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Best Of 2006


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Food & Drink

People & Places


Best Of :: People & Places


Long ago, the epicenter of sin in the Twin Cities was located along Interstate 494 in the south metro, a forgotten land called the "Bloomington Strip." It was the early 1970s, when a twentysomething immigrant from Lebanon started slinging drinks for the legendary Purple People Eaters at the Left Guard, a joint near the old Met Stadium. "I knew everybody: Kramer, Tarkenton, Chuck Foreman, Rickey Young, Mark Mullaney," Michel Bechara recalls, rattling off the names as if going through his little black book. "The first one I met was Ed Marinaro, before he leave to make movies." Times change, of course, but Bechara, now 52, is still slinging drinks—at the Bonfire on Grand Avenue in St. Paul six days a week, and five nights at Runyon's in downtown Minneapolis. "In between shifts, I sleep on Hennepin Avenue," Bechara jokes. "Or at A Déjà Vu." How Bechara got to either place is a slightly longer story. He came to Minnesota in 1973 because his sister started a restaurant in Nordeast. Within weeks, he was working at the Left Guard, then moved to the bar at the Embassy Suites near the airport. By 1990, Bechara had returned to Lebanon to be with his wife and three daughters. In 2003, he came back to the States, and within weeks was working at the Bonfire, owned by a former co-worker. "I want to get my kids to go to school here," Bechara says. "Now that I'm here, they won't come. So I'm supplying their school in Lebanon." He shrugs: "Eh? Kids. What can you do?" Bechara, whose internationalism puts a new twist on the "Coach"-from-Cheers cliché, always wears a silk tie, a white apron, and his sleeves rolled to three-quarters length. Chattiness is his trait, but efficiency and service trump any pretenses of style. And he offers the kind of malapropisms that hint he might only be playing dumb: "Only in America," he often says, shaking his head. "Good to have me back."


Walk into St. Paul's Turf Club one Sunday night a month, and you'll be treated to an old-timey hootenanny radio broadcast, the likes of which may have never taken place around these parts before. Reminiscent of flatbed-truck revival meetings hosted by Bob Wills and the Carter Family and/or Hank Williams's "Health and Happiness Show," the House of Mercy Band soars on a magic carpet ride of fiddle and acoustic guitar. (If it's a more staid definition of "acoustic" you're hankering for, there are several groovy coffeehouse pickers to be had.) The most frequently heard adjective used to describe the vibe of the HOM's monthly Sunday gig is "cozy," but that doesn't quite do it. Not when Satan is ever present, heathen guest stars abound, and the acoustic can sound like alchemy.


We were tempted to give this award to Zombie's House of Curiosities on University in St. Paul for its unparalleled kitsch value: It's a classic head shop that carries pipes, water bongs, throwing stars, and—in a back room—uproariously trashy smut. But then we stumbled across the Adult Only Superstore on Washington Avenue and our mouths hit the floor. It's a new store—so new as to have an unlisted phone number and, as of yet, no credit-card machine. But this smallish storefront business puts larger competitors to shame with its dazzling variety of merchandise. This is a connoisseur's sex shop, as evidenced by its impressive selection of '70s-era adult movies, many starring the brassy, lecherous Georgina Spelvin, who was 37 when she came to prominence as a performer, and looked it. Also on hand, scattered among the more mainstream products: nonfiction books about the early years of the adult industry, including a bio of Russ Meyers; copies of Found magazine's adult counterpart, Dirty Found; and number of tacky paperback books with garish illustrations on their covers and titles such as I'll Whip Your Ass and Serve Your Mistress. This is a store that evidently views erotica as an adventure, and a surprisingly fun one. After all, among their inflatable sex dolls is one called "Fatty Patty" and another, named "G.I.L.F," whose dubious pleasures we dare not describe.


Yeah, yeah, yeah, so we went with the obvious choice. (We were all ready to crown Prince's new best-of, Ultimate, when we found out its release had been delayed.) But there's something to be said for such an easy decision. The fact that we uncontrollably bob our heads whenever we find the duo in the "A"s of our iPod means they're doing something right. From Slug we get frank talk about the world's problems with drugs (people do them every day and once in a while there are serious consequences) and sex (the rapper's reaction to the rape and murder of an Atmosphere fan is caught in a mournful rumination on sex-offender laws that never once exploits the girl.) Ant's soul-soaked production draws more emotion from his partner's words, spiking the anger and amusement with found sound seemingly created just for them. Atmosphere has claimed this honor before, and who will flinch if they do it again? It's no big thing. They're just that good.

The Garage

The under-21 music scene is as diverse as any other kind, with a host of small venues catering to young people—community centers, bars with all-ages nights, high school cafés. Yet only one club in town has shows every weekend without age or genre restrictions. Founded in 1999 with backing from the city of Burnsville, the Garage features live music Fridays and Saturdays between 6:15 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. (as well as Thursdays when school's out), and these events routinely fill a cafeteria-sized main room, with adjoining game rooms and lounges. (The organization hopes to expand further in 2008, possibly to include a recording studio, a skate park, or an indoor gym.) This black-lit hall is no minor circuit, either: Bands pass through here to become live legends (Crashing By Design, Down and Above, Screaming Mechanical Brain—formerly Screaming Monkey Boner) and sign with national labels (Four-Letter Lie on Victory, Quietdrive on Sony). Older acts ignore this generation at their peril, and miss out on the most energetic audience in town.

75 Civic Center Parkway, Burnsville, 55337
Franklin Community Library

The atmosphere in the Franklin Community Library is jubilant. Children—when they aren't parked with a book in the children's pavilion, teen arena, or stairwell—are run-walking the short maze of the small library's recently renovated footprint, often forgetting to heed the "inside voices" rule. Or they're staring slack-jawed at the kids'-area computer screen in front of them, too heavily weighed down with enormous earphones to be running in and out of the reading rooms. In short, the brightly painted library is consistently bustling with kids and adults taking advantage of its more accessible offerings. Built in 1914, the city's oldest community library reopened in May after an extensive reconstruction effort. The original stone and masonry on the building's facade was restored, as were indoor architectural elements such as the millwork and wood shelving. The elevator—a relic of an earlier renovation—was moved to regain some of the elegance of the front entryway. It worked. Other changes, such as removing interior walls and adding large rooftop skylights, open the library and manage to make it feel more spacious and cozier at the same time. An addition at the rear of the building makes room for a staff lounge, a kitchen, and unglamorous things like the mechanical room and storage space. Near the front, works by local artists hang above fireplace mantles. Above all, Franklin lives up to its name as a community library, with people streaming in and out of the building at a steady pace, some filing to the new tutor and technology rooms, others reading soundlessly wherever they can nab a spot.

1314 E. Franklin Ave., Minneapolis, 55404-2924

BEST BARTENDER: Michel Bechara


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