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Opinion: Dispatches from frontlines of Dinkytown nightlife

Meet the folks who are picking up the pieces of the mirror you drunkenly smashed last weekend.
Image by Wejdan al Balushi
Tales from the thankless jobs in Dinkytown.

Daylight brings a reliable and punishing honesty to the drunken debauchery that transpires in Dinkytown. The wake of cigarette butts and crumpled beer cans washed in golden rays proves fun was had — even if you don’t remember it. 

Sundays are pitch day at The Minnesota Daily, giving me a reason to regularly traverse 14th Avenue at the peak of its destruction. I pass the time with a phone call home, my mother listening intently as I talk through ideas while navigating the minefield of yakked-up something and broken glass.

It was a uniquely grotesque post-Halloweekend jaunt that inspired her very legitimate question: “What do they do with all of that gunk? Pray for rain?” 

Not even a biblical flood could make a dent in the chaos left by thousands of students on a mission to forget. It got me thinking, who are the unsung heroes that return week after week to look danger in the eye? And, more importantly, are they okay?

“It’s not boring,” said Nico Anderson, a bartender at the infamous Blarney’s Pub & Grill. “On Fridays and Saturdays, it gets pretty out of control, and it’s not just the bars, it’s the street life, too. It gets hectic out there.” 

Anderson worked his way up to the front lines from security guard over the last three years. Suffice it to say, he’s seen it all. 

Anything that isn’t nailed to the floor is taken home like a participation trophy. Anderson recalled the time someone ran out the front door with eight ketchup bottles in tow. 

Their first line of defense only goes so far. Security does what it can to prevent bad actors from entering at the door, but providing a valid ID won’t guarantee you’re not going to act like an idiot. 

“Sometimes customers come in here and have no clue what’s going on,” Anderson said. “They order a drink that doesn’t exist, stuff like a vodka rum.”

That might work in Wisconsin, but you have to try a little harder here.

Gamedays are unsurprisingly brutal. When the Gophers upset Penn State, the packed bar threw beer bottles and other projectiles around the room in celebration. Anderson took one straight to the noggin and wondered why he ever agreed to the job at all, but said it is good money.

It better be!

A common theme among the brave people I spoke with was the unbelievable hours. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think they were describing the schedule of an emergency room nurse. Keeping up with the demands of this clientele requires 14-hour shifts of back-to-back madness. Service jobs are not for the faint of heart.

Last call at the bar is a starting gun for the rest of the evening’s antics. I stopped by their neighbors at Insomnia Cookies next, who are open as late as 3 a.m. on the weekends. 

“A lot of people who come in don’t know where they are and they look at our cookies like they’ve never seen cookies before,” said Samantha Walker, an Insomnia Cookies employee and a psychology major at the University of Minnesota. 

Destruction of property is also a challenge for the folks behind the counter. The last promotional sign they put out on the curb lasted five hours before someone came along and shattered the display glass. 

If you’ve never visited Insomnia Cookies, it’s about the size of a postage stamp. It was hard for me to imagine the mayhem that could unfold with such little real estate, but Walker assured me where there’s a will, there’s a way. 

“We can’t put toppings on the display cookies anymore because people kept eating them,” Walker said. 

They’re also the only stop on the block with a public restroom open past 1 a.m., but I’ll spare you her vivid description. Walker held no animosity toward the slovenly whackos that wreak havoc weekly. She seemed to find humor despite the craziness.

“I’m just saying if you’re inside, please be quieter. Or order faster,” Walker said.

When a cookie won’t do, there are several late-night joints doling out carbohydrates to the masses. D.P. Dough, one of the longest-standing establishments, is nestled on the corner of fraternity row. 

“The men’s bathroom hasn’t had a mirror in three weeks, someone broke it. And that’s the second time this semester,” said William Carney, the daytime manager who recently escaped from the night-shift rat race. 

Like Adams, he cited the brutal 12-hour shifts as a reason for opting into opening. 

From his vantage point in the kitchen, Carney described what could easily be a scene from The Walking Dead. Slack-jawed, bleary-eyed demands for calzones come barking from the line, often wrapped around the building, with a limited crew to satiate their cries. 

“Part of growing up is learning to live in society instead of just taking the bounties,” Carney said, who described his role as a sort of guardian angel. “We’re doing our best to take care of you and make sure that our places are safe for people to be stupid, but if everything gets torn out of my bathroom, and I have to close it to the public, everything’s going to get worse for everybody.”

I realize bargaining with this demographic is a losing game. If you’re drunk enough to break a bathroom stall in half, remorse is probably not on your radar. But, you don’t have to go full geriatric to be a better patron. 

“Have those joyous, ridiculous moments, go out and do a bar crawl and come home at three in the morning completely trashed, but just act a little more responsibly,” Carney said. “Try and understand that there are human beings on the other side of this.” 

His reflections were echoed by all of the employees I spoke with, who are not naive to the nature of their jobs. Next time you head out for a night on the town, remember to thank the people who are effectively baby-proofing Dinkytown for your own safety. They care about you a great deal.

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  • Penny
    Nov 16, 2023 at 5:13 pm

    Brava Kelly! Humane and as usual fabulous writing.

  • Maria
    Nov 14, 2023 at 9:00 am

    This was so well written – I didn’t want to stop! Bless those frontliners.