The world can be broken into two types of people: those who enjoy surprises, and those who don’t.
It seems unlikely that the latter camp would (willingly) end up at Mr. Steven’s Snuggery, “The ART of Intercourse and Penetration.” They should keep reading.
I, being of the contingent who believes all the best things in life involve a healthy dose of prolonged suspense, would suggest Team Surprise may better spend the next four minutes redirecting their browser windows in procurement of tickets to the Snuggery.
If done right, what follows is like crawling into a self-serious Russ Meyer film, plus outer space and dinosaurs. Beyond that batty description, explaining time spent at this air-quotes bar is impossible without spoilers.
Approximately ninety minutes into my two-hour experience at the Snuggery, a woman in her sixties, wearing fine gold hoops and a crisp, white button-up with a Nehru collar confessed to me: “I’ve always wanted to sail down the Nile topless. Though I’m afraid by the time I get to it, my breasts will be on my knees.”
That I learned this freely, while the sun was still up, before we’d exchanged names, is a feat entirely attributable to the bizarre world cultivated by Leslie Bock inside the old Donny Dirk’s Zombie Den space.
After queuing against a cinderblock wall with folks united by a shared interest in mystery, bombast, and booze, a man decked out in a lavender lab coat and bowtie ushered us through a vestibule lined in crushed velvet. What awaited was a cosy room lit in cool purples and blues, with Air lilting over the stereo.
Images of Barbarella danced silently around us. NSFW neon signs flashed on all sides, while a carnavalesque “DRUGS” rimmed the back bar mirror. Tables at halfmoon booths in buttoned vinyl were strewn with hourglasses. Bright red rotary telephones jangled on their hooks before anyone had taken a seat. Everywhere you looked, there were artists’ renditions of tits.
My companion and I chose to belly up. The evening’s cocktail menu—well-made classics like mai tais, martinis, sidecars, and wine—was rebranded with new names meant to make orderers giggle at the asking. A fistful of tiny plastic dinosaurs served as the evening’s substitute currency for “purchasing” drinks.
Head to toe, the experience was designed to playfully discomfit. A glowing, ten-foot sign reading “Is being offended a choice?” reads as a dare. On a more Freudian level, it took longer than necessary for my companion and I to be absolutely certain there were not one but two uncannily similar men dressed in the aforementioned lab-coat-bowtie outfits; one lurked behind the bar near a jar of syringes, while the other plied us with oysters on the halfshell. It was like a visual hiccup.
Making matters worse, just down the bar from us was another, much older man also sporting a bowtie, who mingled and distributed parlor games with a ferocity mistaken for official. We thought he might have been the Mr. Steven. Soon it became clear he was simply a dentist from Fridley with a very down-for-whatever attitude, dressed too fittingly.
Everyone else in attendance looked like the rest of Young, White Minneapolis, and they joined the Dentist, the Queen of the Nile, my companion and I in getting down to the serious business of having weird fun.
First was a game akin to schoolyard M.A.S.H. involving dice. (According to results, I am a “Homeless, Russian, Agnostic, Independent, Non-Binary Lesbian, HCMC ER Nurse,” for a taste of what buttons were being pushed.) Another was kind of like a word-play Exquisite Corpse, while a third culminated in drawing perverted fish.
Meanwhile, the mood lighting slowly shifted to more aggressive red tones. Ultraman replaced Jane Fonda. Surprising no one, the more we all drank, the louder the room got, drowning out the music.
After one of the bartenders somewhat awkwardly asked what we thought of the recent Starbucks arrest debacle—an abruptly out-of-character conversational move my companion and I would later debate about being either a managerial strategy or genuine inquiry—the Queen of the Nile and I got properly chatty.
For over a decade, she’s volunteered weekly for Habitat for Humanity, in both St. Paul’s Frogtown and in north Minneapolis, not far from the Snuggery.
Volunteering has brought her to this watering hole throughout its various costume changes. She waxed nostalgic for Stand Up Frank’s rough-and-tumble, hook-your-belt-to-the-bar appeal, and noted that she prefers the Snuggery’s drinks—stiff and classic—to what she called “the sprinkles” during Donny Dirk’s days.
“So, then, given your take on the neighborhood, how do you think a bar like this might impact things?”
“Well, it goes both ways. Gentrification pushes people out, even as it brings money into the community. I don’t know, it’s hard to say…”
Just then, Lab Coat #1 interrupted us with vagina-emblazoned Jello shots on clear plastic spoons, announcing the “grand finale” would begin in a few minutes. It felt like a good time to ask if Mr. Steven himself would be making an appearance.
With a twinkle in his eye, he responded: “There’s a little Mr. Steven in all of us.”
It was so fantastically creepy. It also made me question the contents of that Jello shot.
Five minutes later, after the grand finale but before anyone had time to grow sick of the shtick, we were pushed out the back door. So thorough is the world Bock and her staff have built inside the Snuggery, my companion assumed the too-bright light of the setting sun was not the stupid parking lot, but another room in our adventure.
Boy, was he disappointed.
Thrust back into the real world, I couldn’t help but wonder how many of the Snuggery’s patrons would cushion their landing with a lap dance at BJ’s Liquor Lounge, located just a stumble away.
We were perfectly primed for it, and patronizing such a glorious stalwart might help the neighborhood…
Each $36.95 ticket to the Snuggery is good for access to—for lack of a better term—a unique cocktail party, hosted Fridays and Saturdays, at 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. These are, respectively, referred to as “Foreplay” and “Climax.” Admission gets you light hors d'oeuvres and unlimited drinks, including gratuity. One cannot be late.
(Full disclosure: each of these could be completely different from the one I attended. I have no way of knowing, which is exciting!!)
Update, 4/26: In a previous version of this story, we quoted the Queen of the Nile, who told us Habitat had 10 houses sitting empty, and that they were "having trouble placing people in them.” A representative from the organization reached out to let us know that this is not true, and we've updated accordingly.