In high school, I made a point of changing my walking route home from school. I’d devise new combinations of left turns and right turns, cut through playgrounds and through construction zones, to find new views of the same blocks I otherwise knew well (true teen confession: for some months, a particular apartment became inescapable to my route after I caught a glimpse of a half-dressed figure walking across a well-lit room).
I’d like to think, accurate or not, I have a similar open-eyed approach (not the hormonal voyeur part) to my current Saint Paul neighborhood, where I’ve lived since 1994. So when my cousin, recently visiting from out of town, asked me about the Saint Paul Curling Club, I had to tell him that while it’s been there over 100 years, and blocks from my house, I had never stepped foot through its doors.
As we drove by, instead of heading home, I pulled around and parked in the Club’s back lot.
Walking into any place that calls itself a club is always a bit intimidating, especially one that focuses on a sport. In this case, maybe a bit more so. It’s a micro sport, with a parody-able sub-culture expectation, which neither of us know anything about except that Canadians seem to love it. With a bit of a giggle and a few jokes about shuffleboard on ice, we stepped inside.
Before I describe the Saint Paul Curling Club, I’d like to admit, I left smitten and an immediate fan of the scene I’d somehow avoided for nearly 20 years.
A long row of leather couches runs the length of the first floor with sports playing on a large television and a trophy case filled with tarnished bowls, cups, replicas of curling hardware, and other evidence of the Club’s history and achievements. Facing the ice, chairs line a long bank of windows where the curlers compete, and spectators can watch from inside the lounge.
Upstairs, more chairs, and another bank of floor-to-ceiling windows line the upper lounge, where spectators, mostly men, can watch from above the ice. Round tables fill the room with diners and chatter. Some line the windows, engaged in the competition below, while others sit and drink while watching baseball on the TV in the corner of the room. A friendly bar, open to the public, serves pizza, burgers, and a surprisingly large menu as well as the best-priced taps in the neighborhood—pitchers of Surly Bender go for $9, which won’t get you two pints at bars on the same block.
While you might expect a bowling alley type atmosphere amongst the players, with laughs and high fives, the players on the ice take the game seriously. Talk of Olympic hopefuls seems to float through the building. Men, some in team uniform, gather and discuss the plays. Hand signals flash down the length of the ice. Hurried sweeping leaves many of the players red and out of breath and the players themselves appear far more athletic than expected. The rock delivery requires a type of flowing deep stretch, at once melodramatic and masculine in stance, and finished with a subtle flick of the wrist to set the stone slowly spinning and create the namesake curl as it spins.
I asked about getting a chance to play, and, while open hours are available on the calendar, much of the ice time seems to be dedicated to competition and league play.
We left after more than an hour, and the competition had ended. My cousin was fulfilled, having witnessed a Minnesota-worthy story to retell back home, and myself also similarly excited with my story and discovering a place to catch a cheap pint and slight change of perspective.