Ripped at Sanitary Harry’s 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. The Sultan of Sot penned this article for the March 6, 2002 issue of the Ripsaw newspaper. Sanitary Harry’s went out of business not long after.]

St. Louis County Highway 7 is a long, thirsty road. I started tonight’s quest in Twig, figuring there would be some combination bait, liquor and grocery store there, and the proprietor would offer me a stool, creating a bar-enough atmosphere. No such luck. If there is any booze in Twig, I can’t find it. It’s enough of a task for me just to find Twig. Any attempt to retune the radio or pay attention to traffic is enough distraction to completely miss the tiny township so feebly, yet aptly, named.

If I am anything, however, I am determined. True, quite often I am not anything, but tonight I am indeed determined; “determined” being a synonym for “thirsty.” So I keep motoring down Highway 7, and, after mile upon mile of driving through more and more nothing, I start hoping for space aliens or Sasquatch to please abduct and abuse me before I die alone of sobriety. Finally, I find a small shack in Kelsey with a bunch of Arctic Cat jackets mulling around outside it, marking the spot. Aliens, Sasquatch … the Snowmobile Monkeys of Kelsey will be close enough for me. The name of their headquarters is Sanitary Harry’s.

I swing the door open to find about 25 of the soppingest homesteaders I’ve ever beheld in all my years of beholding. The odd part is that most of these 120-proof sponges are quite young, probably about 24 years old. Only a small minority of them — maybe four or five — are female. Still, that amount surprises one of the regulars, who tells me he “didn’t expect so much young snatch tonight.”

Above the bar hangs a wooden sign with a pistol painted on it. It reads: “We don’t call 911.” This is good news because the cacophonous karaoke going on in this room is reaching emergency status, and I would much rather see the problem solved with a pistol than a badge.

At first, I have trouble deciding what beer to order, because the place is so cluttered with handwritten and computer-printed paper signs, I can’t find a beer list or even a neon Pabst Blue Ribbon light. Instead, I find such clever witticisms as: “You have a right to your opinions, I just don’t want to hear them!” It’s easy to tell these quotes are funny, because they all end with an exclamation point to tell me so.

Sanitary Harry’s is sort of like the Anchor Bar’s annoying cousin; there’s the same amount of stuff hanging on the walls at Harry’s as at the Anchor, but none of it is interesting. In addition to the clever signs, there is a table with a massive amount of products for sale, which include shampoo, paperback books and lighter fluid. At least one of these things should come in handy before the night is through.

I find myself an empty stool amid the disorder and notice a spot on the wall where I can read the words “Lacrosse Lager.” I tell the bartender I would like a Lacrosse Lager and she reacts as if I asked her to please fill a pillowcase with fresh crab cakes for me. I don’t know if she can’t hear me over the guy singing ZZ Top songs or if she’s just a little slow, but she walks away with a confused look, disappears into the back room, reappears to confer with the other bartender, then goes about some other task. My new bartender, an old coot even more confused than the previous bartender, appears from the backroom with a bottle of Michelob Honey Lager. Close enough, I figure.

“Do you have any pain killers?” the withered prune asks me.

I tell him no.

“Oh,” he says, “In that case the beer is $2.75.”

Further conversation with the old man reveals a number of things I’m not sure I heard right. Apparently, this fossil is shacking up with some lady — I think named Flo — who owns the joint. She apparently took over after the original owner, a guy named Harry, kicked the bucket. Old bartender guy tells me Flo is in love with him because, “How could she not be?!” He also informs me that he loves everyone and is on everything. At least, I’m pretty sure that’s what he said.

My next conversation is with some dude in a camouflage hat, who is my least favorite kind of drunk. He keeps telling me over and over again that he has “160 acres of land out here,” and that he, “killed a lot of fuckers in Somalia.” In between, he mixes things up by discussing various unrelated topics, such as the geopolitical parallels between modern America and pre-collapse Rome. “Rome, man. Just like fucking Rome,” he says. “I have 160 acres out here.”

As closing time nears, the least intoxicated young woman begins carting out her obscenely drunken girlfriends, in an effort to protect them from waking up in a ditch. This is a signal to me that I better start thinking about protecting myself. I walk out into the parking lot and find the women flopping around on the dirty, snowy parking lot, trying to hold each other up and maintain balance, and failing, quite tragically, to do so. I sit down on the hood of my car, and wonder how much it will cost to get a taxicab to come out here. It’s a good thing there are plenty of paperback books to pass the time, because I’m just going to sleep here and wait for Sasquatch to come pick me up.

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