The Midnite Mine celebrates 50 years of operation today. The underground downtown bar opened Dec. 2, 1971, and, with eclectic decor and loyal customers, has been a Fairbanks staple ever since.

A half-century of success is a relatively rare and difficult accomplishment for a locally owned business. Despite ups and downs in the economy and changes in laws, the Mine has weathered the highs and lows.

Founder and longtime owner Bob Maloney and current owner Rick Mensik attribute the Mine’s decades of success to loyal customers and community support.

“It’s a unique, fortunate thing [to remain open for so long] and the community has always supported the Mine,” Mensik said. As Maloney put it, “Everybody knows where the Mine is.”

The unique atmosphere — the bar is located underground with eclectic decor — and camaraderie among clientele keep Fairbanksans coming back.

“It’s a lot of original, unique [decorations],” Mensik said of the interior design, which includes rocks and railroad ties. The Midnite Mine, according to Mensik, is a “truly a unique place, you can’t just recreate this today.”

The Mine serves as a gathering place for Fairbanksans, both friends and strangers who become friends after meeting in the bar. Maloney explained that, when he moved to Fairbanks in the 1960s, bars were the centerpoint of the community. Although that social dynamic has changed in the past 60 years, it has not gone away completely.

“Social media hasn’t hurt it that much,” according to Maloney. For a core group of people, Mensik said, the Midnite Mine remains an integral establishment.

“You can tell why they call it a club because it’s a social atmosphere,” Mensik said. “These people are friends,” he said, adding that regulars have their own spots at the bar and bartenders have drink orders memorized. “It’s just a neighborhood tavern,” said Maloney.

Many of the people who began frequenting the Midnite Mine when Maloney owned it have stayed loyal to the bar.

“It’s an eclectic group,” Mensik said of the customers. During the day it is an older crowd, but at night the bar draws in younger people.

The Mine, in turn, does its part to give back to the community, Mensik said. “We’ve supported a lot of people. We love the community and try to be part of the community and an asset to the community,” he explained. For example, the Mine sponsors darts and pool tournaments in the winter and a softball team in the summer.

Something else the Midnite Mine has in its favor is consistency. When asked how the bar has evolved in the past five decades, Maloney’s response was:, “I’m not sure that it has changed a whole lot.” It is, more or less, the same establishment it was when it opened 50 years ago.

Mensik took over the Midnite Mine about four years ago with a don’t fix what isn’t broken approach. “We didn’t want to change anything Bob [Maloney] was doing, because it was working perfectly,” Mensik said. From the decor to the people working at the bar to the clientele, it has all stayed basically the same. For context, Mensik said, the newest technology is still a 15 year old ATM machine.

The two main additions have been the addition of a brewery in the upstairs portion of the building, which is run by Mensik’s grandson, and a deck.

The Midnite Mine first opened its doors in December 1971. Maloney explained that his friend owned the building (which was initially a laundromat but had been sitting empty) and decided to open up a bar. Maloney and three other men finished work on the building in late 1971. Per Alcohol Beverage Control Board rules, the bar had to be open for 30 days in the calendar year, so Dec. 2 was the latest possible day.

“They put me behind the bar and said ‘OK you’re in charge,’ and I’d never even tended bar,” Maloney laughed. However, he learned quickly. The other three men left, but Maloney stayed and owned the Mine for a total of 46 years.

This was not always an easy job. “I was here lots of hours,” Maloney said. He frequently spent afternoons tending bar, and spent even more time on the property making sure everything was going smoothly. Keeping things running in an “old building that sometimes falls apart” required a lot of time, Maloney said of the building that was constructed in the 1950s. However, the time and effort has been rewarded with decades of community support.

To celebrate the Midnite Mine’s 50th birthday, there will be a party today with complementary food beginning at 5 p.m.

“There’s lots of people in town that have spent some time down here,” said Maloney, “I thought we should have a little celebration.”

Contact reporter Maisie Thomas at 907-459-7544 or mthomas@newsminer.com.

Contact reporter Maisie Thomas at 907-459-7544 or mthomas@newsminer.com.

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