Ran Ham Bowling Center, you're the real MVP.
The battle for Juicy Lucy supremacy is a classic Minneapolis food scene debate, one that has been covered by seemingly every traveling cooking and food show that has passed through the upper Midwest. Matt’s Bar and the 5-8 Club have fought it out for the title of originator to the iconic burger with molten cheese interior, but The Nook may just be the dive bar perfecting the craft. Routinely voted the best Juicy Lucy in the city, The Nook builds on that fine food reputation with one of the ultimate hidden gem Minneapolis dive bars, in this case subterranean.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the bar upstairs, The Nook proper, so to speak. Outside, the building looks like a classic neighborhood haunt, green awning, impressive food selection, short bar for those looking for a bit less of a sit-down restaurant vibe. And though the move here isn’t some kind of speakeasy secret word type thing, there’s an entire world below the main restaurant space and that’s where the magic of The Nook as a classic Minneapolis / St. Paul dive bar comes into play.
The sign can be a bit easy to miss for those single mindedly seeking out a Juicy Lucy at The Nook. Next door, the banner above the door reads Ran Ham Bowling Center, which is an easily overlooked marker in the pursuit of meat stuffed with cheese. But the magic lies here, attached to The Nook, an underground bowling alley as old school as it gets, down to the complete absence of electronic scoring (pencil and paper only). The mural on the wall is a little less old school, robots fighting with condiments (of course), but the classic vibe is as Midwestern clear as it gets.
Better still, the true dive bar here sits adjacent to the 8-lane bowling alley, separated by a wood partition and adorned with an impressively dense array of dollar bills, even by dive bar standards. The cell service is tough to come by, and that separation only enhances the experience, hidden drinking below a city-renowned restaurant, bowling alley on one side, beer taps on the other. Better yet, the dive bar downstairs is connected to the kitchen above through a pulley system, meaning the ultimate dive bar experience doesn’t have to come at the expense of molten lava cheese oozing out of beef.
According to the bartenders, downstairs seating only fills up on busy weekend nights, meaning that during off peak dive bar drinking hours, the space is open and inviting to those looking for a little less crowd with their Grain Belt. A selection of short square tables and padded booths accompany a short set of bar seats, creating a feeling reminiscent of a dollar bill-lined cave. And by some kind of happy accident, the shake machine also happens to live in the basement, meaning there’s a 1950s-inspired dive bar happy hour combination somewhere here of manually scored bowling, High Life and a milkshake with two straws.
As far as neighborhood dive bar restaurants go, The Nook’s upstairs offering is extremely solid, supported by the fact that it may just serve the best rendition of the city’s signature bar food. But without the forced theater of a speakeasy password, next door’s Ran Ham Bowling Center dive bar, adjacent to spectacularly vintage bowling alleys is what sets The Nook apart. Hidden in plain sight, one of St. Paul / Minneapolis’ finest dive bars can be found under a simple white sign, behind a nondescript green door.