Saturday, May 11, 2019

Thirsty Pagan, Round One

Since this is the last weekend before The Thirsty Pagan closes temporarily for its big move, I had to get the current location in for the "Every bar in Superior" series.  It may well be the only one that gets two entries.

I am a huge fan of both their pizzas and their beer.  "I'll be bock" is, for my money, the best name for a beer that I have ever seen.  I love this location and the newly restored Soo Line building is going to be even better.

I have one complaint and one complaint only about TPB.  They call their pizzas za's.  To my ear, it sounds like a dad who's trying way too hard to be hip in front of his teenage kids' friends, drawing a collective eye roll in the way only obnoxious children of a certain age can manage.  "Hey fam, I hope you're hungry for some za's because this shiznit is on the fleek ya heard?"  And the kids are all thinking, "He's being embarrassingly stupid here, but at least there's pizza involved."

Also, the apostrophe is in completely the wrong place.  An apostrophe connotes either possession or the contraction of a word.  Think "of the clock" shortened to "o'clock," or "the pizzas that belong to Jeff" as "Jeff's pizzas."  There is no s at the other side of the apostrophe and there is nothing on the menu that indicates something belongs to the pizzas.  So the apostrophe there serves no purpose.  The word is shortened, but then we should see it written as 'za.  The menu has a paper insert for periodic specialties, and this errant punctuation is consistent.  Somebody's doing this on purpose or no one has bothered to correct them.

My parents were in town a few weeks ago, and I brought them to the Thirsty Pagan.  With no prompting from me whatsoever, my mom looks at the menu and says, "What the heck is a ZA?"  "It's short for pizza."  "Well then shouldn't the apostrophe be on the other side?"

What the heck is a za?

What can I say?  I am my mother's son.

But if the only downside to a place is the menu punctuation, I say go with it.  Now, on to the three questions.

Why is this place called the Thirsty Pagan?

TPB was the first craft brewery in Superior, all the way back in 1996, then called Twin Ports Brewing.  (The brewery was called that, not the city.  I think.)  The company went under new ownership, but getting the rights to use that name was not entirely possible.  So the new owners wanted to keep the same initials but come up with a different name.  The staff served as a focus group of sorts and Thirsty Pagan Brewing won out as the best name.

Is there anything about the building or the business that's a bit of untold history?

I could go into detail about how TPB did craft brewing before anyone else in Superior, and the next time the place gets covered, it'll have a rundown on the restored digs at the new location.  For now, the history is much more personal.  It was at the Thirsty Pagan that I first decided I wanted to move to Superior.  Some friends had moved here a year or two prior, so I began visiting the town and doing more than just stopping at a Subway while going from Minneapolis to Upper Michigan.  I came up to celebrate a birthday, and we had some beer and za'.  I met new friends and connected with old ones, and since I didn't see the menu at the time, I thoroughly enjoyed myself.  I left the next morning feeling like I was drawn to Superior, and ever since then I started looking for ways to move here.  If Superior were a significant other, and you asked, "When did you just know you were meant to be together?" I'd trace that back to the night at TPB.

Is there a specialty drink or menu item?

The beers rotate out, and so do the pizzas.  I tend to stick with the same beer because I get to order it in an "Ahh-nold" accent and that's awesome.  And then I usually try the za' du jour.  I've had a potsticker pizza, a shepherd's pie za', and most recently a jalapeƱo popper pie.  Those have all been great, although I put corn and not peas in my shepherd's pie.

"Last Dance with Mary Jane" running tally:  0.  There's no jukebox.  Live music is a staple, and a sign instructs patrons to not request several songs.  Among them are "Freebird," and "Stairway to Heaven," but this song is not yet prohibited.  So there's hope.

Superior Bars - Gotta Catch 'Em All!

Well, that was way too long between blog posts.

In order to get this blog back on track, I began looking for somewhat of a raison d'etre, a reason for existence, if you will, that could keep on even after I became more acclimated to my new surroundings.  Or barring that, at least a certain je ne sais quois even if I don't know what that means.

As it so happens, I like beer.  And Superior seems to really like its beer too.  Now instead of sitting around at home while I take down a pint or two without interacting with anyone, I usually prefer to go to a bar and drink a pint or two without interacting with anyone.  For Finlanders, this counts as being an extrovert.

And Suptown, in case people aren't aware, kind of has a LOT of bars.  I have some OCD tendencies that brought about this aspiration:  has anyone visited EVERY bar in Superior?  Because I want to be the first to accomplish that.  Not necessarily in one evening.

What would it take to hit up every bar in Superior?  First, "Superior" in this case means the city limits.  A hidden gem dive bar in, say South Range or Hermantown, might be noteworthy but wouldn't count towards "every bar in Superior."  A possible exception would be on the outskirts of town if there are establishments outside city limits that have a liquor license administered by the city.  Otherwise, the geographic definition is pretty well set.

Ah, but then we're left with the existential question all Superiorites have on some level always asked themselves.  Like Trinity said at the beginning of The Matrix, "...And when he found me, he told me I wasn't really looking for him.  I was looking for an answer.  It's the question that drives us, it's the question that brought you here.  You know the question just as I did."

Just what IS a bar, anyway?

A bar, for the purpose of this project, has to have several characteristics.

  1. It must serve beer, wine, and/or mixed drinks/cocktails containing some degree of alcohol.  Ok, that one is pretty obvious.
  2. You must be able both legally and practically to consume the alcohol on site.  Just so you know, downing as much of the 77-pack of Natty Light as humanly possible inside the Kwik Trip beer cooler does not make that a bar, even if you promise to tip your server.
  3. It has to be open until 9 p.m. or later on weekdays and 10 p.m. or later on weekends.  There may be some flexibility in here, but in general a coffee shop or a family restaurant with a beer menu is not necessarily a bar.
Armed with my definitions for what I will seek out and where, I wanted to give this project some degree of consistency by asking a few questions at each location.
  1. Why is the bar called ______?  Sometimes it'll be an obvious answer.  "Wide World of Wings" is called that because they serve what exactly?  But even then, there are plenty of names for a chicken wing joint, so why that one?  If the waiter or bartender says, "Hell if I know," that will make it into the post as well.
  2. Is there anything about the location or the building that is a bit of untold local history.  I live for this kind of stuff.  "The barstool you're sitting on is the very spot where, after a long and busy day for the manager of The Anchor, the ghost of Calvin Coolidge appeared and told him to email Guy Fieri so he (Fieri) could tell the rest of the world about the olive burger." is the kind of story I'm looking to hear.  It doesn't even have to be true, as long as it's something people tell each other there.
  3. Is there any specific beer, mixed drink, food item, or experience here that you think sets you apart?  If they say yes, I will try that thing and write about it*.
*With the caveat that the item has to be something a single person or the group I'm with can safely consume.  "Our specialty is a 55-gallon Long Island ice tea, served in a life-size replica statue of Brett Favre, perfect for parties of three or more!" is not something I'm taking on by myself.

And finally, although my beer consumption is exhausting but not yet exhaustive, I've noticed at least one thing about Superior bars that's different than other places.  You all play a certain song by Tom Petty A LOT.  It's really your city's unofficial anthem, whether you realize it or not.  In fact, I would not be a bit surprised if at my first sporting event in town the broadcaster calls out to the crowd, "Please rise and face the flag, and gentlemen remove your hats as the high school seniors brass quartet leads us in a rendition of 'Last Dance with Mary Jane.'"

So each post will conclude with a running total of how many times I have heard that song in a Superior bar.

My frequent haunts tend so far to be The Spirit Room, Jack's, Shorty's, The Anchor, VIP, Keyport, and Aces.  Those may get their posts more quickly than others, but I'm open to suggestions too.

Oh my my, oh hell yes...

Thursday, January 3, 2019

The Superior Dollar Goes So Much Further

Your typical bar tab at the Anchor.

Breakfast at the Minneapolis cafe nearest my home there.
"I've never made as much money in Superior as I did in Minneapolis.  But in Superior I never felt poor and in Minneapolis I never felt like I was doing well," said a friend of mine before I moved here.  And while not everything is cheaper here, that dynamic is generally true.

The first photo is from a night out at the Anchor, and in Minneapolis any one of those things - a burger, a 34-ounce beer, or a double shot of Bushmill's - would easily run $13.50.  The local diner nearest my longtime north Minneapolis abode will run $16 before a tip for breakfast and a coffee.  Three blocks from my Superior home, Pizza Man has $5 breakfasts from Monday through Thursday. You can get steak and eggs for a fiver (MUCH BETTER steak and eggs than you'd think five bucks would bring) and that includes a bottomless cup of joe.

In fact, most restaurants around seem to have deals on various nights.  Grizzly's has two-for-one burgers on occasion, so even though you won't get Anchor prices there, you can bring a friend and time it right to get the same effect.  Keyport has incredibly cheap tacos on Monday night (my trivia team there consistently places a proud second).  If one put these deals from bars and restaurants on a calendar, you could strategically eat and drink on the cheap on virtually every day of the month.

Here is my unofficial tally of what's generally cheaper and what is sometimes more expensive in Suptown vs. Minneapolis, with a bit of a culture shock at the end about one area that is so much better here...

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The New Guy in Suptown

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man at the Anchor, in possession of a good burger must be in want of a beer.  And that's how my time in Superior begins.

I spent the first twenty-ish years of my life in Upper Michigan, going to college below the bridge with Trolls.  Then the next nineteen years were in the Twin Cities.  So I'm no stranger to Wisconsin, even spending two summers working in a small Northwoods town called Sayner.  Still, Suptown has its surprises and this blog is dedicated to revealing and understanding what those are.  Even this blog title is borne of a missed attempt at pronunciation.  I'd read the word Suptown before, but assumed it was pronounced "S'up-town."  Nope, "Soup-town" it is.  But I had already decided on the name and reserved the title with Godaddy, so here we are.

Or take this whole alternating parking habit.  It's second nature to everyone here, but that first Sunday switch was disorienting.  Luckily all my neighbors came over at least twice to knock on my door and remind me.  Some newcomers get a pie as a housewarming gift; up here they make sure you don't get a parking ticket.  I like that better.

Also, I don't know if you all realize this, but Superior has an abundance of good, cheap burgers.  Like, this is not normal, people.  Just about every bar or restaurant I've been in has a $5 burger option that a Minneapolis restaurant could get away with charging triple for.

But after my initiation at the Anchor, my next order of business was finding a place to live.  The home I chose is in the BOB neighborhood, which people tell me is supposed to be blighted.  But compared to my corner of Minneapolis...