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Jan 17, 2010 09:19 AM

MSP -St. Paul - "tavern culture is alive and well in St. Paul" but, where please?

In a previous thread about St. Paul, Minnesota (now getting to excessive length) a respondent said "tavern culture is alive and well in St. Paul." but did not go into any real detail about the whereabouts of notable taverns in question. These are even harder to locate via Internet research than neighborhood restaurants.

Most no doubt will do solid american food as well I am thinking but i haven't yet found a congenial place for a strong drink that neither breaks the bank nor is actually only the bar portion of a restaurant.

So far I like The Liffey.

The Hat Trick was a little harder core than I was looking for, but it was a cold night and I think it was also acting as a sort of makeshift emergency shelter.

There's a bar up in Finland MN I think fondly of; is there, i wonder, a transplanted urban version anywhere? Cozy bar, cute wiatresses, people getting significantly drunk but in a generally good-natured way, not too much possibility of too much argee-bargee. Good food a plus but not required. Heavy hand on the liquor bottle, versus the mixer button, preferred.

Taverns please contact:

apply BishopsBitter
Behind the Hot water Pipes
WC stall # 15
Amtrak depot
St Paul.

Seriously, thanks for any advice on tavern culture worth seeking out in St. Paul. Obviously by definition out in the neighborhoods not just in d/t. (Probably there aren't any much in d/t.)

Thanks again for your help.


p.s. addresses if you've got 'em

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  1. I have a bad habit of responding to my own posts, but I have heard pretty good reports of The Dubliner on University Ave. Especially the quality of the Guinness. Would people concur? I may even stagger over there for a few this afternoon.

    14 Replies
    1. re: bishopsbitter

      I checked with my beer "expert" who says that the Dubliner is the best pour of Guinness in town (not for food, thought). Other options, Half Time Rec (no food) or the Liffey.


      1. re: The Dairy Queen

        Your expert is right. I just returned from a foray here and this is a superlative watering hole. Instantly gone into my top-ten places list. For starters, a bar that's longer than a cricket pitch: gotta love that, and a very interesting crowd and mixture. Guinness A-O-K and very well priced at $5.25 for 20oz pints.

        What I particularly liked was the "nice lookout" and lots of daylight. One could read the paper here in the sunlight with nary a care.

        But the best was Mike the bartender. I truly believe some bartenders are blessed with supernatural powers. Somehow Mike KNEW that I liked Guinness in a straight-sided glass. Every other Guinness he poured, it was in one of those curvey Guinness logo'd glasses, which I do not personally like for they are unpleasant to hold I think.

        Without a word my Guinness came in a straight-sided glass, everyone else's in a curvey logo.

        I was also told I am a ringer for Van Morrison (it must be the black jacket I was wearing).

        1. re: The Dairy Queen

          Also I was recommended (by a fellow Brit) Merlin's on Lake at 36th Ave. Which I will check out in due course, but Dubliner is definitely a real tavern, and then some. I have fallen immediately in love with it.

          1. re: bishopsbitter

            Hey there, here's a good post on Merlin's.

            An old reply to one of your old posts.. :).

            I'm glad you liked the Dubliner!


            1. re: The Dairy Queen

              "Full Irish Breakfast, complete with rasher bacon, Black Pudding and White Pudding. "

              Black ---and----White pudding! Oh my. Hey this place has possibilities it sounds like. Like (when on good form) my home-from-home in the UK's mixed grill also featuring both black & white

              1. re: bishopsbitter

                I've never had the breakfast at Merlin's, but soupkitten has and doesn't recommend it! I think her comments on their breakfasts are in one of the posts I linked above.

                On weekends, the Strip Club serves brunch, with an Irish Breakfast described thusly (I haven't tried it) Irish Breakfast thick bacon, pork sausages, white beans in tomato sauce, wild rice bread $10.00
                and two eggs any style


                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                  The only food at Merlin's about which I recall ANY positive words is the pasty. And those words may have been no more than,"look, they have pasties!"

                  For an Irish breakfast, try Anchor Fish & Chips in NE Minneapolis - right down to the beans out of a can. A few notes to calibrate expectations:
                  - It's crowded and there is a long wait during usual dinner hours.
                  - Customers must order food to be served drink.
                  - If looking for a weekday breakfast, call first.
                  - The owners are native Irish. The place mirrors their expectations of an Irish fish & chip shop. Not an English chippery. Not a pub. Not anyone else's romanticized notion of pubs or chipperies.
                  - Like most, the owners and staff are not mindreaders. Customers who want something have the best success if they ask for it.

                  1. re: KTFoley

                    bb specifically mention Merlin's breakfast in his link above, which is why I specifically warned him off of the breakfast based on soupkitten's feedback, and then provided him a link to that comment, as well as to some other comments on Merlin's by EarlofSandwich, in particular.

                    I've not eaten there and can't make (and haven't made) any claims one way or the other about any meal there. (I just want bb, and others who come in the future, to realize I'm not recommending or disrecommending Merlin's one way or the other. I've not eaten there!).


                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                      ooo, yes, that was a memorably bad breakfast i posted about long ago at merlin's rest, but i haven't been back to see if it has improved. perhaps it has-- but anyway consider yourself forewarned and go carefully wrt the food there. i have heard some feedback from vegetarians that the vegetarian pub food is good, fwiw. i *do* rec the scotch list at merlin's, if BB enjoys some good or rare single malt on occasion. the place is worth a stop to check out but maybe is not a worthwhile destination imo-- unless it's for the scotch.

                      i do highly rec the irish breakfast at strip club. one of dh's fave brunch items in town. thick cut local bacon and local sausage, delicious beans (may want to order extra toast), & eggs. enough for two people to split. good breakfast cocktails (a little expensive, i usually had coffee or tea).

                      i think the op may also want to check out the bulldog location (primarily for the beer selection, but the food is quite good by bar standards) by mears park, close to downtown st. paul as a local watering hole. for other st. paul taverns of note i defer to TDQ's expertise, she's on point with these neighborhood places.

                      1. re: soupkitten

                        Does not auger well for the food there. But many of the other suggestions sound fun to try. As does the Irish breakfast at the Strip Club. Still hve nto made it there and will try to this week before it gets busy with the Carnival folks etc. I do love Scotch but it gives me such severe heartburn gyp these days I have had to largely swear off it.

                      2. re: The Dairy Queen

                        DQ, we are in full agreement. I should have linked the reply to bb's post rather than to yours. EOS was in mind as source of the pasty comment, and as one who gave the breakfast no praise.

              2. re: bishopsbitter

                I did make it to Merlyn's Rest. The Guinness was not awful, but rather under-filled pints even with unique pouring method employed. The scotch egg was served traditionally and correctly COLD! (Sound of Alleluiah Chorus.) That was nice, but they did have an after-taste of cleansing fluid of some kind. I think they are kept in the bar area and it was almost like a line-sanitizer smell had snuck into the pork mixture. I went for fish and chips (because too late I was shown the lunch menu featuring Ploughman's, which I happen to love with a pint). Oh well. The fish and chips I would not rate as exceptional. Shape-O-Fish (tm) nuggets and a bit burnt.

                Their Scotch "Bible" was somewhat excellent however.

                There was a bit too much drama with people who were "tired and emotional" (in Punch parlance) making an exhibition of themselves. The blind folks playing darts were a genial & good crowd however. It has to be said though since the entrance to the Gent's is in the line of fire this required a bit of nifty footwork between highly erratic shots.

                Overall nice enough. Certainly unique and quaint. Not quite striking a chord with me personally as does the Dubliner though (Dub's Guinness is so good, and generally [though not always!!] complete pours) although there was plenty here that's pleasant enough.

                1. re: bishopsbitter

                  ewww, don't like the sound of the sanitizer-scented eggs...

                2. re: bishopsbitter

                  The Dubliner is great same owner as the Turf Club but........they amp the music too much for the space ,in my humble opinion. So the music is loud. Pub Quiz on Sundays great guiness pour, goodpopcorn, nice ie strong mixed drinks also

            2. Well, I'm a little reluctant to offer any recommendations because your tastes seem pretty different from mine, and, also, lots of these places are places I'd visit if I were in the neighborhood, but not sure I'd drive across town for them, but, here are some of my favs in St. Paul. To me, a good tavern has much to do with warmth and camaraderie and neighborhood feel as the food and beer. Most of these are almost no frills.

              ~The Liffey in downtown St. Paul is a good choice
              ~McGoverns on West 7th in downtown St. Paul (I like their roast turkey dinner)
              ~Obbs 1347 Burns Avenue across from Mounds Park (East Side)--I love their Texas toast
              ~I love the Nook on Hamline at Randolph for their cheese-stuffed burgers (the Molitor burger is my fav) and fries [expect a long'ish wait--if you can't bear the wait, some people think their sister restaurant, Shamrock's, on West 7th is as good, though, I disagree.)
              ~Muddy Pig on Dale nearish to Selby
              ~Lots of people like Happy Gnome on Selby for their selection of beer; I haven't been in awhile because I think the food is lousy
              ~On Randolph, Skinners has pretty good fried chicken, is very family friendly, and has zero atmosphere. My kind of place.
              ~On the finer end, W A Frost on Selby has a good bar and a good bar menu, although, I wouldn't call it a Tavern.
              ~Blue Door Pub on Selby is wildly popular right now, many varieties of cheese-stuffed burgers.
              EDIT: oh, Bulldog in downtown St. Paul is pretty fun. Nothing on the menu is more than 10 bucks.

              Other places that aren't bars, but have a similar warm, atmosphere:
              ~I like DeGidio's on West 7th for a hot dago sandwich, though I wouldn't call it a Tavern.
              ~You might also like Yarusso's (they have a bar). These people understand hospitality.


              2 Replies
              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                thanks DQ these all sound very interesting. All those years ago when I lived in St Paul WA Frost was our "local" (we lived jsut a step away on Dayton Ave) and I well remember their marbled halls with fond memories.

                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                  I like your list., TDQ. (I realize I'm posting way after the fact, but found this to be an interesting thread.)

                  Personally I would remove Bulldog until they can get their act together and serve burgers to a table of four in under an hour. Horrific service.

                  I would add Sweeney's Saloon- Dale Street - an all-time favorite of mine, especially in the Fall on the great patio.

                  Sweeney's Saloon & Cafe
                  96 Dale St N, Saint Paul, MN 55102

                2. I've always enjoyed my time at O'Gara's on Snelling Ave. in St. Paul. It's a friendly bar/restaurant. Food is decent, not gourmet by any means, but solid apps, sandwiches and soups.


                  1. Without considering food, considering the actual culture and quality of drinks/beers I like these (the order does not mean anything):

                    Half Time - Once upon a time they used to have open square dancing on Monday Nights. That was some serious fun. Good people, good beer.

                    Turf Club - good beer, good music if you want fairly wide variety of current interesting music (Hmong Rap anyone?)

                    Happy Gnome - probably best beer selection in town. Food is kinda posh and inconsistent. Inconsistent can be bad, but it can also be pretty good.

                    Sweeney's - a friendly neighborhood place with good people and good beer.

                    Muddy Pig - see Sweeney's, fancier food.

                    Dubliner - great bar. Lots of celt-o-philes.

                    St. Clair Tap - like The Nook, a neighborhood place.

                    O'Garas - big operation. Friendly. Good drinks, food not so much.

                    It looks to me like there's a really lively scene in old NE. (centered around University NE and 13th Ave NE). 331 Club, Mayslack's, etc...

                    10 Replies
                    1. re: JimGrinsfelder

                      St. Clair Tap? Jim, do you mean the Groveland Tap on St. Clair? I used to like that place, but then they changed their menu and the food is not so great any more. Still super friendly there.

                      I like the black and bleu burger at Sweeneys. (because I love Bleu cheese on everything, not necessarily because their burgers are so great and they were one of the few to have bleu cheese on burgers until the recent "burger boom"), but the crowd skews a little young there.


                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                        I think I agree about Groveland Tap which I used to get to quite often. They told me that they were getting their burger meat from Sysco I believe instead of Widmer's down the street from them. I would love to learn that I'm wrong about that. And I wasn't that keen about the menu changes either.

                        What's the name of the bar on West Seventh below the Czech hall? Kind of a Bavarian atmosphere? I'm spacing out on the name now but it might be interesting to check out. It's a neighborhood place. Occasionally has some rough edges. I think the beer selection might be worth checking. I used to like going there to read, sometimes correct papers and have a brew. Believe me, I was the only person reading there, but I liked that noone bothered me when I did that. But it was a very friendly place. I liked the bartenders. It is well lit in front and very inviting. If you want to meet people and have a conversation it's very easy to do that. I thought they had a very decent (but probably not huge) beer selection and I'm not sure if they have any English ales. (Need to get back there and see if my favorite bartenders are still there.)

                        1. re: karykat

                          Before my eyesight became light-dependent I used to love to read in bars. McSorley's in NY and The Bear in Horsham Sussex were two great places for reading and beer in tandem. The Dubliner had that very nice aspect of lots of natural light. For readers select a spot at the N end of the (immensely long!) bar and during the day and it could be most pleasant.

                          I like to sound of the bar you mention: will seek it out. If you remember the name let me know pls.


                          1. re: bishopsbitter

                            karykat, do you mean Glockenspiel? I've never been at the bar there, only at the restaurant itself.


                            1. re: The Dairy Queen

                              Yes, the Glockenspiel. If you want to go, have a nice experience in the bar, and read maybe, don't go on the weekend when its crazy busy. Occasionally they have a strolling accordian player wandering from table to table in lederhosen. I would avoid that too. The different bartenders seemed to have different followings. I'd go on a nice quiet weekday night.

                          2. re: The Dairy Queen

                            Groveland Tap - Food has gone downhill in the past few years. (except for the fried pickles) and the price has gone up.

                            Sweeneys has excellent buffalo wings for the area.

                            I only ate at the happy gnome once and the food was horrific.

                            Has anyone mentioned Shamrocks yet? I haven't been in ages - but solid burgers and beer and good service.

                            1. re: St Paul Susie

                              I mentioned Shamrocks. Inferior in my opinion to the Nook, which is owned by the same people, but easier to get into (because it's bigger).


                              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                I like Shamrocks but do have to get to the Nook after all I"ve heard. (Even have a gift certificate for the Nook which I have been holding onto and anticipating our trip there.)

                                Shamrocks is nice and big. I liked the service there, and did like the burgers.

                                Some nights they have live music there later. I wouldn't go at those times if I wanted to hear myself think.

                                1. re: karykat

                                  Yet again, my dance card is full. Thanks for all these great suggestions. It might take a while to get around 'em all, but I have time at my disposal. And I assure all that I will start to "cross them off" one by one over the coming weeks. (Of course if I find too many I really like too soon this may come to a bit of a grinding halt. I have never been to keep questing once I have found the grail.)

                        2. anybody like dusty's dagos? i like it.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: zfwp

                            Isn't that in Minneapolis, though? Still, tell us more about it, please!


                            1. re: The Dairy Queen

                              it is a tavern by the old brewery (1319 Marshall St NE MPLS). it is just a little tavern, he makes his own soup and sandwiches. i get a kick out of it.