Driving by Mully’s on Madison, your eye might wander to the horseshoe on the sign.
“Oh yeah, that’s the country bar,” you think, followed by thoughts of tapered Wranglers, large silver belt buckles and a blanket of Stetsons bobbing up and down atop the heads of line dancers. It’s a scene right out of “Urban Cowboy,” sort of appealing in that young-John Travolta-in-tight-jeans-brimming-with-bravado kind of way.
Sort of off-putting, too, because surely you’d never fit in there, wearing a zip-up hoodie, straight-leg jeans and your favorite pair of DCs. All eyes would turn toward you as you entered the door, like that scene in “Blues Brothers” when the guys walk into the cowboy bar in their black suits and ties and everyone stops to stare.
Still, there’s a curiosity there. Mankato has proven itself to have a large country music following, considering acts like Rascal Flatts and Brad Paisley nearly sell out the Alltel Center. And considering Mully’s is the only country bar in Mankato, maybe it’s the hangout in town.
The truth would surprise you.
Spending a night at Mully’s is much like spending a night at Midtown Tavern or even McGoff’s. People of varying ages and attire pull up stools at the bar and gather in booths. The bartenders are 20-something women in black T-shirts. They look like any college student you pass near campus.
Even the owner, Patrick Mulligan, doesn’t dress the part. He leans on the bar in a button-up, short-sleeve dress shirt and pants. If there’s a large oval belt buckle holding his pants up, it’s not showing. And his name sounds Irish, but there’s nothing about him that suggests any sort of allegiance to heritage or musical culture. He’s just a nice, average guy having a drink on a Friday night.
Looking around it seems Mulligan represents his bar just fine. The “country” in this country bar seems reflected mostly by music. If George Strait makes you want to kick in your car speakers, it’s probably best to pick another bar. But the decor is pretty neutral. And the people who hang out there — whose dress range from school-teachery pant suits to Metallica T-shirts and camouflaged hip-huggers — are people you’d find at any other bar in town.
Oh, sure, there are a few tried-and-true cowboys. Funnily enough, they’re the ones who stand out in the crowd. One older gentleman sporting a black cowboy hat, a camel-colored leather jacket with dancing fringe and a shiny pair of boots is easily spotted at the bar.
Another, Tom Hager, wearing pretty much the same outfit, minus the fringey jacket, sits at the back of the bar, sipping a Mello Yellow and commenting on how Mully’s is one of the few country bars in the area. Mostly he drives from his place in rural Owatonna, where he raises horses, up to the Twin Cities to “real” country bars, where scenes from the above-mentioned “Urban Cowboy” might actually play out.
The Rodeo was his favorite before it closed. He even rode the bull a time or two. Now he settles for places like the St. Paul VFW, hoping to hear bands like the Killer Hayseeds and High Noon.
Whiskey Rose, which was kicking off its first fast-paced country tune, is good, too, he said. The band is from Minnesota, yet lead singer Sheldon Lee Brandt has an inexplicable Southern accent.
“Are we blowing you out of the water?” he asks with a slight twang.
“Yeah!” part of the audience shouts.
“All right, good. We wouldn’t want you to leave.”
That seems to be the last idea on anyone’s mind. The 70 or so people are settled into their booths and tables, mostly focused on the band. It’s clear from the chair-dancing that country music is what binds this group together.
Looking the part isn’t at all necessary to appreciate a good Garth Brooks song, it seems. Elaine and Gene Selby, just back from a three-month stint in Texas, prove the point.
In a white blouse, beaded necklace and slacks and a button-up shirt and jeans, respectively, they were the first to take the dance floor to show off their square dancing and line dancing skills that they learned in community ed classes.
What brings them here?
They just like country music, that’s all.
The toes tapping across the room seem to signal an agreement.