The Bison Turf:
Safe haven from blizzards, bomb threats
Published: Monday, September 24, 2012
Updated: Monday, September 24, 2012 13:09
After Mike Luidahl graduated with a degree in university studies from NDSU in 1997, he returned to NDSU for a second major and is currently studying broadcast journalism. With years of wisdom and real world experience under his belt, he hopes to enlighten the student body by rewinding back to NDSU experiences from back in the day and describe how it differs now in his column entitled “RewiNDSU.”
Hundreds of people converging at The Bison Turf all at once like they did during last week’s bomb threat may be something the establishment has ever experienced in its colorful history. However, events such as this aren’t why thousands have walked into the NDSU campus version of “Cheers” throughout the decades.
Outside of football game day, homecoming parades and perhaps graduation days, “The Turf” has mostly been the convenient and casual place to go for students and faculty alike. The occasional throng of customers certainly can’t hurt its revenue for that day, but the thousands who frequently patronized the place during their time here have been its bread and butter.
It can easily be assumed that the building, as it is, has been around forever and that it has always gone by the same name. That sort of assumption is nothing more than a misconception.
Before it became The Bison Turf in 1985, the tavern was known as Nick’s Place and was also quite a bit smaller. That’s when a back room, which is now always open to all customers, was added on for special occasion use only. Actual artificial football playing surface was stretched across sections of the floor during the remodel as well to give it its namesake.
Despite having a fake field for a floor, The Turf began to build a legacy of genuineness that has remained intact until today. Other than the removal of the green rug, not much has changed physically with the pub since the mid-80s. A sense of belonging and familiarity has also continued on for the alumni and current students who stop in for food or drinks.
As mentioned in a 1987 Spectrum article, “Looking to the bar, you always see a friendly face among beer posters, lights and signs for the nightly drink specials. You’re sure to see the name of someone you know carved into the top of a wooden table.”
Etching initials into furniture wasn’t my preferred thing to do at The Turf during the hours upon hours I spent there during the ‘90s. There we played a lot of darts and watched enough sports to make us feel like we were getting the exercise needed to balance out the beer consumption.
Many are aware that the flood of 1997 nearly swamped Fargo like it did Grand Forks, but the periods of snowfall leading up to it were quite impressive too. This is important to bring up because The Turf was the only place close to campus that ever stayed open during the weekly blizzards experienced across the region that winter.
I can’t remember the exact amount, but am quite certain that President Plough cancelled classes for the day at least half a dozen times over the two semesters. More than 10 feet of snow accumulated during that span, and led to the green and gold painted Turf experiencing complete depletion of inventory a handful of times.
With stories like that, it’s a bit tough to believe that The Bison Turf was ever in danger of shutting down for good. About three years after opening its doors under the new name, a lease dispute caused a temporary closing that was followed by a reopening under another name. Apparently, “The Fun Company” naming experiment didn’t go over all that well with the owners reversing their decision shortly thereafter.
A more serious threat to The Turf remaining open came many years later in 2002 over allegations that over-serving of alcohol had become a trend at the bar and that minors were being served. Much concern was shown by students living next to campus in the form of signs that sported phrases such as: “Save The Turf, if it closes we’re moving to Moorhead.” Ultimately, the punishment ended up not being harsh enough to force a closing with the owner having to refrain from selling alcohol for only two days.
Of the City Commission’s decision to hand out a short suspension, owner Dave Sabo said, “I believe students had a big part of this. This is their bar.”
Realistically, if The Bison Turf wasn’t right next to the NDSU campus, it probably would just be another bar. Although the daily specials are effective, other attempts have occasionally been made to draw more people in like booking comedians. It has even served as the official location for the announcement of student government election results. In my opinion, however, the best thing ownership ever did was finally pave the parking lot out back. I’m by no means elaborating in saying that the old gravel lot was almost always cratered more than the surface of the moon.
Regardless of improvements happening at a slow rate and occurrences that caused turmoil, The Bison Turf still stands for what it was always simply meant to: It’s the place closest to campus where students can go to release after taking a test or hang out with friends.
Whether as a place of sanctuary during campus-wide evacuations or a comfy place to unwind, The Bison Turf has consistently been there as much for us and as we have been for it.