Ripped at Pizza Lucé in 2002

[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. Pizza Lucé opened its Duluth location in 2001 and quickly caught the attention of the Sultan of Sot, who penned his review for the Jan. 9, 2002 issue of the Ripsaw newspaper. The restaurant has undergone several renovations in the past two decades, so we note here that the U-shaped semi-unisex restroom is no longer as it was. Also, the early morning openings are no longer a thing.]

As an old-fashioned Duluth rum hound, I want to dislike Pizza Lucé. When a Twin Cites enterprise expands to Duluth and sets up in a nice, clean new building, I pretty much go into auto-hate mode. But not this time. Pizza Lucé is a friend of the drinking class.

First off, there’s a decent happy hour seven days a week. Plus, there’s the extended hours — you can go there and get drunk at 7 a.m. (they actually have a list of morning-time cocktails for people who want to do just that), you can check out some live music in the evenings or you can go there for booze-soaking victuals after bar close.

They may try to be all hip and trendy on the surface, and maybe that flies in Minneapolis, but in the Twin Ports we all know that “hip and trendy” equals “ripped and reeling.” Tell me this — who else but the drunken would ever order a Garlic Mashed Potato pizza? Yes, I’ve been to Pizza Lucé, and I’m ashamed to say I’ve found cause to return. Many times.

So I walk into the Duluth Technology Village—and oh, how I love writing those words—from the First Street parking ramp, and it just amazes me how helpful all these businessmen in suits are. They’re all smiles and for some reason they keep asking, “Can I help you?” and, “Help you find something?” and the more straightforward, “What are you looking for?” I assure them that I know exactly where I’m going, which is more than I can say for them. I head down to the Superior Street level, where they’ve placed a security guard to keep the lowlifes, scumbuckets, alkies and dope fiends out of this pristine and silent building. I give him a little wave as I walk past him into Pizza Lucé.

Me, I like to go to Lucé for the daytime buzz, like around noon when the place is packed with working stiffs on their lunch break. It just gives me hope to see you people out there taking a brief and worrisome rest from your incessant, agonizing toil. I also like to see the look in your eyes when the waitperson places a tall, cold beverage in front of me as you’re trying to stop thinking about your mortgage payment long enough to digest your linguine.

You want that beverage, don’t you? But, oh, no, you have to go back to work. And here colleagues are surrounding you. If they saw you drinking during the day … shudder to think.

The whole thing makes me want to laugh like hell. Call me a sadist, but you made your bed, and so on and so forth. Besides, you know you’ll be back for happy hour anyway.

I ignore the extensive cocktail menu, which is a bit too girly for me. Although, I admit that sometimes I enjoy the Bloody Lucé, which is just like a bloody Mary, except that it actually tastes good and it doesn’t look like some halfwit tried to make a salad in my glass. The Bloody Lucé is quite hot, made with Absolut Pepper vodka, and the glass is rimmed with some sort of Cajun spice. The only vegetable accoutrement is a pickle, discreetly drowned among the ice.

Today the waiter — a friendly guy with dreadlocks and a mild case of ADHD — places a Newcastle Brown Ale in front of me, which I have chosen not only because it looks like a beer that most necktie-types would covet, but because, for some odd reason, Newcastle tastes best when the sun is shining.

Not that the sun is shining much in here. There are windows all around, but the light inside is pretty subdued, and the sun stays outside where it belongs. Which is another point I’d like to make: A lot of thought actually went into the layout of the place, and it’s tasteful and comfortable inside. I easily while away the whole afternoon here in total comfort. You, on the other hand, probably don’t even notice this as you bolt down your meal and head back to your screaming supervisor.

Entering the restroom I meet this woman and her boyfriend … wait, let me back up and explain something about the restroom at Pizza Lucé. It’s a semi-unisex restroom composed of a single U-shaped room. Each arm of the U is designated as male or female, and the middle part is a common area where the hand-washing, clothing adjustment and nasal inspection takes place.

Anyway, I meet this woman and her boyfriend, whom I noticed earlier, because they looked pretty cool and irresistible, and because they appeared to be just ordering drinks. They both come out of one of the women’s-side stalls, looking a little rumpled, and the woman just starts talking to me.

“Not to be weird or anything,” she says, “but you may be tempted to screw someone in one of these stalls. Don’t.”

“There’s a lot of echo,” explains the guy. “More than you might think.”

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