A slight shaft of fading daylight sneaks into the room as the door opens. It casts a brief glow on the edge of the elbow rest on the bar. The corner of the pull-tab booth reflects the light back towards the door, almost as if turning it away. The daylight is unwelcome—that’s why the best dive bars have limited access to windows, and anyone who appreciates the value of a hard day’s work is invited to pull up a stool.
Generations of St. Paul-ites have known that the Half Time Rec is an ideal spot to belly up to the bar, order a few rounds of reasonably priced drinks, and maybe feast upon a basket of free popcorn. Now, the foodies are taking note of the joint, with the addition of a flashy new kitchen and with a menu by Jack Riebel. Riebel is best known for his higher-end work at area restaurants such as Goodfellows, La Belle Vie, and the Dakota. It was when he opened the award winning Butcher & the Boar that diners first got a taste of what the man can do to a jalapeno popper.
What remains wonderfully unchanged inside this neighborhood bar is the welcoming vibe and the well-priced drinks. Looking for $2 specials on PBR’s? They’re offered here without a hint of irony. The cocktails are best unfussed with, except for the Irish margarita. Instead of tequila, you’ll find Jameson Irish whiskey. The thready smoke in the whiskey is actually a tasty little playmate for the not-too-sweet margarita mix. There’s an added depth that draws the drinker back time and again. The salty rim accentuates the tartness and the entire glass is a perfect foil to the jazzed up bar food menu. Best of all, the Irish Margarita is just $5 on Mondays. Now that’s dive-bar drinking at its finest.