If you were a Minnesota Monthly subscriber you’d have had my review of the Inn in your hands for weeks already—and you’d know I’ve got an amusing anecdote about a bear. But in thinking about The Inn, I also got to thinking about Minnesota’s oldest, continually operating restaurants.
My thoughts: There are a bunch of places that opened the nanosecond Prohibition ended—like, St. Paul’s DeGidio’s (founded by bootlegger “Kid Bullets” DeGidio!) and Northeast’s Jax. There are others that opened close on the heels of Prohibition’s end, like the Lexington. But what about places that are even older?
The oldest Twin Cities restaurant I can think of is The Monte Carlo, in the Warehouse district. I talked to owner John Rimarczeck recently, and he told me that the Monte Carlo was once a Gluek’s beer bar—opened in 1902, when breweries owned most of the bars. My understanding is that, in Minneapolis, most of the bars were either Gluek’s bars or Minneapolis Brewing Company Bars, the company whose leading brand was eventually Grain Belt. I think it would have been like the way we can have a Caribou and a Starbucks on every corner. But, back to the Monte Carlo. Rimarczeck figures that with doors being moved, electricity and plumbing updates, bar changes, and whatnot, the only part of the Monte Carlo that dates to the original experience of the 1902 patrons would have been the beautiful old tin ceiling. So the next time you’re in the Monte Carlo, look up! You’re seeing something also seen by people who got to the Monte Carlo on horseback. Rimarczek also mentioned that old bars of that era only had men’s bathrooms—ladies didn’t drink!—and that the manager of any given bar typically lived upstairs, not unlike the arrangement a vicar has with the vicarage. Interesting stuff. However, I feel like my crowning of the Monte Carlo as the area’s oldest operating bar is premature. Does anyone know anything older? I’m all ears.
For the record, the oldest bar I’ve ever been to in the area is either New Prague’s Schumacher’s or Fountain City’s tiny Monarch Tavern. While the original steamship-era bar is tiny, it’s been greatly expanded to a darts-and-snowmobiles average rural Wisconsin bar.