If you are a young person just starting to explore the Brainerd lakes area, here is an alphabetical guide to what it has -- and doesn't have -- to offer for regular entertainment and activities.
It's by no means comprehensive, but it'll get you started. Check out the entertainment guide every Thursday in the Dispatch for a detailed listing of upcoming events. To explore the area's offerings further, check out www.explorebrainerdlakes.com, www.brainerd.com or the phone book.
Elizabeth Kelm surfed the Internet last week at the Eclectic Cafe in downtown Brainerd. The cafe has two computers available for rent in half-hour and one-hour blocks for $1.50 and $2.
Bar music: Brainerd's Blue Ox and the Rail host live music at least five nights a week; the Ox leans toward modern rock (Ded Walleye is a favorite) and the Rail leans toward classic rock, with a touch of country (Silent Partner is a favorite). Up north, Moonlite Bay in Crosslake tends to be the hot youth hangout on summer weekends. If you are younger than 21 you're generally out of luck, except for special events such as karaoke; call ahead to be sure.
Beer cheese soup: Check out the Last Turn Saloon in downtown Brainerd.
Big-ticket concerts: None to speak of. Brainerd lacks a venue to host them and mid-level touring bands are more likely to stop in St. Cloud.
Books: The Brainerd Public Library shares books with nine other regional libraries; a delivery service runs four days a week. You can put in requests at www.krls.org. Popular new releases are seven-day checkouts; you can put your name on a waiting list. Other books can be checked out for four weeks. The library offers the Teen Extreme Book Club 4 p.m. the second Tuesday of every month. Stacy Jensen oversees the young adult collection.
Book World in the Westgate Mall has a decent selection. CatTale's in downtown Brainerd has a treasure trove of used books; Rainy Days in Nisswa and Bookin' It in Little Falls are among several other locally owned shops in the area.
Bowling: Brainerd/Baxter has two alleys, Paul Bunyan Bowl and Jack's House. Paul Bunyan's big attractions are Rock 'n' Bowl 10 p.m. Fridays and Moonlight Bowling 10 p.m. Saturdays. The latter is especially popular; you can reserve a lane at the desk. Leagues run every night of the week. After 10 p.m., you must be 18 or accompanied by an adult.
Jack's House has open bowling anytime, with the exceptions of busy league nights 6-9:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays. Fridays through Sundays tend to be busy; you can make a reservation at the desk. From 10 p.m. to close daily, you can bowl for $2 a game. Jackpot Bowling is at 9:30 p.m. daily; you must be 18. College Night is 9:30-11:30 p.m. Wednesdays, featuring unlimited bowling for $10 with a college ID. Both alleys boast pool tables and arcade games. Neither alley is smoke-free.
Several other area communities -- Aitkin, Crosby and Pine River among them -- have bowling alleys.
Daughter-and-mother Lindsey and Marge Green shared a laugh last week at Coco Moon. The window booths offer checkers, chess and backgammon on the tabletops.
Coffee-shop music: For the last couple years, there hasn't been much of a coffee-shop scene to speak of, but it looks like that will change this year. Brainerd's Eclectic Cafe will host musicians every Saturday starting this month, and Coco Moon plans to host musicians every Friday and Saturday starting this summer. Both venues are smoke-free.
If you don't mind spending a little more, the Great River Arts Center in Little Falls and Grassroots Concerts at the Nisswa Community Center host folk music on a fairly regular basis. Great River Arts also sponsors free outdoor concerts on summer Sundays.
Comedy: Scott Hansen's Comedy Gallery at the Rail in Brainerd hosts professional stand-up comedians 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. The venue recently opened its Friday shows to those 18 and older. The Saturday night shows are 21-plus. At $5 for repeat customers, it's one of the best values in the area. Big-ticket comedy legends often pop up at Grand Casino Mille Lacs north of Onamia.
Comic books: Book World has a small selection, but there's no specialty shop in the area. Point your car south and drive to Granite City Comics in St. Cloud or check out one of the dozen or so Schinder's the next time you're in the Twin Cities.
Compact discs: Best Buy in Baxter and The Gallery in downtown Brainerd are fun places to peruse, but if your tastes are even slightly out of the mainstream, be prepared to place special order or go to an Internet site such as www.amazon.com.
Dance clubs: Tropical Nites and the Inferno Dance Club at the Rail both are open to patrons 18 and older Wednesdays. They are across the street from each other in downtown Brainerd, so try them both. On other nights, they are open to those 21 and older.
Gaming: Citadel Games in Brainerd hosts Magic: The Gathering tournaments three times a week, and several shops sell Magic cards. Arcade gamers can check out the bowling alleys, the Westgate Mall or the area's several amusement centers, many of which are on Highway 371 North.
Coco Moon offers chess, checkers and backgammon. Remnant Ministry's teen hangout the Upper Room, located below Coco Moon, has a game room and a small supply of games; it is recommended that you bring your own games. The Upper Room is open 7-11 p.m. Fridays.
Golf: Pine Meadows, the only course within the city limits of Brainerd/Baxter, is for sale, so its future is up in the air. Eagle's Landing near Fort Ripley might become the new course for Pine Meadows regulars. There are a bevy of other courses in the Brainerd lakes area. Check out www.golfbrainerdlakes.com to explore your options.
Internet: The Brainerd Public Library has six computers that can be reserved for one-hour or half-hour blocks. Coco Moon, the Eclectic Cafe and Northwest Pizza/Boardwalk Bread 'n' Bagel have free wireless Internet for laptop users. The E has two computers that can be rented for $1.50 for a half-hour or $2 for an hour.
For fans of artier films, cross your fingers, drive to the Cities or wait for DVD. Four of the five Best Picture nominees eventually reached Movies 10, although "Sideways" only lasted two weeks. Some small towns have nice one-screen venues, Aitkin's Rialto Theatre among them. A new five-screen theater is scheduled for a May opening in Jenkins.
Open mics and jam sessions: Coco Moon hosts bluegrass jams 6:30 p.m. the first, third and fifth Thursday of every month. The Blue Ox hosts open mics backed by a house band most Monday nights for those 21 and older. The Great River Arts Center in Little Falls occasionally hosts open mic nights. Brainerd's Upper Room provides a sound system, microphone and drum set for musicians who want to jam; it is a popular spot for teen bands to try out new material on an audience on Friday nights.
Poetry slams and improv: None, other than occasional events at the Great River Arts Center in Little Falls.
Pool: Forget winning and losing. A good night of pool is one where you can find a table that's not missing the chalk, cue ball and eight ball and doesn't have people milling about your backswing. Chopper's sports bar in northeast Brainerd is one of the good ones. It has three nicely spaced tables, serves a delicious Mountain Dew on the rocks and the bar is generally less smoky than others. Area bowling alleys and most bars also offer pool tables, as does the Upper Room.
Sandwiches: Brainerd/Baxter is a haven for those who consider Mickey's, Quiznos, Subway, Cousins and Gio's to be the five food groups. At Quiznos, they always know your order; and at Mickey's, they always know your name. Both serve tasty subs, and Mickey's can't be beat on price; sometimes you'll even get change from a five. Although they are a bit pricier, Boardwalk also makes delicious traditional sandwiches.
Shopping: The Westgate Mall and downtown Brainerd are two primary shopping districts, but beware of customer-unfriendly hours. Downtown is mostly a ghost town on Sundays, and the mall closes early Saturdays and Sundays. For specialty boutiques, go to Nisswa and Pequot Lakes.
Smoke-free: As area cities mull smoking bans, a few area establishments have elected to go smoke-free on their own. Among them are Coco Moon, Northwind Grille, Last Turn Grille and Mickey's. Most dining establishments have smoking and non-smoking sections.
Sporting events: The Brainerd Warriors don't just dominate the sports scene, they dominate the entertainment scene, too. Promoters know not to schedule anything against the Warriors if it can be helped. Central Lakes College is a Division III junior college, but the volleyball and men's basketball teams put on a surprisingly good show. This summer, wood-bat baseball returns to Brainerd with the Northwoods League's Blue Thunder.
Television: Charter Communications offers the six major networks and most of the popular cable channels through a variety of packages. With both FSN and KSTC in the lineup, Twins and Wolves fans are good to go. Other options include satellite providers such as Dish Network or DirecTV. Two more cable companies -- Consolidated Telecommunications Co. and Nextra Communications -- will enter the Brainerd/Baxter market in the near future.
Theater: Several towns -- Brainerd, Pequot Lakes, Little Falls, Staples, Wadena, Aitkin -- have community theater. The best youth-appeal theater tends to be found at Brainerd's Central Lakes College, which puts on a new play every season of the year.
Video and DVD: Movie Gallery has a respectable selection of new releases, including the critics' and Academy favorites that skipped Movies 10. If you are interested in renting older movies or television DVDs, Cash Wise Video in east Brainerd is your best bet. Best Buy in Baxter has an aisle devoted to TV DVDs.
JOHN HANSEN, staff writer, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5863.
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