Ripped at Ray’s Bar in 2004

[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 paid a visit to Ray’s Bar in the Town of Superior and composed this article for the June 2004 issue of the Ripsaw magazine. The establishment was more recently known as the Shortstop Bar, but is presently not in operation.]

About a year ago, I took a little tour of South Superior where, after wiping his piss on my neck, the drunken bartender at the Rusty Nail advised me to head down the road to Ray’s Bar. “Ray will shit on you for sure,” he said, inadvertently describing South Superior hospitality to a tee.

Now I didn’t exactly just fall off the turnip truck. I know some people are into that sort of thing, and I’m sure a lot of them haunt the thickets of South Superior. But as for me, I’m not much for excrement. Nonetheless, when faced with the choice of dealing with the Paris Hilton wannabes and renegade security guards at the latest version of the NorShor Theatre or wrestling with a psychotic South Superiorite wielding his own crap, I’ll head out on the highway every time.

I step inside Ray’s and thankfully see no sign of Ray. The place is empty save for three guys sitting at the bar, and a female bartender feeding the fire, both literally and figuratively. This is one of the only bars I know of that has an actual fireplace, one that burns wood instead of gas. My eyes instinctively drift to the tap beer selection and find the Miller Lite handle covered by a mitten, which the bartender has turned into a sort of puppet.

“Is the keg fried?” I ask.

“No. I’m bored. I’ve been working on this thing all night,” she says. The mitten has eyes and lips drawn on with black and red markers. It’s wearing a cap made from a plastic beer cup and smoking a cigarette. The thumb of the glove serves as the puppet’s nose. “It’s Miller Lite and it’s a buck-twenty-five,” she says. “Do you want some?”

“Yeah,” I say, kind of dumbfounded.

“Now, when I pour it, I can either turn him to the side a bit, or I can keep him where he is. If I keep him where he is, he’ll probably ash his cigarette in your beer. It’s up to you, whichever you prefer. Ash or no ash.”

“I’ll go with no ash this time,” I say. “Later on we’ll see.”

“No ash it is.”

Now that’s what I call service. She pours my beer, cackling the whole time.

Meanwhile, the three other guys in the bar sit quietly, each staring at his own beer. If there’s going to be any life to this party, it’s up to the bartender. I turn my attention back to her and see that she is fashioning a pair of eyeglasses out of swizzle sticks. Let me tell you, they don’t teach that at bartender school, but they should.

At this point, I figure she’s had all the fun a person can have with a tap puppet, so I head to the juke to pick out tonight’s soundtrack. As I flip through the misnumbered CDs, I hear the bartender shout with rage, “Open your mouth, or I’ll cut it open!” I look over and see her clasping a pair of scissors, using them to violently stab a hole in the mitten, beginning the process of creating a mouth.

Yes, I have found the Mary Tyler Moore of bartenders. She has taken a nothing day and suddenly made it all seem drunk.

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