Top 5 Minneapolis Dive Bars
The Upper Midwest dive bar oasis
The Upper Midwest is friendly territory for the classic neighborhood dive bar. Minneapolis in particular is home to a rich tradition of grab-a-burger, hunker down during the winter months-style neighborhood bars that have been in business since Prohibition. Yes, sometimes that burger is a Juicy Lucy, the local specialty burger featuring a molten cheddar core, but bar food goes well beyond the city’s most famous food item (try the dago pork patty at Dusty’s Bar, for example).
The drinking is not only taken seriously in Minneapolis dive bars, it’s taken to another level. This is, after all, a city of pull-tabs at every bar, meat raffles during the week (exactly what they sound like) and bingo nights across the city. There is nothing pretentious about the city or people of Minneapolis and that provides the perfect foundation for a wide variety of amazing dive bar options. Picking a Top 5 is a subjective, difficult and probably overly reductive task, but here are our picks for the best dive bars in Minneapolis.
The list below captures our favorites, but Minneapolis is full of great options, all of which can be found in our Minneapolis Dive Bar Travel Guide.
1. Gopher Bar
241 7th St E, St Paul, MN 55101 | Google Maps
Opened in 1931 and owned by the same family that founded the dive bar, Gopher Bar is one of the last pure bars in downtown St. Paul. Moved from its original location to its current home in 1955, the service here is legendary for the shouting matches between George & Cheri, the current second-generation owners. The sign outside is reminiscent of old diner counter neon, an amazing beacon for the bar.
The move here is the food, the coney dog serving as unquestioned star. Each coney comes with meat sauce (don’t call it chili) atop a split Texas Toast-style bun. They are highly recommended. The house egg rolls, confusing as dive bar egg rolls might be as a concept, are also nothing to be missed, massive flavor and meat bombs that run about $4. St. Paul is not short on great dive bar options, but Gopher Bar sits just a notch above the rest.
2. CC Club
2600 Lyndale Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55408 | Google Maps
3. The Nook
492 Hamline Ave S, St Paul, MN 55116 | Google Maps
One of the Juicy Lucy spots around town, The Nook is often rated as one of the best takes on the burger originated at either Matt’s Bar or the 5-8 Club (argument ensues). Upstairs, a nice little neighborhood restaurant with a short bar can be found. But the magic here is subterranean in the attached Ran Ham Bowling Center, a set of underground bowling alleys that happens to include one of the best dive bars in Minneapolis / St. Paul. This is an old school, 8-lane throwback of a bowling alley where the score is still kept by pencil and paper.
The dive bar alcove attached to the bowling area is as covered with stapled dollar bills as any dive bar you’ll find in Minneapolis. The space is skinny, but there is seating here as well for those choosing to grab food from the restaurant upstairs, transported to the basement via pulley system from the kitchen. This space only fills up on busy weekend nights, meaning there’s always a hidden dive bar oasis waiting underneath St. Paul’s streets.
4. Dusty’s Bar
1319 Marshall St NE, Minneapolis, MN 55413 | Google Maps
The Northeast / Nordeast neighborhood of Minneapolis includes the densest selection of high quality dive bars available in the city. There are countless throwbacks here, including honorable mentions Jimmy’s and Tony Jaro’s, but Dusty’s is a worthy gatekeeper along the area’s southern edge. Inside, this is a nice, dark, open dive bar low on frills, but the small kitchen attached to the end of the bar kicks out the famed dago, giving Dusty’s a little something extra.
Multiple takes on the dago exist, and recipes can be found online, but at its heart the dago is a pork patty sandwich. Thankfully, Dusty’s offers a few different spins on the dago to add a little variety to the proceedings, but imagine a hamburger made with pork instead of beef and you’re doing a pretty good approximation. Keep an eye out not only for the functional pay phone, but the phone booth mini-library inside.
5. Palmer’s Bar
500 Cedar Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55454 | Google Maps
There’s something about a skinny dive bar with a great mural and Palmer’s may be one of the country’s best examples of that one-two punch. Featuring a tall gentleman casually leaning against the front door, an icon of the Minneapolis dive bar scene, the Palmer’s mural is epic. And though the mural may not be original, that’s only because Palmer’s can trace its opening date to 1906, a history that includes a stint as Prohibition speakeasy.
Inside, a stage about the size of a drum head sits at the end of beautiful, long bar that stretches the full length of the space. In addition to a wall of fame near the entrance, a Wall of Shame exists just behind the bar papered with the names and, sometimes, offenses of those who have been kicked out and banned from the bar over the years. This is not the Minneapolis dive bar to be “86’d” from, as the wall states, so keep it together like the gentleman inscribed next to the dive bar’s front door.
Of course, ranking a top 5 dive bars in Minneapolis is a tall order given how deep the roster of dive bars is across the Twin Cities. Favorites like Jimmy’s, Matt’s Bar, Terminal Bar and The Spot (founded in 1885), certainly deserve a mention, as do the countless small neighborhood spots that dot the area. This is ripe ground for dive bar discovery well beyond these five kings of Minneapolis and St. Paul.