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Serving the UMN community since 1900

The Minnesota Daily

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UMN’s bar culture is a two-headed monster

One night, four bars: come with me on a mini bar crawl through some of campus’ infamous bars.
A crowd of students gather at the Kollege Klub in Dinkytown on Friday, Feb. 18, 2022.

As one of those poor souls who turned 21 during the pandemic, my experience with campus bars is limited to the one time I visited Sally’s my freshman year on a Tuesday afternoon.

February 18 was the night that changed.

Though the afternoon was pleasant enough by Minnesota’s standards, sunset brought a nasty bite and a negative 14 degree windchill. Weather apps in the Twin Cities warned of high wind speeds. The ever-present, late-winter blues were creeping in.

That wouldn’t stop throngs of University of Minnesota students from going out to binge drink themselves into oblivion. Things like “being of age” and “subzero temperatures” aren’t really a concern. After all, when it’s this cold — what else are they supposed to do?

My night began at my partner’s house in Como, where his roommate’s indie band rehearsed in their unfinished basement. Armed with hand warmers from winter survival care packages (sent by well-meaning relatives), my clunkiest Docs and two pairs of pants, I was ready to take on whatever the night wanted to blow my way.

Manning’s Cafe on the corner of Como and 22nd is a Como kid pregame staple, and though it does typically have an older crowd, its ambient lighting and strong drinks left me feeling warm inside. I met some friends there just after 8 p.m. Our server, Bones, wore a tweed paperboy cap and a scraggly beard.
“American Pie” played under the chatter of old college buddies catching up.

Confused at why we were closing our tab at 9 p.m. on a Friday, I told Bones that I was writing a story about college bars and that we needed to move on to the next place. After bringing us our receipts, he told us to wait a minute. “Can I show you something for your book?” he said, visibly excited.

He returned moments later with a mouth harp and played us a little jig, later adding that he’d just learned how to play dubstep on it. I thanked Bones profusely, then readorned my winter gear for the short trek to the next spot.

Como Tap, just across the street from Manning’s, appeared to be our first stop’s cooler, younger sibling. Lit with neon signs and arcade games, the sprawl of the industrial space felt like a hipster’s playground. The crowd was considerably younger, wrought with skater boys sporting ‘70s porn staches and beanies perched absurdly high atop their heads. A curmudgeon-y bouncer shined his LED flashlight in our eyes before asking for our IDs.

More punk than trendy, the menu was littered with punny cocktail names like the Katniss Von D and the Comosa. I ordered a gin fizz to start. One bartender wore knee-high socks and tiny metallic running shorts. He weaved through the line of black puffer coat-clad 20-somethings that suddenly appeared to deliver our food. We talked about the kind of people who frequented Trader Joe’s.

The hum of the 10:30 rush quickly set in, filling the wide concrete space with conversation. We toyed with the idea of just staying for the night to continue people-watching, but after an order of garlic parmesan fries and a second gin fizz, we begrudgingly clomped our way to the bus stop to wait for the 3 toward Dinkytown.

The plan was to stop at Blarney Pub & Grill for as little time as possible to avoid the crowds. The massive line of suspiciously young-looking people outside the doors made going elsewhere the obvious choice. After speed walking away from the thrall of (assumed) first-years, we arrived at Burrito Loco, or Bloco, as some prefer to call it.

We entered to find a deceptively lively crowd and a mostly empty dance floor. “This is no one’s first choice,” one of us muttered as we found a table in the corner to skulk at. Even the happiest in the crowd here kept their coats on; they’d be leaving soon. A pair of roughly 40-year-old men sat down next to us, seeming to leer at the drunk girls on the dance floor.

Not wanting to stay another second, we stopped in the oddly liminal bathroom and shouted about where to go next over the blare of “Crank That (Soulja Boy)” and decided to shell out the $7.50 cover charge for Kollege Klub down the block.

We walked in just in time to watch a varsity jacket-clad bouncer make a girl in a marshmallow puff, knee-length coat cry. “I don’t fucking care, you need a physical copy,” he yelled in her face, towering above her small frame.

The cover included a “free” drink, so we waded through the sea of maskless drunks, trying (and failing) to avoid being bumped into and shouted our orders across the bar. We ventured upstairs to find an even larger crowd, a wall of paper white kids trying to escape the cold, slurring and stumbling along. I asked a bored-looking bartender about the crowd. “It’s like this every night,” she yelled over the music.

The night was mixed, to say the least, but I still felt warm. Good conversation and prime people watching opportunities abounded in our bar scene, and I couldn’t help feeling like a member of a community.

Tired and buzzed, we jogged down 4th Street to catch the bus back to Como just before midnight.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the name of Blarney Pub & Grill.

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