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Pistol Pete's owner remembered as longtime live music supporter

Pete Iverson and his wife, Janet, are pictured here in one of the many nightclubs Pete owned over the course of 50 years in the hospitality business. Special to The Forum

MOORHEAD—Peter Iverson never graduated from high school.

But that didn't stop him from getting a master's degree in business from a South Dakota college.

"A crazy thing," observed Iverson's son, Wade, who remembered his late father this week as a savvy nightclub owner who had a way of making employees feel they were part of a family.

"My dad was really the 'Pop' in 'Mom and Pop,'" said Iverson, whose father died July 31 at the age of 74 at his West Fargo home surrounded by family.

Peter Iverson owned many bars over his five decades in the hospitality business, both in the Fargo-Moorhead area and in South Dakota, but around here he's perhaps best known for Pistol Pete's, a bar he opened in 1993 at 3108 9th St. S., in Moorhead, which today is home to The Garage Bar.

Pistol Pete's was at that location until about 2005, when Iverson moved Pete's to the former East Gate Lounge in south Moorhead.

In 2006, Iverson opened a second Moorhead bar, Rock'n Pete's, in what had been Jerry's Bar in north Moorhead.

Rockin' Pete's closed in early 2007 and Pistol Pete's shut its doors about the same time.

Iverson then reopened Pistol Pete's in a building across from the Red River Valley Fairgrounds in West Fargo, where it operated for a few years before closing for good in 2009.

Pistol Pete's may not have happened at all if it wasn't for Gary Bitzer, who met Iverson in the early 1980s when Iverson owned a bar in Aberdeen, S.D., and Bitzer was part of a band called Icebreaker that played gigs at Iverson's nightclub.

Bitzer, who later started his own talent company, the Bitzer Agency, now based in Moorhead, said when he heard that a Moorhead bar called the Yellow Rose was for sale he urged Iverson to buy it.

Iverson eventually did, slipping his own name into the name of the bar—Pistol Pete's.

Over the years, Iverson and Bitzer maintained a personal and commercial friendship, with Iverson hiring Bitzer's band to play at Pete's, along with other bands Bitzer promoted through his talent agency.

Bitzer gives Iverson credit for helping a number of bands get their start.

"He wasn't scared to reach out and give somebody a chance," Bitzer said, adding that even in today's world, "The hardest thing for any band is being able to get into a room and play and make a name for yourself."

Wade Iverson said his father loved the music side of the business, and for many years Pistol Pete's had live bands playing six nights a week.

"He was a big supporter of live entertainment, that was his thing," Wade Iverson said, noting that his father was among the first in the area to introduce a Thursday ladies' night, which he said became Pistol Pete's "signature" night of the week.

The bar became popular, especially during a period in the 2000s when Moorhead bars could stay open until 2 a.m. and Fargo bars were closing at 1 a.m., creating nightly migrations from one side of the Red River to the other.

One infamous event in the history of Pistol Pete's came the night a bar patron became angry after being turned away and fired a gun into the bar. No one was fatally harmed, but the incident became part of Pete's folklore.

Wade Iverson said he plans to celebrate his father's life and his career and hopes to include many of those who knew and loved him. Details are still being worked out, but Iverson said he intends to set up a series of musical events over three nights at venues where Pistol Pete's used to call home.

He said it may happen this fall after college students return to the area.

"I've already got Jerry's (Bar) lined up," Iverson said.

As for his father's academic career, Iverson said when officials at the college that handed him his master's degree learned he didn't have a high school diploma, they ended up letting things ride after reviewing his record and realizing he was pretty much a straight-A student.

"They kind of said, 'You're OK,'" Iverson said, adding that as a bar owner his father had a way of befriending many of the patrons and musicians who came through his door.

"Everybody that worked for him, it was kind of a family," Iverson said.

Bitzer shares that view..

"He had his artist family—which were all the bands that loved him and he loved them—and then you had the regulars that supported that family," Bitzer said.

"He made himself part of the scene," Bitzer added. "You weren't just going to a building, you were going to Pete's."

Dave Olson
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