon a great American story.
I’d like to share such a story in the form of Florio’s Grill & Tavern of Cohasset, Minnesota.
It had been a day of 14 hours paddling including fighting waves coming up-river and a lightening storm. It had been wetland for the vast majority of the day and as such nowhere to get out. The sun had set and I was dead tired and by the time I arrived at Cohasset I was ready to lay down some money for a hotel. There was no campsite on the map for many, many miles.
The good people of Cohasset had together spent $3,000, I’d later learn, to build a boat landing for travelers just like myself where I tied up my canoe and grabbed my wallet. It was about 10PM and after crossing the railroad tracks I saw a log tavern radiating light with a couple cars parked outside. Ashamed of my boots (they were wet) I opened the door and thought about asking after a hotel from where I stood. The waitress beckoned me forward and as I came into the tavern the owner, Ron Floria, came over to listen.
I explained that I was looking for a hotel and when they said the nearest one was five miles away, I shook my head and thought I was finished. There was a silence. “Do you have a tent?” asked Ron. “Yes, yes I do. I could pitch it on somebody’s lawn if anybody lives around here.” “How about just outside?” I looked outside and saw trees and old-school wooden benches and a lot of grass. “Great, just great!”
Ron did everything he could to make me feel at home. He offered to bring his truck around so he could shine her lights on my little operation – so I could see what I was doing with the tent. He let me bring my wet stuff inside to dry out overnight. He shook my hand and welcomed me to Cohasset – and he meant it.
I would spend the following two days camped outside Florio’s Grill & Tavern during which time I was able to write, edit and upload the Andy Wells interview(s) as well as a personal interview with CNN international – a story that would be eclipsed by the solar eclipse later that week in Asia.
I noted that Florio’s was booming – that the open-planned wooden log structure was filled with a very positive vibe, full of volunteer fire-fighters, with youth baseball teams, with business professionals, with city officials, with the wise old men of the town.
Susan Harper, the City Administrator, came over to shake my hand when she heard that I was camped just outside, what turned out to be across the street from City Hall. “This is the community hub – the only restaurant in the town,” explained Susan. She told me how much the entire town loved the place – that when there was a flood at the church as a result of the April thaw Ron had come over with hot food for all the firefighters – for everyone. “Just that simple act – it meant a great deal.” She was so excited and touched that I had chosen their town to pitch my tent, well before she would learn that I was doing a little reporting. Asking about Susan’s reaction to me a bit later other locals explained that she had meant what she said because she was forward-looking. She could see the day when many people would come from the river to spend money and take in the sights of Cohasset.
Ron Floria represents three generations attached to Florio’s Grill & Tavern. A retired cheffer from the railroads, Ron took early retirement and put his money into Florio’s – which he runs with his son, Larry. Larry’s son, Dominic (age eight) is a frequent guest, along with other family and friends. The tavern is a family business and it is successful – on multiple levels. They run it and watch it carefully and the quality of the operation shows.
When you order buffalo wings they come larger and tastier than I’ve ever seen and/or tasted in my life. They’ve cut the cost of the menu and offer specials every night – specials which actually fill the place up. When you order the blackened salmon it is both fresh and reasonable. And when you look up from your table, a gargantuan moose smiles down at you from its mount on the wall. “My cousin got that one,” explained Ron. “Up at the Boundary Waters. They get bigger than that a bit farther north but this is a good sized one.”
Ron would tell me stories of his time on the railroad, of how you can never judge a book by its cover. He’d relate business tips and success stories of how he’s made it during these tough times. In short, Ron became my friend and when it came time to at long last depart, the Minnesota Nice principle of saying goodbye multiple times rang true.
Ron Floria and his family represent a great All-American story. Their tavern is the real deal. They are working hard to pursue their dreams and in so doing to offer a valuable service in which folks, from near and far, are quick to shake hands, to speak of the good times and the bad – but most importantly, quick to smile.