Nothing like a little professional wrestling and polka mixed with drinking.
Running parallel to each other, University Avenue and 4th Street in Minneapolis’ Northeast neighborhood create a potent dive bar corridor, home to a variety of historical drinking locations that make the area ripe for a bar crawl. Mayslack’s sits both geographically in the center of this area as well as physically in the center of a transformation that has seen it grow from its historical dive bar roots into something fresh and renovated. These types of transformations are always bitter sweet for dive bars that can tell a story like Mayslack’s can, making it a prime example of the pros and cons of updating timeless dive bars.
And all of this history and renovation is built upon a compelling story, Mayslack’s the adopted name of a Minneapolis native professional wrestler, Stashu “Stan” Maslajek, who purchased the location upon his retirement from the ring. In 1955, the doors were opened featuring, as the bar’s history page on its web site describes, two of the Upper Midwest’s finest features, polka bands and roast beef sandwiches. That the bar’s elongated original name “Mayslack’s Polka Lounge” comes as no surprise given Maslajek’s heritage and the cultural makeup of Minneapolis’ Nordeast neighborhood over the decades.
The positive here is that the owners of Mayslack’s clearly value the historical “guts” of the physical and spiritual place that the dive bar represents. Though the surfaces have certainly been given new paint, new fixtures, new lighting, etc., those features have been updated it seems in an effort to highlight the historical beauty of the space. Outside, little has changed. The Budweiser sign above the door may not be original, but the red awning attached to the double storied brick building conjures the same visual appeal Mayslack’s has held for decades.
A corner plot across the street from fellow dive bar stronghold Knight Cap, there is no mistaking that Mayslack’s is indeed a Minneapolis dive bar. Inside, there is certainly a pay off to that assumption, albeit with a fresh coat of paint here, new bar signs there and, sadly, freshly cleaned surfaces throughout. That’s sarcastic of course, we don’t generally root for mold, but the connotation here is more that a little grime and dust can go a long way in selling the authenticity and unflinching nature of a classic dive bar.
With those few caveats out of the way, Mayslack’s is a beautiful interior space, the roof perhaps the most striking visual element, a painted black stamped variety arched to make the bar feel airy and open. Split into two long rooms, the main area is divided between the main bar running the length of the space and a series of wooden booths that look as original as anything in the building. They provide a great example of the balance Mayslack’s strikes between old and new, fresh lighting here illuminating carved up, beaten up old wood booths barely large enough for three people. They are beautiful and probably the best feature inside the dive bar.
With a cracked white mosaic floor underfoot, the rest of the walls within are dotted with fresh bar lights and metal signs, the kind you would associate with a diner along Route 66. There’s a Jack Daniels street sign and an illuminated Guinness sign above the window, and they sit atop a rebuilt set of wood slats that create a very modern look to a clearly updated set of interior walls. There are, of course, emblems of the past throughout, like easter eggs that have survived the renovation, the balance continuously struck between past and present.
The bar’s secondary room predominantly contains seating at low tables, a nod to the long food history of Mayslack’s that prominently features a piled-high roast beef sandwich. Reviews of the dish have shifted over the years, and this reviewer visited a little too late to sample one, so your milage may vary, but the reputation seems well-earned, if recent years have worn away the storied history of the sandwich.
The transition between dusty dive bar and renovated watering hole can be a precarious transformation for those that appreciate the authenticity of a timeless drinking institution. And though those wheels are certainly in motion at Mayslack’s, the bar’s heritage cannot be denied and the updates largely seem to serve as highlight to the original features that have made Mayslack’s an enduring Northeast neighborhood destination.