[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 Mama’s Bar, 1019 Ogden Ave. in Superior. Mama’s went out of business circa 2017. This article appeared in the Nov. 14, 2001 issue of the Ripsaw newspaper.]
There are two kinds of mamas in the world, and Mama’s Bar in Superior is named after both of them. One of the first things you notice when you walk into the place is all the hot mamas. Black-and-white photos of Veronica Lake, Marlene Dietrich, etc. line the wall across from the bar. At the bar, the real-life mamas sit. The 45-year-old white-trash mamas are always out in full force at Mama’s Bar. The place is everything I ever wanted in a filthy dive.
Mama’s is one book you shouldn’t judge by its dirty pink cover. Yes, the exterior of the place is painted pink — but it’s not a gay bar. This, of course, begs the question: What stereotypes can our society possibly rely on anymore? A pink bar called Mama’s, full of straight patrons, does nothing to simplify our already complicated lives.
My guess is, the pink paint is the work of an owner who said, “I have the ugliest box of a building in town, buried on a street that, for all practical purposes, is an alley. I might as well give up and paint it pink.” The only hint toward understanding what this place is supposed to be is a sign on the front door which looks like a Valentine, and reads: “The Heart of Superior.”
Mama’s finest feature is its location. Hidden on Ogden Avenue, where the college kids can’t find it, Mama’s is home to only the most sincere of alcoholics. I mean people who are so staggeringly shellacked they can’t even walk a straight enough line to stay on Tower Avenue. People who want to go someplace that will fry their eyeballs with the smoke of six-dozen Winstons and the glare of fluorescent lighting on Blatz-glazed paneling. People who make up a cast of patrons which looks like the cast of Dead Man Walking, with the added extravagance of a few filthy Green Bay Packers jackets, pockets bulging with losing scratch-off tickets. People like me, resting assured that whatever that benevolent guiding force is that protects drunks and fools, it will lead them safely to this crusty pink heaven.
All around me people are sloppily plastered, and would probably have dropped to the floor long ago were it not for the nonstop infusion of nicotine breathing life into their booze-soaked bodies. I settle at the end of the bar and order a 16-ounce can of Miller High Life for $1.75. Twelve-ounce cans go for $1.25. You do the math; I sure as hell lost that ability years ago.
Now here’s a weird combination: The drunkest woman on the planet is sitting between a seedy-looking longhair in a black leather jacket and a well-groomed older guy in a sports coat and turtleneck. The longhair also has a lot of facial scarring, while the older guy kind of looks like Dr. Zachary Smith from Lost in Space. The woman looks like every other woman in the bar. Anyway, all three of them are getting kind of close, and the talk is getting a little raunchy. Suddenly, she tells the longhair that he should pick some songs on the jukebox. He tells her to go and pick them herself. She says she can’t pick them herself, because she has never operated a jukebox in her entire life. She doesn’t know how they work and has no intention of ever learning. Nevertheless, she has excellent taste in music, and she tells him to “go heavy on the Patsy Cline.”
So the longhair struts (yes, struts) to the juke and picks a bunch of goddamn Eagles songs, and we’re only halfway through “One of These Nights” when the three of them leave together. And I do mean together. It’s one of those nights.
For me, it’s one of those nights where, if I don’t eat something somewhat solid, yet highly greasy, very soon, I’m going to pass out in my cab and wake up in detox again, with my throat feeling like the bottom of a hamster cage. So, I head to Papa Don’s — only two blocks away.
Papa Don’s is the restaurant connected to the lobby of the Androy Hotel. It’s open 24-hours a day, God bless it. There’s a picture of a JonBenét Ramsey-looking little girl named Elizabeth on the marquee, and she welcomes you. This is funny, but you have to be there — and drunk — to fully appreciate it.
The worst karaoke in the world blasts out of the Androy Hotel Lounge tonight, loud enough in the restaurant to be funny, but not too loud to prevent me from eavesdropping on the two young women in the booth behind me. Unfortunately, the one girl is all like “whatever” and her friend is like, “I’m so sure.”
I fill my face with omelet, and wait patiently for my check to be delivered by one of the middle-school lunch-lady reject waitresses. If I don’t get a bill in three minutes, I’m going to demand pizza.
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