13 Places to Pull Up a Bar Stool
Our dive bars are so tough they stayed open during Prohibition
By Lianna Matt
If you visit Minneapolis and St. Paul, we have a lot of pretty and shiny things to look at. We have James Beard award-winning chefs, nationally known art museums and a night life that Prince was proud of. We even have a bar with its own Ferris wheel. But sometimes it’s nice to not have to try for a night, you know?
Enter the dive bar. Local, potentially clean, and much loved, dive bars are all over the Twin Cities. A nice handful even toughing it out through those Prohibition years. While they are all a little different, they all promise the same no judgment, no frills service with cheap drinks and a place to hang for the night.
We have way more than 13 dive bars, but here are our top picks if you want a taste of Minneapolis and St. Paul nightlife past the clubs and cocktail rooms.
The 19 Bar: The oldest gay bar in the Twin Cities is, naturally, a classic dive. Think pool tables, pinball, darts and a stiff drink in a windowless room that locals would probably harken as cozy. The juke box fits the old school vibe of this cash only bar, and the service is some of the best. The 19 Bar has been serving the cities since 1952, but if you’re looking for other LGBTQ bars and clubs, check out our list here.
CC Club: After opening in 1934 as the CC Tap, the bar became known around the Midwest for its laissez faire attitude and regulars like Tommy Stinson of The Replacements, Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum, The Suburbs drummer Hugo Klaers, actor Tom Arnold and New York Times columnist David Carr. The CC Club is even open early—11 a.m. on the weekdays, 8 a.m. Friday and Saturday, and 10 a.m. Sunday—so you can grab some grub and drinks without judgment whenever you need. If you ask really nicely, you might even get to see a picture of the bricked-over tunnel they have in the basement where people smuggled alcohol during the Prohibition.
Cuzzy’s: We’re happy for Cuzzy’s success—we really are. We’re sure that Cuzzy’s Brick House and Victoria House are excellent places. But we want a dive bar. And for that, we go to the original, located conveniently near Target Field Stadium for all of your pre- and post-game needs. A full day menu makes sure you can pair any American classic, grease or breakfast food with your drink, and no one will bat an eye if you contribute to their omnipresent $1 wallpaper.
The Half Time Rec: Best dive bar, best Irish bar, best burgers and a claim to fame as the bar in “Grumpy Old Men” make up The Half Time Rec Twin Cities' award wall. Twenty beers on tap and a well known St. Paddy’s celebration boost the bar up in our esteem, but what really makes us able to pull up a chair and stay a while is bocce ball in the basement and the Paddy Shack menu put on by Jack Riebel of The Lexington and formerly of Butcher & the Boar. Charitable gambling is a thing with pull-tabs every day, a meat raffle on Fridays and whispers of Bingo and The Wheel in the air.
The Hat Trick Lounge: You might think the name is an homage to our own Minnesota Wild—and who knows, maybe it is—but this bar definitely isn’t only for sports fans. Amenities include a front bar, side music room, eclectic concert calendar and open mic nights; Minnesota Nice from its staff and its customers is complimentary.
Kelly’s Depot Bar & Grill: Having to pay for parking downtown can be an inconvenience, but Kelly’s knows how to make you feel better: a drink ticket, full kitchen menu and a straightforward bar. Even though the trade off is already solid, you can make it even sweeter by not parking down there at all—it’s right by the Light Rail Depot stop.
Neumann’s Bar: It’s hard to know where to start with this bar. Founded in 1887, they’re one of the oldest continuously open bars in Minnesota; Prohibition merely brought “near beer” and an upstairs speakeasy. Biker runs are on Thursdays, there’s a tank of frogs in the main room, and they claim their back bar “is one of the purtiest you’ll ever see.” Weekdays bring suspiciously good food deals—$1 for a burger? Three for $6 Coneys?—and the weekends crowd local bands into the place.
Palmer’s Bar: Listed as one of the “Best Bars in America” by Esquire in 2014, longstanding Palmer’s doesn’t claim to have been selling alcohol during Prohibition. They don’t deny it, though. This early 1900s bar nonetheless has an air of the Big Band days with its art deco ceilings. It also has an air of its questionable design days with its unchanged red, white and blue floor tiles. Comedy open night mics, local musicians and a weekly musical jam keep the calendar full, and the legacy of its first owner, Minneapolis Brewing Company (predecessor to Grain Belt Brewery), promises good things behind the bar.
The Red Dragon: This bar is a little enigmatic except for the testimonies its patrons tell—no website, no owner-run Facebook page, nothing. That said, expect tropical cocktails with a punch, Asian cuisine, dated décor and an easy going atmosphere.
The Spot: This dive bar started serving drinks back in 1885, and the wood exterior definitely summons up the good ol’ days when everything was simple. Potlucks, cribbage tournaments and a roving tie dye vendor make the place seem homey.
Tony Jaros’ River Garden: While the drink and food menu hits all of the classic dive bar requirements (with a few homey surprises), the only real order you need to know is the Greenie. Word on the street is the signature drink could be as simple as vodka and lime-flavored Jello powder, but word also has it that after a few in, you’ll stop wondering and start partying. Wood-paneled walls, baseball and softball trophies, and memorabilia from the late local celebrity and Minneapolis Lakers basketball player—yes, we had them before Los Angeles did—Tony Jaros.
The Vegas Lounge: Any place that pairs the name of Sin City with Michelob lamp shades and teal seats probably qualifies as a dive bar. A patio locals use year round and bar food that hits that caloric spot complete the deal. Come for the karaoke that’s seven days a week.
The Viking Bar: With the big Grain Belt logo painted on the outside and the glowing orange neon of the bar sign, Viking Bar has been serving West Bank crowds since 1905. Grab a seat for a Sidecar cocktail (J&B Brandy, triple sec, lemon sour) or the Monday-Friday 3-to-6 happy hours, and check the calendar for political debates, live music, beer tastings and more. They also show every sports game under the sun on their six big TVs, but we figure you can look up those schedules on your own.