Ripped on Arrowhead Road on 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. Twenty years ago the Sultan of Sot took a rare trip to Hermantown and wrote the article below for the Nov. 11, 2002 issue of the Ripsaw newspaper. Since then each of the drinking establishments mentioned have changed. The Afterburner Bar & Lounge was replaced by Arrowhead Tap House. The Runway Bar closed in 2011 and the site became home to the Kolar auto dealership. The Local Bar & Grill is now Foster’s Sports Bar & Grill.]

Laugh all you want, but on Election Day I like to be near the Duluth International Airport. I mean, you never know: We’re on the brink of destruction, and, in the event of a sudden military coup, I want to be the first to take off to another land. But, security being what it is these days, I’ve unfortunately had a bit of trouble just hanging out and getting drunk at the official airport bar, the Afterburner. I’d rather not go into the details.

The Runway

So I find myself a mile or two away from the airport at the Runway Bar and Grill, hunkering down, waiting for the inevitable and having a few beers in the process. I’ve got three problems with this place: 1) They use the kind of pitchers that have the “ice reservoir,” thus cheating the customer out of valuable pitcher space. 2) They’re not showing election coverage on TV. 3) The man/woman ratio in this room is at least 20:1.

However, I have to give the Runway credit for at least two things: 1) The bartender who serves the cheesy pitchers looks a lot like that chick from One Day at a Time. Not Valerie Bertinelli, but the other one. The one who turned into a coke fiend and got banged by Mick Jagger while she was still a teenager. 2) While the TV isn’t showing election coverage, it is showing some sort of ESPN documentary about cheerleading, which is a lot like election coverage.

Speaking of the election, there’s a guy with about three feet of hair running down his back, drunk off his ass, wearing about seven of those “I Voted” stickers on his shirt, mumbling to himself in the corner. The Runway is obviously my place to be tonight. Still, I’m running into a bit of trouble having fun, since I keep thinking about Lenny Bruce’s funny catch phrase from the Bay of Pigs era, “We’re all gonna die!” Myself, I’ve done my part. I’ve voted a straight Flintstones ticket, but I’m not keeping my fingers crossed.

If the worst case scenario happens and I can’t flee the country, I can at least die among my people. And there are one or two of them here tonight.

Take for instance this broad at the bar. I don’t know if she works here, but she probably should. When I ask what’s on tap, she rattles off the entire tap list from memory before the bartender can even decipher my sloppy speech. When I choose a pitcher of Killian’s Red, I half expect her to stand up and get it for me. It’s sort of annoying, but on the other hand, having an extra bartender around is always good, especially if I don’t have to tip her.

I like to order Killian’s because it’s a good “test beer.” See, some bars will try to trick you into thinking that Killian’s is an import, straight from Ireland. This, my friend, is a huge load of bullshit, and is a good indication that you are among people who want to fleece you. Killian’s is an American macrobrew made by Coors, and should be priced accordingly. My advice: If you ever catch a bar doing this, order an overpriced pitcher, pay for it, ask to speak to the owner and then pour the pitcher down his pants. The same can be said for bars that sell Leinie’s at inflated prices, just because it tastes good. And for legal reasons, I’m not allowed to recommend what should be done to bar owners who charge $12 for a pitcher of Grain Belt because it is a “regional beer.”

The Runway charges $6.50 for a pitcher of Killian’s, which isn’t high enough to justify assault, but is high enough to get me curious about what’s happening across the street.

The Local Bar & Grill

After taking the obligatory swim in the Arrowhead Road drainage ditch, I reel inside to find myself in what looks like an actual restaurant, with a bar toward the back. That’s where I want to be, slurping Summit Great Northern Porter right out of the reservoir-free pitcher and trying not to adopt Lenny Bruce’s catch phrase as my own.

At a table behind me are three guys who appear to be playing some kind of poker game, flipping cards around and anteing every two seconds or so. Upon closer examination, I notice that they’re not playing cards, they’re playing pull-tabs; and the guys aren’t anteing, they’re building a mountain of losing pull-tabs that is only slightly smaller than a Volkswagen Jetta.

Usually, the pathetic divorced guys who spend hours playing pull-tabs try to conceal the extent of their obsession with losing by throwing their garbage on the floor. When they do this, the other bar patrons have to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume a lot of other people contributed to the mess over the course of the night. These guys, however, want everyone to know what big spenders they are by building a tabletop shrine to their own gullibility.

I decide at this point to cross to the other side of the bar to see if I can find better company. I pass a table where two young women are sitting with a large bald man. As I walk by, I make eye contact with one of the women, who smiles as she reaches up and squeezes her breast. The bald guy explains: “Just checkin’ for lumps.”

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