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Small-town bars offer local option for New Year's Eve celebrations

Local establishments cater to rural community customers

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Sam Beeson, co-owner of the Ammo Box Bar and Grill in Ethan, prepares a drink late Friday afternoon at the establishment. Beeson said local watering holes like the Ammo Box give community members a local option when celebrating events like New Year's Eve. The familiarity and small-town atmosphere offer a comfortable environment to celebrate and socialize, she said. Erik Kaufman / Mitchell Republic

The temperature was plummeting Friday evening, with mercury in the thermometer expected to reach as low as -10 degrees Fahrenheit.

But it was warm and welcoming inside the doors of several small-town bars and restaurants in the area, where locals from the community were expected to gather to celebrate the departure of 2021 and the arrival of 2022 with music, spirits, food and a little good old-fashioned conversation.

That was the scene at RJ’s Sports Bar and Grill in Alexandria, where Kami Filter was working behind the bar, tending to the first few customers who had come in during the late afternoon. There was plenty on tap besides just beer at the local watering hole for New Year’s Eve. The establishment planned to feature a menu of steaks, free bingo and free jukebox after 9 p.m.

Filter expected it would be a fun, but busy evening of fun activities. But it is most likely just the atmosphere and company customers find at the bar that draws them in to celebrate the holiday.

“I think it’s just the small town atmosphere of it, where it’s not overcrowded but there are still plenty of people to talk with,” Filter said.

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It would be the first New Year’s Eve Filter has worked at the bar, having been with the establishment for about three months, but she said she understands the appeal of a local bar for events like New Year’s Eve. The bar is likely to be filled but there will be few strangers among the crowd, she said.

That keeps it familiar and friendly for everyone involved, including the staff, she said.

“I love small town bars. I’ve never had an issue with anybody,” Filter said.

Down the road in Ethan, Sam Beeson, co-owner of the Ammo Box Bar & Grill was shoveling snow from the sidewalk in front of her establishment on Main Street. The temperature had already dipped to -2 degrees, but in true South Dakota fashion, she wasn’t wearing a winter coat.

But she was only two steps away from the warmth of the Ammo Box, which will mark its second year of operation in April. The main New Year’s Eve crowd had yet to wander in, but Beeson was expecting a decent group based on the reservations they were taking for steak dinners and the karaoke that was planned for later.

The Ammo Box serves as the lone outpost for food and drink in Ethan. And while necessity often brings in customers in communities this size, Beeson said that it’s the small-town environment that makes places like her bar and grill appealing to folks looking to get out to celebrate for an evening.

“I think they like the small-town atmosphere. That’s a lot of it,” Beeson said. “Being in a small town, that’s a lot of the pull.”

Places like the Ammo Box often have a loyal customer base because of their direct relationship to the community and the close proximity to the neighborhood itself. For New Year’s Eve, Beeson said the steak dinner specials and extra events are a draw for people who don’t necessarily want to drive far to enjoy a celebratory evening.

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Small town bars and restaurants, like Boog's & Co. in Parkston, pride themselves on their personal connection to their local communities. Erik Kaufman / Mitchell Republic

“I really expect quite a few reservations for tonight. For supper we’re pretty well a full house and we’ll handle random walk-ins. I think it will be a very good night,” Beeson said.

That dinner special draws in couples and families, Beeson said. She noted that the Ammo Box is happy to accommodate all customers, from singles stopping by to enjoy a drink to families coming in to enjoy a dinner out. It’s a community establishment, and all members of that community are welcome.

Many of the staff working behind the scenes at the bar are members of her family, as well.

“We like to have a family atmosphere, and we like to have family involved,” Beeson said.

Down in Parkston, Boog’s & Co. was preparing for the influx of people expected to stop in for New Year’s Eve.

Lindsey McKeown was behind the bar, greeting customers as they arrived and departed. The main holiday crowd was still a few hours away, but McKeown said she was anticipating a wave to flow through for dinner after Friday night church services before the New Year’s Eve celebration began in earnest.

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Like Beeson and Filter, McKeown said the appeal of a place like Boog’s & Co. is the fact that it’s a local, small town establishment.

“I think everybody knows everybody. It’s a small town, and with COVID-19 there haven’t been a lot of people out,” she said. “Now a lot of people are vaccinated, and they feel like they can come out a little bit more.”

Friday nights are busy dinner nights at Boog’s, she said. Coupled with a holiday that leads directly into the weekend should make for a lively evening, she said.

“Absolutely, most people don’t have to work tomorrow,” McKeown said.

Temperatures in Parkston were well below zero and winds were gusting in the teens in the late afternoon on Friday, bringing the wind chill down to negative double digits. It wasn’t expected to be a great night for travel, she said, so it’s good that places like Boog’s are right downtown for those who may not want to risk a longer drive in dangerous weather.

That’s fine by McKeown, who said the Boog’s staff would be ready to host when it came time to celebrate the new year. As a small-town bar, most everyone knows your name, she said, and on a bitterly-cold New Year’s Eve in South Dakota, the local watering hole should be the first stop that comes to mind.

“When it’s so cold people just don’t like to go out. They’d like to stay home and stay local. They figure ‘let’s just go down to the bar for a couple instead of going somewhere else.’”

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