Where the food tastes better if it snows.
The competition for best dive bar in Minneapolis’ Northeast neighborhood is thick, the mix of residential neighborhoods and vintage architecture providing fertile ground for the classic Midwestern dive. Dusty’s makes a case for best dive bar in the area, though, thanks to an untouched, classic interior and that special elixir for a great dive bar, the fact that it is known for a signature food item.
You would be forgiven for not immediately understanding what exactly the word ‘dago’ means upon seeing it prominently displayed on the mural stretching across Dusty’s exterior wall. Locals can tell you that there a few different ways to concoct a dago, but the basic premise is everything that makes a hamburger a hamburger, but substitute ground pork for the typical beef. Some online recipes slather the patty in a tomato-based sauce, but Dusty’s prefers a simpler approach, though plenty of variation can be found in the menu’s many dago-based selections.
The dagos are so critical to the lore behind Dusty’s that not only does the mural scream its praises, but the classic Minneapolis dive bar sign over the door similarly reads, “Dagos & Liquor.” The brick building features the Minneapolis-standard Grain Belt neon sign in the front window, a wrought iron fence to the right of the front door showing off the patio sandwiched between two buildings.
The feeling of the space inside screams ‘dive bar,’ from the dim lighting to the ancient bar under a low ceiling, tied together with the faint glow of bar sign neon. Many features immediately catch the eye, maybe most prominently the old school phone booth at the rear of the bar that looks like it holds a dive bar-grade little library stocked with paperbacks leaning against what looks suspiciously like a shockingly still functional pay phone.
In keeping with the vintage spirit of a functional pay phone, the murals on the bathroom doors looked nicely aged, classic headshots of a gentleman and a lady no doubt freshly partaken in a dago or three. Overall, the footprint is the classic Minneapolis dive bar rectangle, bar running the length of one wall, sporadic seating throughout. A snug booth and drinking ledge line the opposite wall, all of it connected together by speckled grey tile under foot. There are modern amenities too, including a pinball machine and digital jukebox, but no one would mistake Dusty’s for a modern hipster bar.
Painted brown tile hangs over the space and drops down a half level over the bar, making the area look a little like a dive bar cave backed by a classic liquor bottle shelving array, every flat surface painted the same shade of brown. Minneapolis dive bar traditions can be seen in the form of pull tabs behind the bar next to a sign advertising the weekly meat raffle (every Friday at 6, naturally), a term that needs no explanation because the event consists of exactly what it sounds like it consists of, a raffle, for meat.
The kitchen in back can be seen around the corner just beyond a short drink station, a hint of where the long string of dagos originates. On this reviewer’s last visit, the special of the day was clam chowder, a delicious pairing with the first snowfall of the season, showing that the culinary range here does stretch past ground pork patties. And if all of that wasn’t enough to sell you on Dusty’s food offerings, the kitchen in back also churns out “half & half” patties, a smashed-up combination of pork and beef to bridge the innovative world of hand-shaped meat.
Dusty’s is a dive bar that just feels like Minnesota. The no-nonsense interior, the dago-infused mural out front, the Grain Belt signage throughout, the classic vibe of the fixtures and surfaces, everything adds up to a neighborhood Minnesota vibe in the best way. Dago or not, Dusty’s may be the purest dive bar in the densely packed dive bar hub that is Northeast Minneapolis.