National magazine's best-of lists always make me a little unseasy, having seen too many that read like exactly what they are: flat, third-hand blurbs reported by a writer who's never set foot in the "winning" joint. But this year's Esquire picks aren't half bad...
V.F.W. James Ballentine Post No. 246 Minneapolis 73 The Trail Center Grand Marais 73 The C.C. Club Minneapolis 72 Nye's Polonaise Room Minneapolis 77 Half Time Rec St. Paul 75 Chatterbox Pub Minneapolis 67 Bulldog NE Minneapolis 75 Brit's Pub Minneapolis 75
Several of the writeups, penned by former CP intern Neil Munshi, are packed with local color and insightful comentary:
Located snugly in the tattoos and personality section of Uptown, the C.C. Club bears the marks of the neighborhood's longtime leather-clad tenants -- the faint whiff of piss and smoke still wafting from a recently smoke-free establishment. It also retains the same aura that fomented in the rowdy shit-shows of yore -- the red pleather booths still contrasting with the black leather garb sported by its clientele. Mix it up with the pierced at the bar's brass rail, lose your shirt to the sharks at the pool table, or sip the fiery Bloody Marys on the smoking porch. You may not be a regular yet (those slots have been filled for years), but check out the jukebox -- heavy on the locals -- and select The Replacements' classic "Here Comes a Regular," Paul Westerberg's ode to the place where you're standing, where he spent many a night being scraped off the floor.
And *why*, for the love, have I never been to the Trail Center in Grand Marais? Beer + pie + long underwear contest = love!
At this roadside bar and grill, you're greeted with curious political riddles of northern Minnesota. The place happily sells "What Would Jesus Bomb?" T-shirts that would be a rarity in similarly rural corners of most states, but a notice on the menu sternly admonishes snowmobilers and cross-country skiers (the Sunnis and Shiites of the North Country) to put up with each other at least until they settle their tabs. To remind you what state you're in, there are stained-wood walls crammed with voyageur and lumberjack artifacts. And then a long-underwear contest and the opportunity to order the surprisingly inspired combination of a beer and a slice of berry pie. The Trail Center closes early, but that's okay -- you're probably stumbling in here after a fishing trip that started before the sun was up.
The biggest drawback to Esquire's list is that it feels rather one-dimentional and out of date. (Brit's, Nye's, and the V.F.dub will always be classics, but I'd take Bradstreet over the Chatterbox, any day...) You'll do better picking up a copy of MnMo's September "Best Bars" issue, or waiting until the article becomes available online next month...