TC Sidewalks Live: Noteworthy Dive Bars of Outer Northeast Walking Tour

[Map is here.]
Enough dilly dallying. It's time for the big kahuna: Northeast Minneapolis, the heart of the great city's dive bar beat.

The dive bar landscape of Northeast is too large to tackle all at once, and so we explore it piecemeal, one leg at a time. First up, the "outer rim," a strip of dives along Marshall Avenue and points south that parallel the Mississippi like a fishing line. We will be proceeding Southward from the dive apex at Lowry Avenue straight down into the heart of Hennepin and Central.

Northeast is the mecca of working class industrial Minneapolis, the largest continual stretch of old school urban Catholicism, forming a fraternal twin to the more Protestant South

And, like the South Minneapolis' division, the Northeast Minneapolis alcoholic landscape has a stark geography. According to the city's "liquor patrol limits," full liquor establishments weren't allowed East of 4th Street or North of 29th Avenue. 

Thus Northeast's dive bars were contained to a small area alongside the riverfront crotch. This was ostensibly because this is the distance that the city's 19th century "liquor patrol" could efficiently walk from their downtown stations. (But everyone knew the restrictions stemmed from moralistic paternalism by city's economic and religious leaders.) That is why the wealth of the city's shrines to old school libation are as concentrated as an Otter rum and coke.

(Note: 4th Street and its rich vein of dives, along with striking cluster in the "seasonal" streets, are reserved for a future date.) 

A note on walking

This will be a walking tour. (Bicycles are welcome, of course, and faster, and may proceed at their own leisure.) I will be walking at a relatively brisk pace between the dive destinations, and the total distance covered will be about two (2) miles. 

Walking in winter is an exquisite pleasure, and you should try it. For folks who'd like a shorter route, you can always meet the tour at Stop #2: Dusty's at around 7:00 PM.

[Tony Jaros' marks the Northwest corner of Northeast's dive district.]

A note on defining "dive bars"

[The N.E. Yacht Club was named by off-duty Star Tribune reporters.]
The term “dive bar” is a grey bag, a mixed and mumbled blessing. Proper definition eludes, resting close to Potter Stewart’s rule of thumb: “I know it when I see it.” 

That said, just as a litmus test is not a black-and-white affair but a spectrum of acidity, you can train yourself to measure a dive. They are often more than the sum of its parts, qualities that seem singly  inconsequential but, when considered in composition, can come together for a moment or for an evening like rare jazz. (And can be just as excruciating when they go wrong.)

Here are some things to keep your senses in tune:

Windows - These are a minus. Dives eschew fenestration. What happens in the dive, stays in the dive.

Staff - Ideally, there's only one staff. Maybe someone works in the back. The more staff, the less divey.

Regulars - A must. When you walk into a dive, people should stop talking like in a wild west saloon and look at you a bit funny. Unless you are a regular, you really don't belong.

Daydrinkers -Yep.

[A broken scale at the Terminal.]
Pull Tabs - Yes please. Meat raffles are also good. Best is when there's a pot of some sort of free food sitting on a table.

Nonchalance - Dives can't be trying too hard to make money. If they are, they're not dives any more. No fancy menus. No fancy paint jobs, etc.

Cleanliness - No more than absolutely necessary.

"Craft Beer" - Nope, unless its brewed within a mile or two of the dive. If it exists, it's largely symbolic.

Food - Greasy or nothing. Heggie's Pizza is the hallmark of a dive.

No one or two of these things is a hard or fast requirement. but together these qualities create a spatial mood and social atmosphere. While the “neighborhood bar” remains a close cousin of the dive, the distinction is important; a true dive draws from a wider environment, which explains the typical parking lots of pickups. So too with former dives (gentrified). Cop bars and some gay bars might qualify, but really belong in other categorizations. While dive bars are not the right venue for purism, one does ask for some degree of discernment.

[The flying flag of Northeast.]
What: Walking tour of five dive bars in Northeast Minneapolis

Who: Anyone. Small donation requested, payable in beer upon arrival

When: January 28th, departing at 6:30

Where: Tony Jaros' River Garden

Why: Because it's there

How: Brief historical notes and discussions of each bar will be delivered upon arrival and/or departure. A pause for refreshment, then on to the next.

[See also: Noteworthy Dive Bars of South Minneapolis, Noteworthy Dive Bars of the Green Line, Noteworthy Dive Bars of Old Fort Road.]

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