Best Of :: People & Places
Neighborhood bars really serve as an outpost for those familial feelings you could never, ever express to your actual family. That makes the bartender a patriarch, a matriarch, a brother, a sister, a spouse, and an ex-lover, all in one heady swirl. Who could be all of that and remember what the hell you're drinking on top of it all? Lola, that's who. (Everybody, including Lola's nine-year-old son, calls her "Lola." But don't ask why: "That's off the record.") Though she's only been bartending at Porter's--the kind of neighborhood bar you frequent because no one knows your name--for two years, Kristina "Lola" Lalor has been slinging drinks for more than 25 years. And with that experience, Lalor--tall, raven-haired, and imposing--has developed a demeanor that could only be described as crablike: hard on the outside, tender on the inside. It's a losing proposition to get into an exchange of barbs with the 43-year-old, who, aside from having a wicked tongue, happens to be damn funny. "When customers ask me for change, I tell them it comes from within," she quips. Lola also has been known to scold, "I don't go to White Castle to tell you how to flip burgers," so don't even think of coaching her on the finer points of mixing your cocktail. (And absolutely do not tap your fingers on the bar to get her attention.) However, she has to take it as well as she gives it. When we ask Lola how long she's been working at Porter's, one regular chimes in, "Too long." And everyone bellied up to the bar laughs. But the regular confesses to being a member of "Lola's Day Care," a group of staunch patrons who show for Lalor's afternoon shifts (roughly 2:00 to 7:30 p.m.) six days a week. In fact, Lola says she once wanted to be a teacher and has occasionally taken care of kids on the side. But serving drinks is where her heart is: "I see myself bartending in a nursing home someday," she admits. Then a classic Lola moment happens. She slides a box of cookies over to a fry cook, and as he returns to the kitchen with the box in hand, she shouts, "Now he's gonna be my slave the rest of the day." It's not unlike the ribbing you'd get from a big sister--if your big sister harbored the aesthetic of a professional wrestler and had a weakness for Bacardi and Coke. Ultimately, though, Lola has her fans because she can handle any cocktail with equal aplomb, and she never lets your glass sit empty for too long. As Lola says, "I like bartending. I like people." This, naturally, draws a groan from everyone waiting for another round.
He rarely plays live, but newcomer Rodine's self-titled long-player on Mercy Recordings is a performance in itself: It kicks off with a stark reading of Dylan's "New Morning," which is gutsy enough, never mind all the freshly unwrapped reworkings that follow (to name a few, covers of Ray Charles's "The Jealous Kind," Johnny Cash's "There You Go," Hank Williams's "Last Night I Heard You Crying in Your Sleep," and a pensive dusting-off of the public domain nugget, "Mother's Last Words to Her Daughter"). To be sure, this is a record that sounds like it could've been made in a Minneapolis coffee shop in the '60s, or the Appalachian mountains of West Virginia anytime, but its nods to musical traditions are secondary to Rodine's sweet picking and singing, and the haunting chemistry forged by his collaborators, including Tony Glover, Paul Cebar, the Front Porch Swingin' Liquor Pigs, and the late Dave Ray.
In some instances, size does matter--especially when you're talking 20,000 square feet. At $4.28 per video for two nights with a $50 per movie deposit, SexWorld's gargantuan selection of flesh in motion can be a bit daunting for the neophyte who doesn't know a double-D feature from a triple-X film. But since even newbies are free to browse the aisles 24 hours a day, seven days a week, trying to guess the videos' contents is part of the fun. A helpful hint: The haircuts on the front of the box are almost always a dead giveaway as to movie quality. Any cover that's devoid of mullets and frizzy perms is almost sure to hold superior contents. Though the value of the bald guys is something you'll have to figure out for yourself.
Every year readers pick Atmosphere as the best hip-hop group in the Twin Cities, and every year we point that readership to another act they should notice as well (see "Best Hip-Hop Artist, p. 154). Atmosphere are by now such a self-sustaining cultural phenomenon that the crew--rapper/guiding personality Slug, producer Ant, concert DJ Mr. Dibbs, and other friends--needs a boost from City Pages about as badly as George W. Bush needs our endorsement for president. Yet despite a fan base that sells out First Avenue-sized venues across the country, extends to viewers of MTV2 and The Jimmy Kimmel Show, and reaches into the offices of every major music publication, Atmosphere gets surprisingly slept on critically. It's as if no mainstream rock journalist who appreciates Slug's talent quite trusts her ears to know that this very weird, truly unusual, and intensely personal music is great even by the standards we apply across decades and state lines. Atmosphere's rap is difficult: It has always been difficult, even before the first album, in the mid-'90s, when Slug was calling himself Urban Atmosphere. Ant's disinfected beats are elusive in their funk, more hypnotic than floor-filling, and Slug's way of engaging listeners requires both an attention span and your indulgence. In order to care about what he says, you really have to care about him. But trust your heart. When Slug pays tribute to his hometown on the hidden track of Seven's Travels (his third or sixth album, depending on how you count), he's doing something more moving than using hip-hop conventions of call and response cleverly, or subverting them for the home team. When he raps, "If you know this is where you want to raise your kids, say Shhh," he's tapping a nerve that Common left untouched before skipping out of Chicago for Brooklyn. Slug feels the gut-level pride that Run-DMC once felt so monumentally for their neighborhood, their sneakers, their choice of fast food--but Slug feels it for a life he actually has, not one he imagines, or one he feels he should have, being a rapper and all. Prince used Minneapolis as fodder for his idealized fantasies, paying tribute to an "Uptown" that existed only in his mind; Slug looks outward, thinking about what the place will look like in 20 years. "If you're from the Midwest and it doesn't matter where, say Shhh," he continues, making a subtle joke about identity at the expense of Midwesterners, then adding, "If you can drink the tap water and breathe the air, say Shhh," making a joke at the expense of everyone else. Basically, he's telling the world, I'll come to you, but you also have to come to me, in every sense. That's something more radical than Midwesterners like Nelly or Eminem could have come up with, and we trust the audience knows it.
City Pages readers over 21 years of age will be forgiven for assuming the Garage takes this category by default. It has been a rough year for minors who want to see live, amplified music. The Babylon Gallery burned down, the Fireball Espresso Cafe met the wrecking ball, and Eclipse Records closed with plans to relocate. Hip-hop nights at Bon Appetit are as much of a memory as shows at the Foxfire Coffee Lounge, while other venues, however valuable, enforce time and day restrictions on age that keep them from claiming the Foxfire's mantle. (For a complete list of under-21 venues, see the links section on the City Pages blog www.complicatedfun.com.) Still, if the Garage is the only real all-ages club in town--or 20 minutes outside of town, in Burnsville--it compares well to any of the above for the simple reason that it rocks. Run since 1999 by a staff of teenage volunteers and located across the street from a police station, the venue has long been the kind of place parents feel comfortable leaving their kids (overnight lock-ins are customary) and kids feel comfortable leaving their parents. On a given packed Saturday, with fauxhawks in force and pop-punk bands like Five Small Worlds, Align, and Screaming Monkey Boner onstage, the place draws up to 220 young people. It feels like 440, with all the kids dancing and laughing and yelling. The space might be a glorified gym with carpeting, made "clubby" by black walls, black lights, couches, vending machines, a game room, and a 7th St. Entry-style side room. But the audience is as animated as the Japanese cartoons on the TVs that hang around the main stage. And the crowd is only growing.