Minneapolis' Most Beloved Neighborhood Dive Bars
Everyone loves a good dive bar, but Minneapolis needs them.
Article By Mecca Bos
I’ve never liked the word “dive,” as it cedes these fine neighborhood establishments a tawdry moniker, which they do not deserve.
A good, dark, come-as-you are bar is an essential asset for any city worth its salt, and when the snow flies in Minneapolis, gathering with locals in an established drinking institution while predicting the impending accumulation is a favorite pass time.
Each one of the below establishments could teach courses in hospitality to any number of “finer” places, and the drinks are cheap, to boot.
Some have good, greasy grub, some have servers with hearts of gold, and others have the perfect wear in the vinyl barstools, but every one is a pitch-perfect example of what you want—no, need—in an unpretentious-to-the-floorboards watering hole.
Unlike many a neighborhood bar, Palmer’s tosses off any nepotistic allegiances to possessive regulars, opens its doors to anyone and everyone, so long as you know how to behave. If not, wind up on the dreaded 86’d wall, replete with name and detailed description of offense. Most are “86’d forever.”
That said, it takes a lot to get 86’d from this beloved West Bank institution, where owner Tony Zaccardi fondly remembers a passed out Santa Claus at one visit.
“I knew this was the place for me,” he said then. In addition to a pedigree since 1906, live music every night of the week, and an upstairs apartment that was once a brothel (owners found whalebone corsets upon a recent excavation) Palmer’s boasts other, less obvious features to recommend it.
In summer, find a sprawling outdoor patio (smoking still allowed) including live music, fire pits, and even decent wine by the glass and the bottle (don’t tell anyone!).
Check the website for charming and quirky events like potluck dinners, jug bands, Rock and Roll trivia, and lots more.
My personal neighborhood bar, I joke that there are magnets connected to the seat of my pants and the perfectly circular red booths at “the CC.” By magic, I find myself here at least twice weekly, humbled by the tawny mountain of hand-battered onion rings (half off at happy hour!) paired with a $3 rail. You almost can’t afford not to go. That it’s all served up with an actual smile, as well as one of the best punk-forward sound systems in town doesn’t hurt either.
Pool tables keep drinkers busy if sipping isn’t activity enough, and the piled-high lost and found box is proof that it's possible to forget your troubles (and your scarf and your hat) after just a couple hours enveloped within the finely duct-taped booth vinyl.
Make new and old friends on the smoker’s patio out back.
Known for a sandwich with a dubious name, Dusty’s has much to recommend beyond the porky, cheesy mess that admittedly goes down perfectly between a beer or three.
Just a slip of a space with wood paneling and vintage restrooms that barely accommodate a single body (also check out the old phone booth now revived to a Little Free Library) the vibe will instantly invite you to sit down and stay awhile.
Nightly live music in the “big green booth” (really—the space is so small that bands have to commandeer a booth space) rounds out your evening. The grill is in eye-shot of the bar, so you can keep up on the progress of your impending sandwich. If the famous sandwich doesn’t suit your needs, Polish sausages and burgers your way round the menu.
A single server will likely be doing the cooking, pouring, and delivering, so be sure to be nice and tip well. You’re likely to return soon enough.
The first thing you’re likely to notice when entering Cuzzy’s are the hundreds (thousands?) of dollar bills wallpapering the walls and ceiling of this “North Loop” holdout.
This trendy area of downtown Minneapolis was once the Warehouse District, but now that sleek bars, restaurants, and high-end condos have consumed the neighborhood, survivors like Cuzzy’s are an important moderating force.
Groaning baskets of fried things roughly the size of a Volkswagen provide a base for all the drinks served at fair prices.
Don’t miss Snow Crab Wednesdays, where a pound of crab with salad and potato goes for just over the twenty dollar mark—a throwback to better times.
Uptown is another rapidly growing neighborhood where old institutions are being squeezed out and mourned tearfully by longtime residents.
Mortimer’s was recently saved by restauranteur couple Jasha Johnston and Carrie McCabe Johnston who also own and operate the nearby classy neighborhood spot Nightingale. Johnston is a two-decade veteran bartender of Mortimer’s, and still pours there regularly.
2 for 1’s from open-’til- 6p.m. every day, plus $3 happy hour taps and rails from 9p.m. to 11p.m. nightly keep the place filled with colorful regulars at all hours, and scratch cooking from the kitchen means all the basics are here (burgers, pizza, chili dogs) but also spaghetti dinners and Minnesota’s classic fave, Tater Tot Hotdish.
If the perfect neighborhood bar could be punched out of a mold, the result would likely looks a lot like Grumpy’s.
But of course, a great bar is anything but cookie-cutter, and Grumpy’s has the historical patina that makes it the one-of-a-kind place that it is. A diverse clientele, the weird uncle’s basement vibes, and inexpensive-everything are just the basics.
Visit here for one of our Minnesota-est bar rituals, a local Heggie’s frozen pizza from behind the bar, the quintessential drinker’s eats for watering holes grandfathered in from a time when bars were not required to sell a percentage of food. You won’t be disappointed—Heggies is a touchstone of local eats.
Other reasons to visit: Hotdish Tuesdays for a buck a bowl, half-off Minnesota made beers and spirits on Mondays, and the signature wallpaper.
About the Author
Mecca Bos has been writing about the Twin Cities food scene for more than 15 years and she’s been cooking in professional kitchens for almost as long. If there is something to be tasted in town, she’s tasted it. She loves few things more than bragging about her beloved hometown and food cities, Minneapolis/ St. Paul. Her work can be found both locally and nationally, and at meccabos.com.