Ripped at R.T. Quinlan’s Saloon in 2001

[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. Twenty years ago he filed a report from R.T. Quinlan’s Saloon in Downtown Duluth. The article appeared in the June 13, 2001 issue of the Ripsaw newspaper. The last paragraph refers to a poster that disappeared from Quinlan’s men’s room wall a few years later. The word on the street back then was: “someone stole it, and he is a fucker.”]

Holy Christ, the rear entrance of this basement hooch joint is lurid. It’s like a nasty Minneapolis strip club, with about four cheap multicolored bulbs attempting to light up beautiful Michigan Street. The Superior Street entrance is … well … it sort of blends into Mr. Nick’s charburger joint, so no one sees it or uses it. When you go to Quinlan’s, you gotta take that long walk down Michigan with all of its homeless teenagers and homicidal paint-huffers, just to get yourself in the mood.

Quinlan’s is the gathering place of 40-year-old men who don’t want to deal with any bullshit. They’re not looking to enjoy live music, score with chicks, get into a bar fight or be entertained in any way other than a regular conversation or a little TV. They want a direct, nonstop, one-way ticket to oblivion, and tonight as usual I’m right there with them.

Because you can’t tell your flea-bitten rumhounds without a program, here’s tonight’s roster:

Burn Victim | A guy whose pants are rolled up to expose his scarred red legs. He’s really into the gumball machines, which don’t serve gumballs but Skittles.

The Clapper | Some dude who looks like Paul Guggenheimer’s dumber brother. He’s watching the Twins game on television and is really into it. He stands up and applauds when things go well. When things go exceptionally well, he throws up the sign of the devil with both hands like he’s at a Kiss concert. Seriously.

Mohawk and Dawg | Two girls who appear to be either 17 or 35 years old. I recognize the one with the Mohawk because I see her often enough at other bars to believe she’s almost as serious an alcoholic as I am. She must either be old enough to drink or have been drinking off a fake I.D. every night for three years.

Q-ball | A short bald guy playing pool and totally grooving to the Creedence Clearwater Revival music on the jukebox.

Stitch | A white-haired dude who is reading the Duluth News Tribune’s funny pages; he thinks Sally Forth is a real stitch.

Chuck Norris | This guy looks like Chuck Norris if Chuck Norris wasn’t a physically fit martial-arts expert who shaved his face every month or so.

C.M. (Conversation Masturbation) | Some dude having a very animated chat with no one. He’s sitting all by himself in the lower level, and he thinks no one can see him. He’s getting quite intense about something — making shocked expressions and violently gesturing — all by himself.

I order up a bottle of Special Export for some reason and take a seat under a painting of a woman with big boobies. A sign behind the bar brags about Special Ex: “You can travel the world over and never find a better beer.” This is the falsest statement I have ever come across in my life. I could travel the dregs of a day-old Grain Belt bottle and find a better beer.

Something’s weird here. It takes me a minute to realize what it is: The jukebox is playing good tunes. I have to imagine that no one has picked anything, and the machine is choosing the music on its own. Everyone knows that jukeboxes work better on random than they do obeying the wishes of drunken idiots.

Speaking of drunken idiots, Q-ball has just taken Burn Victim’s cane and is wearing it around his neck. Chuck Norris thinks this is hilarious.

Emboldened, Q-ball gets it into his head to approach C.M. The question on my mind is, “Will C.M. stop his little one-man show, or is he completely insane?” As soon as Q-ball gets within his sight, C.M. immediately stops talking and straightens up into a nonchalant posture. Apparently, he has the ability to act normal in certain circumstances, which explains how he can continue to obtain more booze and get drunker than he already is. I’m guessing he’s not totally crazy yet, but just rehearsing crazy.

Q-ball starts up a game of pool with C.M. The game stops after about two turns, because C.M. has finally found someone to listen to his rant, which goes on for the rest of the night.

In the men’s room, I admire the poster of antique baths. I have memorized the names of them all over the years. There’s the American Hip Bath, Italian Chair Bath, French Copper Tub, French “Boot” Tub, English Traveling Tub, Teutonic Barrel-Stove Tub and the English Chair-Back Shower Tub. Who says you can’t learn things at a bar? Of course, I remember the names of these bathtubs because washing in each of them are luscious nude models whose breasts are the size of pork roasts.

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