Meet the Women Behind Cabin 61

by | May 2023

Kristi Skillings, Lindsey Carpenter and Carrie Berg

Kristi Skillings, Lindsey Carpenter and Carrie Berg. Photo: Chris Emeott

When White Bear Lake’s Lindsey Carpenter thought of a brilliant idea to buy a dive bar on Goose Lake, her husband pegged the notion as preposterous. Since Don’s Little Bar wasn’t for sale, Carpenter’s idea died a quick death, only to rise again.

When the bar and its surrounding two acres became available in 2016, Carpenter, along with long-time friends Melissa Martini-Laughlin, Carrie Berg and Kristi Skillings, made an offer. The purchase involved more than turning a dive bar into a family-friendly restaurant. It gave the Midwest Ski Otters water ski team a lasting home.

“We were all professional skiers,” says Carpenter of herself and her co-owners. “We skied at Tommy Bartlett, Cypress Gardens and SeaWorld.”

Since 1995, the nonprofit Midwest Ski Otters has offered free water ski shows. With land on the lake, the team could build a launch, store boats and host shows. “Not being invested on the lake was making it difficult for the ski team. The land purchase would change that,” Carpenter said.

Though experienced skiers, they were first-time restaurateurs. “The bar was more divey than we thought,” Carpenter says. “We thought we could slap on some fresh paint and get going. Turns out, it was a lot of work.”

One of the first things the ownership group did was to settle on a name. Midwest Ski Otter-themed names, such as Otter Time and Otter Place, were considered and rejected. With a prime location on Highway 61, the perfect name eventually fell into place. “We wanted the name to appeal to everyone,” Carpenter says. “The property included rental cabins, and someone came up with Cabin 61.”

They purchased the bar in June 2016 and opened the restaurant three months later. For 18 months, the ownership group ran the show, dirty dishes included. That would change by happenstance.

“I happened to be in there one night when they asked if I’d consider running the restaurant,” says Daron Close, owner of Acqua Restaurant & Bar and Mizu Japanese. “My mother played softball for [Don’s] Little Bar. It’s probably one of the first bars I had ever been in.” Close’s answer was a resounding, “Yes.”

The move pushed the ownership group from front-and-center to off to the side but not before a 20-table patio, outdoor stage and water fountain were added. And a chainsaw carving was commissioned.

When Carpenter visits, she’ll chat with customers and ask them what they think of the place. What she won’t mention (unless they ask) is that she’s part of the all-women ownership group. Note: The head chef is also a woman.

“If my mom is with, it’s one of the first things she’ll say,” Carpenter says. Proud momma.

What’s New at Cabin 61

Cabin folk go to the cabin to be outdoors. They just do. This wasn’t lost on the owners of Cabin 61. Besides, who doesn’t want to sit on an outdoor deck enjoying lake views? In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic (summer of 2020), the City of White Bear Lake approved Cabin 61’s request to create outdoor space. This resulted in a large shaded patio, err deck. “It’s close to the lake, and it’s gorgeous,” Carpenter says. A makeshift stage constructed of Midwest Ski Otters’ docking in the summer of 2022 led to a regular dose of live music. As the weather warms, Acoustic Tuesdays return. Once a month, the stage parties down with sounds of local bands like Audio Circus, The Bootleggers and Rock Brigade.

Perched just outside the deck sits a wood carving you have to see to believe. At its roots is an old cottonwood tree that became available after one of its oversized limbs let loose and crashed onto Cabin 61’s new deck. While arborists had concluded that the tree itself couldn’t be saved, its trunk was transformed, rising like a phoenix into the shapes of a bear, loon, owl, wolf, ski otter, gopher, timber wolf and lynx. A Minnesota Viking is also carved into the center.

World-class chainsaw artist Aya Blaine, of Osaka, Japan, is credited with the one-of-a-kind creation. “People come from all over just to see the carving,” says Carpenter. And they’ll stay for a burger and a beer.

Midwest Ski Otters

The Midwest Ski Otters offer free family-friendly summer shows on Goose Lake on Sunday evenings June through August. With more than 100 volunteer members, the ski team displays moves like pyramid climbing, driving maneuvers and stage performance by outstanding swivel champions, freestyle jumpers and barefooting experts. Lessons are also available for all ages and abilities.

Cabin 61
4150 Hoffman Road, White Bear Lake; 651.340.8415
Facebook: Cabin 61-White Bear Lake
Instagram: @cabin61whitebearlake

Midwest Ski Otters
Facebook: Midwest Ski Otters
Instagram: @ski.otters


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