As alluring as a gentleman casually drinking a cocktail.
As Minneapolis dive bar murals go, Palmer’s Bar is the clear city champion, the image of a gentleman casually leaning against the front door an icon of Minneapolis’ dive bar scene. Every city has one or two drinking establishments old enough and noteworthy enough to warrant a Wikipedia page and Palmer’s again earns that city-wide distinction in Minneapolis, aided in large part by its opening date of 1906 and its status as a Prohibition speakeasy.
Without stealing from the worthwhile Wikipedia entry, the words ‘brothel’ and ‘secret tunnel’ are used, underscoring the value and variety of the dive bar’s history. The mural out front is accompanied by a one story-tall painting of a beer mug and a Minneapolis-standard Grain Belt sign above the door. The block is stark, making Palmer’s feel like a literal hole in the wall, a small door under a faded blue awning that would like look the entrance to an upstairs apartment if not for the mural.
It is easy to envision Palmer’s as a turn of the century watering hole, particularly because the floor is original, a red and white emblem of Grain Belt Brewery, original owner of the space when the brewery did business as the Minneapolis Brewing Company. The ceiling may not be confirmed original, but it certainly looks it, patterned tile atop crown molding interspersed with wooden beams throughout given the same patterned treatment.
Inside the front door feels almost like a waiting area before entering the full scope of the space, an alcove that features a vintage piano and Wall of Fame with framed photos of Palmer’s favorites over the years. The shrine of sorts is accompanied by exposed brick walls and classic music posters tracing the history of Palmer’s as a past and present music venue of note in Minneapolis.
Vintage photos show the dive bar’s signature slender space as it once was, which is not far off from today’s angled footprint that stretches from the front door, tapering to a narrow point at the end of the bar. Though it doesn’t look it at first glance, the tip of the space is home to the dive bar’s stage, home to a rotating set of musical acts that surprisingly cram themselves onto a stage that looks like it might hold a musician, a guitar and not much else. Those working at Palmer’s assured this reviewer on a recent visit that the stage is more spacious than it seems.
The space behind the bar is home to one of Palmer’s more noteworthy installations, in this case a Wall of Shame for those “86’d” by the bar, restaurant code for “asked to leave.” Sadly, no pictures are included but there are a number of handwritten notes describing the source and nature of the transgression that resulted in being asked to vacate the dive bar. Pleasantly, the visual stimulus of the Wall of Shame is matched by the bar decorations that strength the full length of the building, including homages to PBR, Hamm’s and a KISS mask, because why not (Starboy).
For the original features alone, Palmer’s Bar is worth the visit, but it’s the fact that those features are infused with such rich history (and a little bit of Wall of Shame spite) that makes Palmer’s a must-visit Minneapolis dive bar destination. The fact that a raucous band can fill such a slender space with music from a stage the size of an oil drum only adds to the allure, paying off the promise of by far the best dive bar mural in the city.