Ripped at the Anchor Bar in 2000

[Editor’s note: For this week’s essay we’ve once again pulled out a relic from the archive of Slim Goodbuzz, who served as Duluth’s “booze connoisseur” from 1999 to 2009. The Sultan of Sot documented his experience at the Anchor Bar in the Nov. 29, 2000 issue of the Ripsaw newspaper.]

At the northern edge of the United States lies the state of Wisconsin, which leads the nation in alcohol consumption. At the northern edge of Wisconsin lies the broken-down city of Superior, which features the famed Tower Avenue, a street lined with dozens upon dozens of cheap dives. And at the northern edge of Tower Avenue lies the Anchor Bar, the Queen Mother of all dives, a place that represents everything good in the world.

The Anchor Bar is the love of my life. The beer selection is extensive, the food is excellent and both are cheaper than hell. And though all appearances indicate that it is a bar for thugs, there are no thugs there; the tough women behind the bar ran them out years ago. Fortunately, they grudgingly tolerate the hooligans and drunks, such as myself, who remain. Decorated in early pigsty, the place is dark and greasy-smelling, and is populated by the kind of people who just want to drink beer and act like real humans.

Case in point: I’m sitting there in one of the barber chairs (yes, barber chairs) right near the toilets, when suddenly I realize that the room is just being assaulted with pretentious talk. Over by the piano, some windbag is leaning back on two legs of his chair — his hands behind his head, his cell phone placed prominently in front of him — going on and on about computers like he’s the man: “Blabber blabber blabber … 17 gigs … blabber blabber blabber … cable modem … blabber blabber … DSL.” You can tell by looking around that everybody in here just hates this S.O.B. In other establishments, or so I hear, people actually put up with this kind of thing. Not here. After a few minutes of this, a couple of drinkers in the back stop playing pool and start shouting in a sarcastic imitation: “You gotta have at least a million gigs. You need power. 5000-meg processor, 40-inch monitor. But it’s all about the gigs, man, if you don’t have enough gigs you’re a dinosaur. I know what I’m talking about.” A bunch of people laugh, and the guy shuts up immediately. Five minutes later, he puts on his coat and shuffles out the door. Then someone moves over to the jukebox and selects “Mr. Roboto,” again.

Something interesting always happens at the Anchor. It might be something small; maybe you notice the sign above the kitchen that reads “Danger—Beware of Dingbats,” or the quotation marks in the sign behind the bar that reads “You must be ‘21.’” Or it might be something considerably more impressive, such as the time two women — one of whom looked like Ace Frehley of Kiss while the other looked like the monster in the movie Predator — started buying shots of tequila for two guys they didn’t know. Before long the foursome disappeared out the door, then the men quickly returned with their faces covered in bloody scratches.

Last time I was there, I overheard one of the bartenders explain why she wouldn’t touch the Ouija board behind the bar. It turns out that when she was a teenager, she asked an Ouija board where her stepfather was. It said he was running. Later, she found out he was dead.

My favorite place to sit is in the “library,” a semi-private nook tucked away behind the door, just big enough for one table and two shelves of books containing the Wisconsin Statues for the first half of the 20th century. Though the Anchor has some of the most agreeable patrons in town, there are nights when you just want to stumble up in this VIP booth with your drinkin’ buddies and have your own fun. There in the library, sealed away from the rest of the barroom, you can drink in peace, occasionally peering out to catch a glimpse of the grimy, silent television set above the bar, and trying not to look too hard at the stuffed seagull with a paper napkin around its neck glaring down from the ceiling.

1 Comment

Bill Nash

about 2 weeks ago

Longtime fan of Slim's writing. So glad Paul has seen fit to re-publish some of his columns. I agree with everything he said, and think that the Anchor is as much a local treasure as anything the Twin Ports has to offer. Thanks for the article, and for reminding us of a simpler, happier, and slightly drunker past. Please pass my congrats along to Slim, when you see him.

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