Rec Room Resurrection

Chatterbox Pub
2229 E. 35th St., Minneapolis; (612) 728-9871
Hours: 11:00 a.m.-1:00 a.m. daily; food served until midnight

 

Is there any future for the south Minneapolis 3.2 bar? If you'd asked me that question six months ago, I'd have said no. I'd have figured that once the current crop of 3.2 patrons died off--run into the ground from so many to-the-bathroom miles, I'd guess--that would be that.

Michael Dvorak

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Chatterbox Pub

2229 E. 35th St.
Minneapolis, MN 55407

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Powderhorn

(For the edification of foreigners: A 3.2 bar is an establishment permitted to serve only drinks that have no more than 3.2 percent alcohol in their total volume; the drink of choice is nearly always beer. In comparison, standard beer usually has an alcohol level of 5 percent or 6 percent; most table wine is between 10 percent and 15 percent. In Minneapolis nearly all bars south of 31st street are 3.2 bars, which is how lawlessness, anarchy, and inbreeding have been prevented from seeping up from Iowa. Pronunciation is "three-two"--ignore the dot; alternate pronunciations include Whizzy Bar and Leaksalot.)

Where were we? Oh yeah. Formerly, I would've said the 3.2 bar was doomed, but I wouldn't say that now, because I have seen the future, and lo, the future is the Chatterbox Pub. From outside, it doesn't look like anything, just a few dark windows and some neon on the corner of 35th Street and 23rd Avenue. But take the time to look closer; some of that neon is actually Lite-Brite. Step inside and you've entered into an entirely unique experience: A Gen X/Gen Y student-center/cruise-ship activity center/dream basement circa 1983.

Yeah, I know that's a lot of phraseology to explain. But as usual, I beg your patience. The Chatterbox is divided into two rooms: one a standard bar, the other nothing but basement. A dozen thrift-shop recliners and couches grouped around televisions, a lot of Christmas lights, a silver holiday garland wound around an oversize beer-cap clock. Not too promising. But settle down in one of the TV rings, and the transition is quickly made from basement to fantasy basement of adolescent dreams.

Servers offer you Chatterbox Ale (craft-brewed for them by Schell's, in New Ulm), root beers in white-frosted, chilled glasses, turkey sandwiches on crusty rosemary bread, and, of course, bountiful baskets of fries or onion rings. Then, as in so many of the world's fine-dining establishments, you are afforded an opportunity to peruse a second menu, a second menu you need plenty of advance training to make any sense of whatsoever. And no, there isn't a chardonnay on it. It's an Atari game list. Frogger. Asteroids. Space Invader. Donkey Kong. Tron.

A dollar gets you two games and the paddles, and the chance to conjure up memories you might not know you had. It certainly happened to me. As I sat there, strange things came bubbling out of my mouth: "Oh, the hammer isn't for now, it's for when you cycle back around in level three... What you gotta do is trap the scorpion things in the middle of the girders... The only way you'll get through this is to jump when the alligators' mouths are still open." What? When my last guy died and I reached for the reset button on the Atari 2600 game console without even thinking--well, let's just say that self-knowledge really comes at odd times, and it brings sometimes unwelcome information. Exactly how many formative years did I spend on the couch in front of the TV?

(In the Halloween spirit, I'd like to add this to the popular dialogue: The baby-boomers might have had all that hide-under-your-desk-from-the-nuclear-bombs training, but Gen X was the first razor-blades-in-the-candy generation, when playing outside unwatched was tantamount to standing on the side of the highway with a "kidnap me" note taped to your chest. No wonder so many of us feel closer to the Bradys than to the actual neighbors.)

Still, this trumps childhood, because no matter how many years I spent in front of the TV, I'd never have gotten Mom to bring me pitchers of beer and baskets of fries. That house beer, the Chatterbox lager ($1.95 a mug; $8.50 a large pitcher), is pretty good. It's an attractive brown color, has a clean aftertaste, and a nice bite of hops. Not amazing, but a significant improvement over the pale lawn-mower beer that's standard in 3.2 bars. And you've got to applaud owners Andrea Lefavor and Steve Miller for having the vision to try to improve on the formula. Miller says patrons haven't seen nothing yet: They're currently working on developing a Chatterbox Belgian White Ale, which will be served with freshly muddled whole raspberries, lemon wedges, or orange slices.

The same can-do, almost-there kudos goes for the food menu. Most of the offerings are sub sandwiches, which cost $6.95 for a really vast 8-inch offering, or $11.95 for 16 inches. They're much huger than ordinary subs, thanks to the superchewy artisanal rosemary bread that makes their hull. Fill that bread with some basic choices, such as Gardenburger, roast beef, turkey, ham, or lemon-pepper chicken breast. Add cheese--Swiss, mozzarella, or American--and then sauce (fajita ranch, honey mustard, marinara, or the mild house Parmesan-curry mustard) and toppings (the standard lettuce, tomato, and red onion as well as Chatterbox specialties such as sliced mushrooms sautéed in a garlic marinade; sliced green olives prepared in a similar manner; pickles). If you're splurging, throw on some pay-more extras, like bacon (50 cents) or spinach artichoke dip ($1). Voilà!

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