A big red sign with an upside-down guitar, a whisky bottle and a paintbrush casts a glow across East Third Street. The bar below is nameless, but most know it as Ed’s No-Name Bar.
Ed’s has been a fixture in Winona for the past five years. And so has its owner, Ed Hoffman.
A Winona native, Hoffman traveled away from home time and time again, but his roots to the river and the city continued to draw him back.
He first left home after high school and spent 10 years in Seattle, working at bars and a brewery to learn the craft of beer making.
He returned home the first time to study history at Winona State University. He found the river to be an escape. “I sort of got in touch with the river and fishing and just the laid-back attitude that’s here,” Hoffman said.
After college, Hoffman again sought different waters in Seattle. But homesickness itched away at him. He looked for a way to get back but didn’t quite know how. He knew and lived the bar scene, even grew up working in his parents’ bar in Minnesota City. But that dream seemed “prohibitively expensive.”
Then chance intervened. A bar in downtown Winona was put up for sale. Hoffman jumped at the opportunity. By spring 2007, he moved back from Seattle again and opened his own place. He brought a bit of the West Coast back with him, focusing on providing what he described as “a focus on good beer and sort of an artistic or counter-culture slant.”
Ed quickly set his bar apart by banning smoking before the statewide ban took effect and not installing any televisions, pool tables, or other bar staples.
“He nailed it,” said Sam Brown, the founder of the Mid West Music Fest, who went to college in Oregon.
“I didn’t see it at first,” said Jamie Harper, a longtime friend of Hoffman whose art is currently displayed on the walls of the bar. “But the first time it opened you could just feel it was going to be the cultural center of town.“
It has, in many ways, for both music and art. Brown puts on festival showcases at the bar throughout the year and Hoffman, also an active artist, tries to find as much space as possible for other local artists to display their work.
“He’s really embraced taking on the responsibility of providing a space for the community,” Harper said. “The community trusts his judgment, and I feel like he trusts the community to support him.“
Maintaining the bar outside can get complicated for a one-man operation. Hoffman still single-handedly keeps the bar running, though as its grown so has the staff —he’s hired a new employee every year the place has been open. He’s also grown with the bar. He doesn’t like the spotlight though he’s learning to accept it.
“I’m not the most social person in the world and the bar sort of forces me to be,” he said.
“Ed is just a phenomenal asset for this community,” Brown said. “He’s brought so much culture to Winona, and he does it in his own very low-key way.”