There exists a certain population of people for whom sports fandom is something that remains hidden among “polite” company, not unlike a hickey. When it comes time to catch The Big Game and/or Fight, we suddenly remember we lack cable in our homes, or learn we don’t shell out for the correct “sports package,” or have grown weary of Reddit’s unreliable pirate streams.
Sometimes, too, the people in our domiciles simply do not share our fervor for Gritty.
To where do we flee? Admittedly, we can be a bit like Goldilocks, shunning both legendary local gameday institutions like Herkimer’s partisanship-and-tailgating atmosphere, and the stark, halogen terror of nationwide behemoths like B-Dubs. We seek instead those few establishments that manage to exist in a sweet spot between hexing all sports fans and welcoming every single one of our jerseyed brethren. Sure, the TVs may be a little more lo-def where we’re headed, but we can actually sit down, and regulars won’t give it a second thought when we cheer as grown adults pulverize each other like modern demigods.
Basically, we’re getting old; we just want to watch sports with our buds, in peace and comfort, emerging relatively intact and well-fed at the end of the contest. Here are those precious few places outside the house where it’s a joy to drink and eat bar food.
Despite its North Loop location, Runyon’s is the opposite of a cookie-cutter condo in every way possible. High-backed wooden barstools drag atop an ancient cracked subway tile floor, while walls lined in giant mirrors old with smoke reflect televisions and a cozy forest green world, somehow making the place feel like both a respite from the traffic outside, and bigger than it has any business being. Covered in framed photos of Janis Joplin, backlit jazz stars, NASCAR whips, and cheeky sayings like “If you’re going after Moby Dick, better bring tartar sauce,” Runyon’s takes all comers. And with hot wings that are consistently ranked best in the city, we can think of few settings that pair better with nail-biting one’s way through a championship. 107 Washington Ave. N, Minneapolis; 612-332-7158
The Cardinal Bar
At The Cardinal Bar, south Minneapolis’ favorite beer-and-wine only joint, neons advertise everything from Miller, Pabst, and Hamm’s to far less-macro offerings like Bent Paddle and Insight. Pitcher and pint specials run even on weekend nights, because hey, it takes a lot to get rowdy without booze. Plus, the environment is a little too airy to be a proper dive, thanks to an openable, window-packed garage door that ensures you note the passage of time during day games -- and beyond. Past the tiny front room with the bar itself, two more expansive seating areas wait for patrons -- only one of which has TVs, and is packed with a veritable cafeteria of low tables fit for four adults. The more analog of the rooms features IRL bar sports like billiards tables and darts, for when one gets fed-up with the Twins or just needs a proper distraction. 2920 E 38th St., Minneapolis; 612-724-5837, cardinaltavern.com
Mancini’s Char House
Never, ever call Mancini’s a sports bar. It is, unquestionably, a repository of Twin Cities history non-pareil, which simply has what people have always wanted (or at least, what they’ve wanted since 1948). That said, there’s nowhere better to take in a rousing afternoon match of physical prowess, and a steak sandwich, and perfect Manhattan… Stadium seating abounds, as do armchairs and coffee tables not strewn with your living room’s unsorted mail. Should a traditional bar environment seem more apropos, settle into a tall-backed bar stool along the kidney-shaped island itself, where gentler options like Summit, Peroni, or Alaskan Amber await. There’s no bad seat in the house. Show you care about what’s happening -- the food, the drinks, the outcome -- and those won’t be hours you’ll forget anytime soon. Even should your team lose, a live band is likely to step on Mancini’s small corner stage, and help chase off the blues. 531 Seventh St. W, St. Paul; 651-224-7345, mancinis.com
Northeast Yacht Club
The most charming aspect of the NE Yacht Club is not that the Yacht Club isn’t on water, has no boats, never airs sailing races, and isn’t a theme bar. The best part of the Yacht Club is the regulars, who stop just short of welcoming anyone who steps foot through the door into their fold. King of them all is Dickie, the bar’s stalwart bartender -- perennially soft-spoken, kind, and always at the ready with his toaster-oven pizzas and tree of bagged chips. On big days, everyone bands together to put on a communal crockpot feast. It doesn’t sound like much, but that’s the key: It’s just enough, and never too much -- like a hug with no touching. 801 Marshall St. NE, Minneapolis; 612-378-1740
Mac's Industrial [Sports] Bar
Listen, Linda. First off: We’ve been coming here for years, we just went without noticing the very small “sports” printed on their sign. Second, and most importantly: Mac’s is the only sports bar that’s actually good for you, just like the zingy, saucy brussels sprouts they serve. The awkwardly located Northeast watering hole, crammed between a dentist and the Aveda Institute, has drink specials for grown-ups, like a beer and a bump combo featuring Dogfishead and Clyde May’s straight bourbon. Moreover, if someone acts a fool, the bartenders swap the idiot’s drink for a giant trophy labeled “Mark’s Intestinal Sports Bra.” They call it “our dunce cap,” and it’s adorned with President Trump’s face and the words BABY DICK, with a My Little Pony taped to its top. The penalized are required to stare at it for five minutes, until they’ve “really thought about what they’ve done.”
In the game of sports bars, Mac’s did not come to play -- they came to win. And make everyone better sports (viewers) for it. 312 Central Ave. SE, Minneapolis; 612-379-3379, macsindustrial.com