The laid-back nature of the bar, whose 7-night karaoke has earned quite a reputation, has made U Otter Stop Inn an attraction for both regulars and newcomers to Northeast. The bar sits at the intersection of Central and 1st avenues.
Freeman recently talked with the Downtown Journal about owning one of the most distinctive bars in Northeast.
DTJ: I’ve heard a lot of people say that it’s the people who make U Otter Stop Inn what it is. What can you say about your clientele?
Denise Freeman: They’re fun, and it’s a real diverse crowd which, right there, makes people feel comfortable. We don’t care if you’re blonde, black, white, Asian, young or old — everybody treats each other the same. You’ll have the 25-year-olds dancing or singing with the 65-year-olds. I think that is what sets it off from other places. Even if somebody new comes in, they can still feel safe and welcome.
Do you get up and sing karaoke yourself?
Once in a great while.
What do you sing?
If it’s their birthday, the customers like it when I sing “Happy, Happy Birthday Baby.” I have a low voice, and I can’t hit those soprano notes! So it’s Joe Cocker, “Unchain My Heart” and songs like that.
Where did the otter theme come from?
I’ve always collected otters, for about 20 years now — different figures of freshwater, river and seawater otters. I always thought it would be fun to be one because they don’t have to work. They play, eat, sleep, drink and have sex. You know, no other animal can say that; even ants have to work on building an anthill. Everything has to work, but otters! Yeah, I wouldn’t mind being that.
I couldn’t call it Otter’s because there’s already one in Otter Tail County, so then I came up with U Otter Stop Inn. We have some customers who come in just because they read the sign. They say, ‘It said U Otter Stop Inn, so I did.’
How has your business evolved over the period of time that you’ve owned it?
Business was really good when times were good, and now, of course, times are hard. It’s made a big impact not only on me, but on everyone — it’s just the economy.
The atmosphere hasn’t changed though. From day one, this is what we set our goals to be: it doesn’t matter what you look like, you can grab a microphone and have fun. Or grab a game and play. I have a lot of games like backgammon, checkers, chess, cribbage boards, dominos and cards. I have crossword puzzle books and Sudoku books too. If somebody comes in and wants to be quiet or alone, I’ll go over there and offer them a crossword book. And you know what? They like that.
What has been your experience as a businessperson in Northeast?
The other bar owners are all so nice and fun to work with. We share our customers — we have to, we’re neighbors — and we participate in each others’ events. I have everybody’s menus behind my bar because all I offer is Peggy’s pizza. If they’re hungry, I ask customers what kind of food they want, how much they want to spend and point them to the right place. This shows customers that I care about them, and they appreciate that I helped them out.
The owners are like family and the customers are like family. Even cabs, they’re so available in this area because people do want to go from bar to bar. It’s Northeast; it’s like visiting one relative and then going to see another.