The People's Skybox

A few innings in the Metrodome's Rally Room

Eddie Guardado strikes out his second batter in the ninth inning, doing his part to help the Twins defeat the Kansas City Royals in an afternoon game in mid-April. There's a smattering of applause from the roughly 50 people gathered in the bar staring at any one of the several televisions showing the game, but Mark Edwall is paying no attention. He's inspecting the lip of his can of Miller Lite, making sure his buddies didn't tamper with it while he was in the bathroom.

Edwall is quick to spot the hole one of his cohorts poked in the can with a pen. "Ah, the dribble can," he says with an intoxicated mixture of pride and giddiness. "Aw, well, fuck it." Edwall takes a swig and lets the beer trickle down his goatee, much to the amusement of the other three.

It's a little after 2:00 in the afternoon and Edwall, Mark Evgen, Ron Polzin, and Jason Kadela have been up all night. They pulled the graveyard shift at the Maplewood location of a local grocery chain, and at 9:00 this morning they gathered in Kadela's suburban living room for some post-work bloody marys. Then they headed to the Metrodome to catch an early-season day game.

"What's the score?" someone asks.

"I don't know," says Edwall, 40, shrugging and lighting a cigarette. "Just look it up in the paper tomorrow."

It's not that the foursome is entirely uninterested in the game. A few innings ago they were seated in section 119, overlooking first base. But then it turned out that one of them was sitting in the seat that was chosen for the "Fan of the Game" prize, a three-foot party sub from Subway. After that Kadela, the baby of the group at 29, took a pinch of chewing tobacco, got a little woozy, and, as Edwall puts it, "shot a hot dog out his nose."

That was just before the sixth inning--a good enough time, they figured, to retreat to the Rally Room, a full-service bar with cheap eats that may well be the Dome's best-kept secret. The second and sixth innings are "rally innings," when the bar, located in the lightly traveled lower-level concourse behind the folded-up seats above center field, serves two-for-ones on cans of domestic beer.

After the sixth, things get a little fuzzy for the group. But one thing's certain: The men will be here until long after the final pitch. "The best bar in town is right here," Edwall proclaims, "under the Dome roof."

 

Curious place, this Rally Room. The entrance boasts an elaborate mural of Minnesota sports figures from glory days gone by, people like former Vikings coach Bud Grant, or players like Paul Krause, Alan Page, Chuck Foreman and, of course, Fran Tarkenton. There's a veritable shrine to Twins Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett in the men's room. Formica tables, adorned with gold ashtrays and yellow plastic chairs, give the place the air of an airport bar, circa 1985. There's paint peeling from the ceiling. Team pennants and bobblehead dolls of Wally the Beerman and Kent Hrbek line the back of the bar.

The Rally Room seems slightly out of time, and it's also out of place. You can't see the field or any of the action once you're inside. The only way to see the game you're attending is on the tube, which creates the mocking effect that you're not at the game at all. There are large windows at one end of the room, but the view afforded is of an employee parking lot.

But here it is, curiously, doing bang-up business on a Thursday afternoon. The fact that this is the only place for smokers in the dome (except for the gate entrances) likely plays no small part in the quiet success of the Rally Room. But there are other amenities, too: Hard liquor is sold (and at $4 a drink, relatively cheaply); and there are meal specials, such as the $6.50 lasagna plate, or the $10.50 prime rib. Mostly, though, the Rally Room's charm lies in its secrecy, its status as a hideout unknown to the masses in the regular seats.

Think of it as a skybox for the common folk, a place to imbibe without feeling constricted by the soulless, sometimes drowsy atmosphere of the stadium.

It's remarkable that the Rally Room exists at all, and even more astounding that it has remained, for the most part, in its original form. Unlike pretty much everything else related to professional sports these days, the Rally Room is allowed to remain low budget, quaint, and almost folksy. It has not been sold to a national chain or up-scaled into a theme restaurant. (In part because there's no kitchen; food is trucked in from the Vikings catering facility in Bloomington.) Nor has it been exploited by corporate sponsorship. In fact, the Rally Room isn't even really promoted--certainly not by the Twins--and all signs are that it's not exactly a gold mine.

It's not hard to imagine that this was a nifty hangout during the Dome's salad days. But now the little bar exists as a 1980s relic--a reminder that the Metrodome's best hours have long since passed.

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