Dive Bars of the West Side Walking Tour on Thursday 3/2

[The first step is the biggest.]
There comes a time in every epic dive bar tour cycle when one must confront one’s self, look into the mirror, so to speak, and reflect on what one finds. And so I find myself on Saint Paul’s West Side, my home turf. It is here that I have lived for almost four years, and here my roots can be found. My great great grandfather settled down on the West Side Flats when he emigrated to Saint Paul from Switzerland, down on Isabel Street near the present day El Alamo bar. And then my family moved up the bluff, my great grandmother buying the apartment building where generations of my family has lived ever since, just down George street from the Brown Derby bar (now defunct). And so it has gone. These are the watering holes of my ancestors, and I will endeavor to share them with you.

It must be said that the West Side has been monumentally transformed since the days of my great grandmother, a woman who was fond of her cigars and whiskey (so it is told). The old flats neighborhood, a fiercely poor, impossibly diverse nest of streets, was wiped from the earth fifty years ago. Since then, the bluffs and enclaves of the West Side have remained, but missing the connecting tissue — the green stairs, the black bridge, the absent streets — that tied the place to downtown and the rest of Saint Paul. The remaining dives are mostly settled into the slopes leading up from the river, beginning in the nooks that marked the forgotten streams that used to flow North down the hill.

[Ghosts of the old flats are still entombed in the bluff.]
We will begin at the center and walk up the bluff, tracing a loop around the edges of the old West Side. Many of the bars lie on the other side of the city/county line, and one can easily speculate on the reasons behind this trivial accident. This was the wild west, back in the day when Saint Paul’s gangsters had the run of the town, holing up in caves and brick-walled taverns. The West Side is slow to change, quick to smile, and the view is inescapable, gravity just carries you along through the evening.

We will begin at the Cozy Cantina, located just across the street from some amazing Mexican restaurants and markets. From there we will turn to climb the bluff, venturing up up into the West Side night. What secrets lie beyond the edge of the city?

(We will end walk two miles, ending closer again to the Cozy.)

[Not much remains.]

What: A guided historic walking tour of four (4) West Side dive bars, two (2) miles in length
When: 3/2, beginning at 6:30
Where: Meet at Cozy Cantina, on Cesar Chavez Avenue
Why: Because it’s there
Who: Anyone. Bring cash please. Free (but tips gratefully accepted in either cash or beer formats)

[Shadey's, formerly Winner's.]
[Provenance unknown.]
[Tapper's floral arrangements.]

[This one is almost impossible to find unless you know where it is.]


Twin City Shop Windows #15

[Boston, MA.]

[Seward, Minneapolis.]

[Western Wisconsin.]

 [Grand Avenue, Saint Paul.]

[West 7th, Saint Paul.]

[West End, Saint Paul.]


[Location forgotten. Saint Clair Avenue, Saint Paul.]


Reading the Highland Villager #175

[Basically the problem is that the best source of Saint Paul streets & sidewalks news is the Highland Villager, a very fine and historical newspaper. This wouldn't be a problem, except that its not available online. You basically have to live in or frequent Saint Paul to read it. Until this newspaper goes online, sidewalk information must be set free. See also: Three Reasons Why I Re-Blog the Highland Villager.]  

Headline: Higher Ground gives St. Paul’s homeless a path to self-sufficiency
Author: Larry Englund

Short short version: The homeless shelter and housing center downtown is expanding. The bunks will have USB connections. [How about that!] They cost $7 a night or $42 a week. [And not moving from its central downtown location. When the expansion was first pitched, many people wanted the shelter to be relocated to a peripheral part of downtown Saint Paul. Instead, it will remain near the freeway and the Xcel center. This centers on the tricky question of “who downtown is for.”] The laundry machines will be free to use. [That seems wise.] The president of Catholic Charities is named Marx.

Headline: Port Authority  spurs Midway stadium project; Steps in as master tenant of 16 acres of shopping center
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The St. Paul Port Authority will lease much of the Midway Shopping Center that is underneath the plans for the soccer stadium and surrounding development. [See my article on this in Minnpost.] Construction of the stadium will begin “in earnest” in April. [When will the Rainbow Foods close? It is irrevocably occupying the stadium footprint.] The authority is getting involved because of so-called “complicated financial aspects.” [This probably means “lease agreements and non-compete clauses.” This is one huge reason why it’s nearly impossible to re-develop a strip mall unless it’s gone out of business completely.]

Headline: Public comment sought on the redesign of High Bridge; West End-West Side span will close this fall for full year of reconstruction
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The top surface of the high bridge needs to be replaced and so the bridge will be shut for a year. [The reason for this is because when the MnDOT agency built it in the 1980s, they initially tried to save money by using two different kinds of rebar – coated and uncoated – in alternation, instead of simply using coated rebar. It turns out it wore down more quickly than anyone expected and so the concrete deck needs to be re-done about a decade early.] Neighbors are concerned about suicide prevention. [See my article on this in Minnpost. The bridge plans will have much higher, thinner fences about 8-10’ high, a 2.5’ divider separating the sidewalk from the traffic lanes, and most importantly, bumpouts along Smith Avenue in three new places, Baker, Goodrich, and Curtice Streets.]

Headline: St. Paul’s rollout of new wheeled carts has been a bumpy ride
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Saint Paul’s recycling contractor [see my article on this in the Park Bugle] is switching to wheeled carts. [These are way better IMO because you can fill them up any day of the week and then just set them out once a week, or leave them in the same place all the time and the people come to pick them up.] Some of the carts are not being emptied for various reasons including ice, improper placement, or bad alley maps. Neighbors are complaining on Facebook. CM Stark is quoted: “We’re seeing problems but they’re fixable.” The carts have tiny RFID chips, and some people are concerned about privacy. [These chips are able to communicate with each other, and are the early stages of a vast AI-style big brother network that will track our every move until it achieves autonomous sentience, at which point Saint Paul will become the epicenter of a Terminator-style machine army that will wipe humanity from the Earth. Just kidding.] CM Tolbert is quoted: “I’m all for technology, but we need to have it clearly understood how the information would be used.” The recycling trucks have cameras in them. [Prediction: in six months, when the recycle cart system is working smoothly as it does in Minneapolis every day, almost nobody will even remember that this was an issue. Seriously, in Minneapolis, very closely located to Saint Paul, people just put recycling, trash, and compost (!) into bins and the city picks them up and everything works really well and is very cheap, cheaper than Saint Paul even, and also reduces wear on roads (which is a thing!) to the lowest possible levels pretty much.]

Headline: City to review plans for cycle tracks through Merriam Park
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The city would like to construct a safe bike lane, called a protected bike lane / cycletrack, to link up the Grand Round from Como Avenue down to the Mississippi River along Pelham Boulevard and up to Raymond Avenue. They would be two-way lanes with plastic bollards on one side to keep cars from driving there. Some parking would disappear. Neighbors are concerned about traffic and parking. [Pelham Boulevard, a wide street where cars currently speed and with very few homes and none without driveways, is a critical and obvious link for the “grand round” which is a thing that Saint Paul should have.]

Headline: Highland neighbors are uneasy about projected increases in traffic from a redeveloped Ford site
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Neighbors are concerned about traffic and parking.

Headline: GABA wants Grand Old Day to last a little longer this year
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A business group would like Grand Old Day, a street parade, to last longer in order for “more gradual disbursement.” Neighbors are probably concerned.

Headline: Council approves new rules for conducting outdoor sales
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Stores can put things outside on the sidewalk on a more regular basis now, or sell things off of tables on the street farmers’ market-style, if they get a permit. [See the example of this Dale Street vintage store, now closed.]

Headline: St. Paul appoints members to committee studying poverty
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A committee will study poverty.

Headline: BZA to hear variance requests for Linwood, Adams additions
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Two schools want to expand. For one, neighbors are concerned about the loss of green space. For the other, neighbors are not concerned. [What do the children think? We should ask them. No seriously.]

Headline: St. Paul continues removal of ash trees on public land
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: 850 more ash trees are being chopped down because of a tiny voracious bug. Como Park and the river are heavily infected. [There is no stopping this bug. It will destroy your ash tree. The ash tree has a poetic name, and has long been a symbol of druidic myth. For example, Stephen Dedalus, the young poet in James Joyce’s work, carries an ash stick.]

Headline: Rondo on the brink: ‘Highwaymen’ revisits a decision that sealed a neighborhood’s fate
Author: Frank Jossi

Short short version: There’s a new play at the History Theater about how the freeway demolished Saint Paul’s most important African-American neighborhood. [This, and other kinds of legacies of structural urban racism, is something we should spend much much more time thinking about… as opposed to other concerns that I won’t mention right now.]


Sunset for the Sunrise, Last of the South Minneapolis 3.2 Joints

With today's news breaking of the impending transformation/demise of the last of South Minneapolis's true 3.2 bars, I will share with you the section on the Sunrise Inn from my Dive Bars of South Minneapolis Tour Guide Booklet.

[If you'd like to order the complete booklet, please head over to the Sidewalk Store.]

Here's the section on the Sunrise Inn:

The Sunrise Inn

The Sunrise lies in a quiet place, an underwhelming residential neighborhood pressed up against the Western side of the 1950s half-baked Hiawatha freeway. It’s a misleading peace that befits the name, the rising sun over a wakeful city of rooftops and trees. But this sunrise bursts forth almost blindingly, for this is the purest of the South Minneapolis dives, a rare uncompromised specimen. Don’t stare or stay too long.

[Hands down the worst bathroom in Minneapolis.]
Dive bars typically inhabit a grey area. For many places, attributes are readily apparent in a hand-written sign or a defunct telephone. Yet elsewhere, signs of improvement lurk like new luck. Not so here at The Sunrise, one of the last holdouts of the 3.2 era. It begins in the men’s bathroom, easily the worst in town, a dark hole at the bottom of basement stairs whose squalid cramping is matched only by the flimsiness of its door. To urinate there beside the liquor cellar that lingers dark behind the padlocked chicken wire is to remember a childhood nightmare. Pity the man who drops a deuce. 

This is but one of the ways that the uniqueness of The Sunrise exceeds imagination. Unlike the Schooner, the Char Bar, or all of the other dives on this list, the Sunrise has all but stayed true to its weak compromise. The rules were simple: outside the liquor patrol limits, the beer had to be shit, weak lager especially made for modest markets, the kind of pale swill that required double-digit intake for a proper sauce.

And of all the old 3.2 joints in South, today only The Sunrise has stuck to its impotent guns. (The reason, at least what I was once told by a grizzled patron, is “Why mess with what’s working?” While they serve Summit on tap, it’s purely part of some rule bending by the inspector because, I was also told, it’s cheaper to pay a fine than to embrace the future.) Whatever the truth, this is the only spot this side of town where you need but squint to picture the great booze vacuum era of South Minneapolis, where neither whiskey nor a decent ale were anywhere to be found. For generations, this was true, and yet somehow the squalor survived. And that’s what made a true 3.2 dive so unique, a paradox of spartan excess like an all-you-can-eat fish fry or an abstinence convention.

[Bar decor: all that glitters...]
The remaining details of The Sunrise follow suit. Family friendly booths, provided your family lacks formality. An intricate wall of bar-back decor, replete with a bricolage of handwritten signs that read
like archeology. A television turned to classic action movies or forgettable sports as the hours wane. And, a sure sign of the dive, a newspaper perched atop the wood bar itself, waiting for an interested pair of eyes to browse and read publicly aloud with appropriate skeptical commentary.

Elsewhere, a pull tab machine. A small phone kiosk. The rest is noise. These wooden walls will fold around you like bad origami to transport your day into night. To leave the Sunrise, to pause and look back, is to embrace real regret. The drab white walls betray nothing of its interior intensity. You have nothing to cling to but your hazy memories. 

[A well-read Strib on the bar is the hallmark of a true dive.]

[Ladies room door.]

[Highlight from the Sunrise bathroom.]

[Every hand-written sign has a story to tell.]

[The Sunrise triptych: bicycle, pulltabs, pajama pants.]

[The telephone glowing like a technological sunset.]


Minneapolis in 1986 Revisited

[See also, Saint Paul in 1989 Revisited.]

Straight from the University of Minnesota's Urban Studies office, here's a poster put together by the late City Council member Brian Coyle.

Like the Saint Paul small business example, the poster fascinates. For one thing, there's all the old logos! So many old 70s and 80s graphic design greatest hits appear here. The other thing, of course, is how certain narratives about economic subsidy, government priorities, and economic development strategies never disappear. For his day, Coyle was clearly a more radical voice in Minneapolis City Hall, a former member of SDS and someone who worked to oppose the urban growth coalition that was influencing many of the city decisions during the boom-times of the 1980s. (By contrast, during this time R.T. Rybak was a Star Tribune reporter, then a PR guy for the Downtown Council.)

Check out the "Oligopoly" game in all its glory, and then compare with the headlines and debates in Minneapolis today.

[Clockwise from the top left.]

The Metrodome was built in 1982 and was torn down two years ago in favor of the Vikings stadium. All things considered, the Metrodome was one of the most efficient and taxpayer-friendly stadium projects in the American history. The current occupant of that space, on the other hand... I am confident that that "deal" will go down as one of the worst ever agreed to by American state and local governments.

I don't know what "Cockroach Corners" refers to, but I'd like to find out someday. City Venture refers to a successful fight against a proposed industrial/commercial park that would have been tied to the Metrodome construction.

Control Data, of course, no longer exists. And to this day, Elliot Park is one the city's remaining affordable neighborhoods in a central location.

Coyle was really into tenant organizing, an issue that, in today's tight market, is probably far more important than it was in the 1980s. The building on 18th and Elliot, right next to the I-94 freeway, seems to still be there.

I am not sure what the Cedar-Riverside issue might have been, but many of those buildings were recently remodeled and will serve at least one more generation of Minneapolis' lower-income citizens.

I don't know what the "Stevens Square" tile refers to, or who Jim Larson might be.

Maryland House?

Certainly, however, there is still displacement occurring in this area. See this nearby example.

Update: See the comment from Ethan, a reader who used to live in Stevens Square:
A lot of the apartment buildings in Stevens Square were remodeled in the early '80s through a partnership by Jim Larson and General Mills, which was testing if it could make money through urban renewal. (Turns out they couldn't, and they lost a ton of money.) That venture eventually became Stevens Community Associates, one of the biggest landlords in the neighborhood.

Boisclair is an urban development corporation that put together Riverplace, the quick-failing downtown mall that occupies the oldest street in Minneapolis, a key part of old St. Anthony Main Street. All things considered, the project wasn't a total bust, and managed to help stabilize a bunch of historic buildings. The movie theater is even somehow still in business!

Calhoun Square is an urban mall that dates to 1983. It still exists though whether or not it is "thriving" seems a more difficult question to answer.

City Center was a 1983 downtown mall and office complex that has likely had more of a negative than a positive economic effect on downtown Minneapolis, though that is certainly debatable. Today the buidling is being remodeled again -- a process that has taken years -- but it still has one of the least inviting street facades in all of Minneapolis, and that is saying something!

Donaldson's was a department store that burned down in Thanksgiving 1982.

The Hennepin Hyatt is still in business and still one of the key hotels and convention complexes in downtown Minneapolis. The next-door "Loring Greenway" project dates to this era too. Together these projects had a huge impact on Hennepin Avenue.

Here's a rough diagram of the city that includes many of the corporate logos from the mid-80s. For me, one useful lesson of a document like this is that mergers and consolidation are one inevitable trend of the modern corporate economic structure. These kinds of Wall Street induced deals mean that business subsidization takes place on a "winner-take-all" landscape. As companies merge, they will inevitably concentrate in fewer and fewer cities. In the end, that will leave mid-size metros like the Twin Cities more likely to lose out.

What are the policy lessons we might draw from that? I would love to do additional research to figure out exactly how many of these projects received tax subsidy, and how large those subsidies were. I suspect that, given that they made Coyle's black list here, all of them were taxpayer funded.

Read more about Brian Coyle here. Today a rec center behind the Cedar-Riverside towers bears his name. It offers a great view of the Vikings stadium.


Sidewalk Dogs #14

[Grand Avenue, Saint Paul.]

[Location forgotten.]

[Cambridge, MA.]

[Somerville, MA.]

 [Location forgotten. Probably Minneapolis.]

 [West 7th Street?, Saint Paul.]

 [Sent in by a reader. (Not a dog.)]

[West Side, Saint Paul.]


Signs of the Times #122


[Window. East Side, Saint Paul.]

You are Entering The
Dale Street Triangle
Center of the Universe
Turn your Watch Back 5 Minutes

[Wall. Saint Paul.] 


[Pole. Somerville, MA.]

E-S-T Ae

[Yard. Medford, MA.]


[Fence. Cambridge, MA.]


[Wall. Cambridge, MA.]


[Door. Medford, MA.]



[Wall. Osakis.]