BEST NEIGHBORHOOD BAR (ST. PAUL) (1999)
Though there's not a whole lot of neighborhood immediately surrounding the Starting Gate, there's usually a comfortable community feeling in this room. Despite the large front windows--a rarity for a bar like this--most of the interior is appropriately dark and seemingly immune to time. It's easy to relax and share stories in one of the many cozy booths, or at the bar, which is rectangular instead of one long row, encouraging conversation among all the seated patrons. Plenty of amusements serve to distract customers from the outside world: pull tabs, pool, darts, and Foosball--or, for the passive, sports on TV. Cheap drinks and deep-fried food, necessities for a good neighborhood bar, are in abundance. The place does get its return customers, and many of the "neighbors" filling up seats are employees of the nearby airport. If you're very lucky, you might walk into a rare occurrence at the Starting Gate: a mini-potluck with Norwegian delicacies provided by generous regulars.