The Gopher Bar

“Fuck you,” says the guy behind the counter. “I’m not talking to you. Fuckin’ middle of lunch.” Behind him a grill covered wall-to-wall with charred hot dogs and buttered buns sizzles and spews a cloud of smoke so thick it’s audibly choking the overhead exhaust fan. The guy takes a swig from a bottle of Bud, sets it back down next to a pack of Marlboro Reds, and squints at us like we’re wearing panties on our heads. “Talk to my wife.”

The guy is the owner of The Gopher Bar, where — according to the sign taped to the back wall of the bar over half-empty bottles of J&B and Black Label — you’ll find “The best fuckin’ Coney Islands in town.” This is why we’re here.

One of the two women waiting tables comes over and slaps an order ticket on the counter. The owner catches her eye. “These guys wanna talk.”

Good, we think. Maybe we’ll get a warmer reception from the softer side of The Gopher Bar.

“Fuckin’ middle of lunch,” she says.

We flounder, trying to explain that we’re here for the Coney dogs, we want to draw some pictures, maybe write a story. Finally, she throws us a line.

“Just fuckin’ with you, boys. I’ll talk to you.” She slaps our backs. “But I’m warning ya’,” she nods to the guy behind the counter, “He didn’t marry me for my personality or because I give good blow jobs.”

There doesn’t seem to be much else to say after that.

We grab a table by the jukebox (as far away from the owner’s stink eye as we can get) and order “two with everything.” That’s what you’re supposed to order, according to our waitress. And we’re in no position to argue.

Belligerence is not a gimmick at The Gopher Bar. It’s built into the wood paneling. It oozes from the wobbly laminate tables. It would take a much longer column to cover all the ways one could be offended at The Gopher Bar. Suffice it to say, if you’re the kind of person who might be turned off by a picture of President Obama painted as The Joker, you won’t find much comfort here.

Our morale is beginning to wane when — right in the nick of time — our server heads to our table carrying four paper boats heaping with our soon-to-be lunch, two dogs apiece. But just as she’s about to reach our table, she stops short. “Shit,” she says, and heads back to the grill.

We consider the real possibility that she neglected to have the owner spit in our food and that she’s going back to rectify her oversight. But when she returns she’s carrying two thin, rectangular sheets of wax paper. These turn out to be our plates.

She plops the paper boats in front of us. “Two with everything.” Two dogs in buns grilled golden brown on the sides, yellow mustard, meat sauce, shredded cheddar, and diced, raw onions. Coney Island hot dogs, figure A. Not just Coney Islands, but yes, the best fucking Coney Islands in town, if not the Midwest.

It’s hard to know what makes the Coneys at The Gopher Bar so damn good. Is it the soft, lightly grilled, buttery bun? The snap of the hot dog? The spicy meat sauce? The sharp bite of the cheddar? The crunch of onions? Or is it a result of the orchestration of all these things? So many textures and flavors come together that you almost forget you’re sitting under a Confederate flag.

The Gopher Bar isn’t a bar, it’s a moral dilemma. One that goes right to the heart of the economic climate we live in. At a time when every dollar is harder to make, and even harder to make last, are you willing to support a business that has no problem asking, “How about an ice cold bottle of SHUT THE FUCK UP!?”

Put another way, are you willing to waive your unwavering principles for one of the best Coney Islands you’ll ever eat? That’s a question only you can answer. But if you answer yes, make sure you bring cash. They don’t take “fucking credit cards or fucking personal checks.”

BEST BET: We’ve had the Coney dogs in Detroit (where the Coney originated), and these hold up to the very best Detroit has to offer. Order “two with everything.” Also, they don’t put Sriracha sauce on every table for decoration. Use it, if you dare.

The Gopher Bar

241 7th St E
St. Paul, MN 55101
651.291.9638
HOURS: Mon-Sat
BAR: Full

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70 Comments

  1. I don’t think this piece is appropriate to Heavy Table. Being barraged with the profanity-laden quotes of a bar-keeper isn’t food journalism.

  2. Ah, but have you had coneys in Flint?

  3. The piece reminds me of my first and last time I set foot in the Gopher Bar, all of which took about 45 seconds. We walked in and received scornful looks as we meandered around deciding where to sit. After we noticed the huge confederate flag behind the bar along with everyone staring at us as if their eyes were security cameras, we waved and left. I had never felt more unwelcome in a venue. I will probably never find out if that sentiment was genuine or just my naiveté regarding the experience here.

  4. “I don’t think this piece is appropriate to Heavy Table. Being barraged with the profanity-laden quotes of a bar-keeper isn’t food journalism.”

    Are you joking? Where does it say that this site is supposed to be “appropriate” for all ages? I thought that was a fucking great piece of journalism. Pardon my language, Pete.

  5. are you willing to support a business that has no problem asking, “How about an ice cold bottle of SHUT THE FUCK UP!?”

    Nope, fuck that. I don’t go out to eat so people I’m paying can be rude to me.

  6. After my one experience at Gopher Bar (not that I wouldn’t go again) I wondered why people didn’t talk about this place more. Granted, I’m from Minneapolis, but that shouldn’t stop them — good food, down-home honesty, and oh yes, plenty little “bonuses” to at least mildly offend myself and every one of my friends.

    Anyway, even though the non-food aspect of my experience wasn’t quite as negative as Aaron’s or the reviewers’, I think this piece really nails it. Well done.

    I still plan to go back someday.

  7. This does not seem like my kind of place, and I’m normally a guy who enjoys a dive bar and dive bar cuisine.

    It sounds to me like M.C. captured the essence of this place, which makes me think that Peter’s shooting the messenger in this case.

    Personally, I dig that Heavy Table took a look at the Gopher. Adventures in local dining has many angles beyond free range local organic. Some may be profane. Some disgusting. Yet they may still be interesting for what they bring to the table.

  8. I’m a little surprised that a website devoted to food and restaurants would try to talk to operators during the height of lunch service…. eat to sample the food..definitely.. but talking to staff and operators during the rush displays a lack of either restaurant knowledge or simple courtesy.

  9. jesus Peter… Prude much?

    GET OFF THE INTERNET if you don’t want to read cuss words ever. good god man.

    what a pussy

  10. p.s. this article rules and so do the illustrations.

    but i do agree with Russ, the height of lunch hour seems a bit amateur hour…

  11. jeeeesus how can i buy me a print of that last drawing…the one of the man willing the condiment bottles to float over to his spot so he doesn’t have to get up?? artwork = amazo !

  12. Yeah, forget the Gopher Bar and go to Stabby’s instead, home of the Flint style Coney Island.

  13. I’ll side a bit with the lunchtime rush issue, BUT any good eatery should be able to account for your random drop in. Takes the same amount of time to ramble off a few lines, and make nice chatty time for the writers than if a health inspector made an impromptu visit.

    I’m glad HT gives an unbiased review of restaurants, including the foul language, much like another local foodie.

    I give it a two thumbs up, and appreciate the unfiltered review of the place. Given Aaron’s quick polite post about the venue above, I might not have gone in, but now, knowing (and possibly expecting) vulgarity and foul comments, it makes me want to visit the place just a bit more, and I’m not really a coney guy either!

  14. great illustrations. I feel like i was awkwardly right there with you. I, like Ed, appreciate a good dive bar and dive bar food, but think I’ll stick with nicer dive bar owners that serve unique offerings in the cities. I’ve been craving another dago from Dusty’s for a while now…

  15. Max "Bunny" Sparber03/01/2010Reply

    The owner is a world-class crank — the one and only time I went, the bar was loaded with anti-immigration slogans and related expressions of pure assholishness. The service was likewise belligerent and poor, the drink selection miserable, and the food half-assed. Places like this would close except, I presume, other miserable people who have been 86ed from every other bar for their sheer douchiness have found it and continue to support it. I imagine they spend a lot of time there aggravating and abusing each other, and think they are rebels and heroes for doing so.

    Well, at least the bar serves an important function: It’s like flypaper for jerks.

  16. morchella03/01/2010Reply

    We were treated with equal amouts of profanity and hospitality on my one trip to the Gopher Bar. The son of the owners was working and I can say it seems like the apple didn’t fall far from that tree… Beware if you order a mixed drink you’ll be expected to just drink whatever they give you, whether or not it’s what you ordered. It was a great cultural experience but there was an angry sadness underlying the whole vibe.

    Next time you go, get one of their business cards. They have some agreement with the U of M that they can use the Gopher Mascot in any way they choose and they’ve gone to tasteless extreme….

  17. Wow, 16 comments before noon… this one really lit ‘er up!

    I thought the drawings were absolutely top shelf. The writing managed to capture the spirit of the place really well. As far as profanity, well I guess it validates the warning at the head of every installment of Knife Skills (and it makes that piece look tame by comparison). I thought it rather apropos that the first word in the piece was “Fuck” because it sounds like that pretty much sums up the experience of going to the Gopher Bar… you’re gonna get hit in the chops the second you walk in the door. I, for one, would not try to interview such persons in the middle of lunch rush.

    Doubt I’ll be going to the Gopher Bar, but I enjoyed the review.

  18. Jason Walker03/01/2010Reply

    There’s a huge difference between a dive and a dive with a Confederate flag and asshole owners. Sorry, but I won’t spend money here. Thanks for taking one for the team, WACSO and M.C. Cronin – I probably would have seen this place and thought it looked sweet. Reminds me of something I’d find in my hometown – Wichita – not Minnesota.

  19. Jimmy James03/01/2010Reply

    Peter – Seriously? Not food journalism? The tenor of this writing (and the rockstar illustrations) left a vivid image. It made me simultaneously want a great Coney and also to stay away from this place: The piece captured the conundrum that is the Gopher. Burn your Bukowski novels if you like, but get used to the fact that people in bars use naughty words, sometimes to great effect, sometimes simply for effect.

  20. downtowner03/01/2010Reply

    while fortunately the profanity and rudeness is enough to keep our the suburban douchebags from the joint, unforutnately it sounds like this place is right up the dirty hipsters alley.

    I wish more of the places that I view as “hidden” gems were rude to their customers – easier for me to get a table that way.

  21. downtowner03/01/2010Reply

    PS this post has all the makings of a classic Bill Roehl post – I fucking like it.

  22. For a whole ‘nother experience (or maybe more of the same), try the Gopher Bar in the evening. If you can make it in the door. This place is across the street from me, and so one Saturday night I decided to try and grab a beer there. We go to the front door at 10pm, a guy pokes his head out and says “We’re closed, everyone’s hammered. Try Alary’s.”

  23. Downtowner- Regarding Bill Roehl, there’s a huge difference between documenting profanity and being profane. (e.g. “the worst fucking meal I have ever had at a restaurant, ever.”)

  24. I suppose there’s a huge difference between The Heavy Table and some third rate blog from the South Metro that no one cares about except the author.

    That said, I agree with Aaron. Documenting the vibe the restaurant owners provide is definitely noteworthy in this instance especially if all the comments about Confederate flags and anti-immigration slogans are true.

  25. Plus, it’s the Internet, not a newspaper. What the fuck did you expect?

  26. downtowner03/01/2010Reply

    Is it bad that I feel like I would fit in pretty well at the Gopher Bar?

  27. Love the review, keep doing offbeat things like this.

    I’ll keep this one off the list, as I’ll never get to all the restos I want to get to in this life. Got a lot of things going against it for me. But the swearing isn’t one of them. I like swearing, frankly.

    If I were a screenwriter or something, I’d go to take notes on the atmosphere.

  28. I like going to restos were you feel a little out of place, it reminds me of when I lived in MT.

    If you want to feel true hairy eyeballs lasering into you…head to Stacy’s in Gallatin Gateway on the way to Big Sky.

  29. Nothing new to add – just leaving support for this article. Kudos HT: the article and it’s verbatim really pull us in with you. The illustrations are stellar. Too often articles are watered down or so verbose, they give a reader false impressions. Keep these true-to-tales coming! …Oh and Pete- chill out, sir.

  30. Howard Child03/01/2010Reply

    I can’t help but laugh!! He-he-HAW-haw!

    Seriously, I was thinking of stepping through these doors after my try at Tanpopo. I love food of any kind but do admit I have a sensitive stomach towards servers who’s ready to take a dump in your food while preaching south of the border hatred and gook-spit. I guess this is where all the unemployed coalminers hang out.

    No, but really GREAT article and KICK-@$$ drawings, damn!

  31. Midwesterner03/01/2010Reply

    Amazing artwork. Wish you’d been kind enough to place the paragraph that appears below the artwork (Belligerence is not a gimmick..) as the lead, followed by the artwork, with a salty-language caveat, and put the profanity on page 2. Review authenticity and quote accuracy aside, it’s abusive to your general readers to lead with that language.

  32. Attention foul language haters, you know this is the Internet, right?

  33. So since this is the internet, the HT should throw up some naked ladies in a review?

    I don’t mind the swearing, especially when quoting and trying to relay the atmosphere of a place, but I do think a disclaimer would have been nice.

  34. I don’t remember saying that they should post porn.

    Foul language ≠ porn.

  35. I kind of thought the title *was* the disclaimer.

  36. I have been going to the Gopher Bar for coneys for 15 years. The language and attitude is their shtick. They have been doing it since I was a teenager and ate lunch there for the first time with my grandparents and the rest of my family. It is a really strange thing to hear someone call your Grandpa an “Old Fuck” and your cousin a “Queer.” That’s just how it’s always been. They bust everyone’s balls the minute you walk in as if you were one of their cronies. If you have thick enough skin the coneys are amazing and have become tradition for my family.

  37. This place is kinda like the soup nazi’s soup kitchen to me. There are shenanigans to put up with BUT THE CONEYS ARE *TOTALLY* WORTH IT.

    I’ve been there several times for lunch, and have not experienced anything too outrageous. Sure, there’s an F-bomb every now and then and salty stuff on the walls – so what. Nothing you wouldn’t see on the back of a truck in a walmart parking lot. Keep to yourself and you’ll be fine.

    Good article & awesome job on the artwork!

  38. Thanks for reminding me, I haven’t trolled LazyLightning for a while.

  39. ann b davis03/01/2010Reply

    If they actually come close to Detroit Coney Islands, I’ll let them curse my mudder.

  40. Beautiful illustrations wasted on a self-consciously divey schlock place. Keenan’s coneys are better and the proprietors aren’t jerks…

  41. Bravo! Thank you for telling this story. My dad used to talk about being dragged to this place with coworkers on lunch break from the nearby power plant back in the 80s. All I knew about it is that it was sketchy and delicious. Thanks for filling in the blanks, and keep up the good work.

  42. As an east coaster this warmed my heart. Bluntness and profanity so openly in use in Minnesota? Finally the filter has been rendered asunder. Break out of passive aggression, just straight out detonate those f-bombs and let them fly. But really. Really? I have not been privy to Gopher Bar coneys (yet) and while this story is compelling, I will have to wait until I’m in the mood for the belligerence and blunder. Like when I’m having an eff-you too day myself. Could be therapeutic. Got to support the sketchy and the divey. They provide much needed counter balance to the twee. In between, there’s all the good. Got to have someone holding down the sketchy end of the ‘good eating’ spectrum. Or who the fuck else will?

  43. I’ve been to the Gopher a couple of times, and have found the coneys lacking. The hot dogs are cheap and flavorless, the buns were so overloaded with butter they were soggy. The toppings were awful — the onions had been sitting out for too long and tasted metallic, and the cheese came from a gigantic bag of boring pre-shredded cheese. The “meat sauce” tasted like Dinty Moore chili. I can (and have) made better at home.

    The obnoxious behavior of the patrons and the employees and the racist/sexist crap all over the walls is so objectionable that I won’t go back. There are plenty of good (better, even) coneys in the twin cities — I don’t feel the need to go to that horrible place. Love bars and bar food. Hate the Gopher.

  44. Coney Eater03/02/2010Reply

    For the record, they just asked to take pictures, not an interview at lunchtime. No need to ask questions everything’s on the table here….and that’s the beauty of the place.

  45. Hank Chinaski03/02/2010Reply

    The coneys were better before the smoking ban. Now with the sharp decrease in business caused by the ban, they have started cutting corners on the coneys.

    Love George. Just wish they could resurrect the coneys they served just a few years back.

  46. Not sure if it is still this way but back in the day they had a few other things on the menu besides coney dogs. But god bless the poor soul who ordered anything but a coney dog, because the food would never arrive. They would take your order, and that would be the last you heard of it until you complained and they asked if you wanted a coney dog instead . . .

  47. @Haha that is extremely stupid. Someone needs to beat these people’s asses.

  48. Gaby Lambert03/03/2010Reply

    This Detroit girl is so there. Thanks for the hot tip!

  49. Great place, great food and great people.

  50. Sounds like a great place to stop whilst on a pub roll! A few questions: What is their craft beer selection (tap and bottles)? Do they have bicycle parking? Do they have booster seats in case someone brings their 2-year-old daughter in the Burley? And do they allow substitutions/modifications for the lactose intolerant? See, these are the questions, these are the questions… of someone who flunked reading comprehension.

  51. Jason, I can’t tell if your post is a joke or not.

  52. gopher bar lonely ashtray03/03/2010Reply

    decent review, (the food actually sucks), nice drawings

    Only glaring oversight is that you didn’t mention the drawings on the walls in the men’s room

  53. PRay, BNet, and CinM03/31/2010Reply

    As regulars at the fucking Gopher Bar, we actually go there for the abuse and the coneys. Would you rather go to some “cookie cutter” place like Damico where your server pretends to care about how you like your meal, and the cooks really are spitting in your food? When your day is filled with smiling and kissing everyone’s ass trying to do your job, it’s refreshing to go someplace that is real, and you know how everyone feels; even if it’s someone telling you to “get the fuck out.” The appropriate response is “shut up, and get me some fucking drinks and food.” If your too timid to do that, then the Gopher is not the right place for you, and we question how do you even survive in the real world! And, despite the red-neck, ultra-right-wing conservative decor, liberals are welcome, as we are proof. We’ve had some great political arguments in the place, which is less polarizing than Congress. If you can’t take language and some interesting debate, while eating fucking great hot dogs, then stay the fuck out.

  54. “If you can’t take language and some interesting debate, while eating fucking great hot dogs, then stay the fuck out.”

    Gladly.

  55. Big fan of the Gopher and one of the few things I miss about MN since leaving in 2007, the people are real, the Coneys are fantastic. I was raised on Lafayette Coneys in Detroit after watching the Wings or Tigers thats where we went for Labatts and dogs. The Gophers food is just as good and the people are better. I’ll bet 1111 still plays Pink Floyds High Hopes on the juke box after all these years. Pull off the skirt Nancy and go to a real bar, leave your kids and p.c. bullshit at home. I’m a liberal, p.c. socially polished kind of guy, but I check it at the door and am treated like a King at the gopher. And, yes even a king needs a kick in the ass every now and again.

  56. Chase you are a whiney bitch. Stay off the net if your just gonna troll around. if you dont like the place dont go. I ppersonally loved the place and the attitude because im tired of people kissing others asses. if your not man enough to dish out a lil back to the old fucker at the bar just stay home and make your own god damn coney you pussy ass motherfucker.

  57. @Harkle88 Clearly you don’t know what the definition of troll is. Sounds like “your” about 22 (the 88 gave it away). It has nothing to do with being man enough, I just don’t want to pay a premium for some douche bag to talk shit to me. I’ll talk with my friends like that, not the dude I’m paying to make my food. It also has nothing to do with kissing people’s asses, you’re supporting their livelihood, is it so much to ask to be treated with a little respect?

  58. The Coney’s rock keep it up. As for the ambiance “NO FUCKIN CHECKS,NO FUCKIN CREDIT CARDS, FUCKIN CASH ONLY” perfect.I want a fuckin coney and an ice cold fuckin beer. I’m on my way now. If I get near to St. Paul, my mouth waters for a coney

    Good job George

  59. Even though I thought the coneys were excellent, I am not intending on going there again. I don’t want to look at a shrine of Sarah Palin and photos denigrating the President of the United States. After all those years of consevatives talking about respecting the President while President Bush was in office, the owners of the Gopher show their hypocricy with disrespectful pictures of President Obama. Plus, I found out they kicked out my in-laws (who are Hispanic) just for commenting on the Confederate flag. The good coneys don’t make up for the owners’ and the staff’s despicable behavior.

  60. My coworker and I stumbled into the Gopher Bar yesterday after going to the costume shop acrross the street. Rushed for time, We saw the Coney Island sign and figured we could have a quick lunch. The strange looks I received walking through the door made me wonder momentarily if I was welcome,but hunger made me find a seat and sit down anyway. Three heavily intoxicated Native Americans sat next to us and one demanded, while bamming his fist on the table,a pitcher of beer from the waitress. She told them she couldn’t serve them and the demanding one yelled,with no teeth in his mouth, that she was refusing to serve them because they were “Indians.” Mind you, we had only been in this place maybe 2 minutes. The waitress went from “how are you doing?” to us to “I’m Indian too you MFer, how dare you say some sh*t like that to me, MFer”. She went on a 10 minute rant calling him every name in the book – at the top of her lungs. He was just as shocked as we were but I assume his pride couldn’t let a woman talk to him like that so he said some other stuff I couldn’t understand but I figured one of the words was “woman” because she stopped taking our order,and yelled “WOMAN! WOMAN! HOW DARE YOU CALL ME A WOMAN!” I thought her head was going to spin around and smoke start coming out of her head. She stood there with her hand on one hip, shook her head and said “You know what, just get the f*ck out of here,MFER. GET OUT” After they left she came over to us and said “I just love my f*ckin job.” My friend asked me if we were safe to eat there. I was laughing so hard and was so hungry I didn’t want to leave. However, looking around while waiting the 45 minutes for our order to come, I saw a picture of President Obama looking like the Joker taped to the mirror of the bar, with a picture of Osama Bin Laden next to it, and the confederate flag hanging above the kitchen door, I started thinking they weren’t going to serve us and were waiting for us to leave. Momemtarily I was so angry that I almost stomped out of there,but I got scared wondering what they (the workers and the redneck looking customers)may have tried to do to us if we got up and stomped out without paying for the food we hadn’t received yet-struck me as a type of place- and there were way more of them then there was of us. We stayed and ate the food, which she sat on wax paper. I am not a big fan of butter, so when I bit into the toasted bun and butter oozed into my mouth, I was disgusted and put that bite in my napkin. I took another bite because I was starving by now. There was not so much butter this time, plenty of mustard, onions, and a smidgen of meat sauce. It went from being nasty to ok, and the place provided an overall dining experience that I will never forget.

  61. I love the Gopher bar and rarely go any place else when I’m in St. Paul! As someone in the service industry myself, it is refreshing to find a place that realizes that sometimes the customer isn’t right. Sometimes, the customer is an asshole! If you want Appleby’s type food, service, and ambieance, go to fuckin’ Appleby’s and leave little treasure spots like the Gopher to people who are smart enough to handle a conversation with someone who may not agree with you.

  62. I lived a block away, went once. If I went out and somehow ended up here instead of Alary’s, there was something horribly wrong. The domestic beers are $3 there and they’re actually in the 21st century. The kicker is that an ordinary Minnesota and college sports bar here with normal bartenders and decor would probably do well. But it’s like the worst nuts of the 2008 RNC holed up in a greasy dive and haven’t left.

  63. The gopher bar coneys are pretty good but if u want the best Coney go to Deans Tavern on rice st. They actually wrote a article on both in the pioneer press and Deans beat the gopher bar. So u all should go check it out and the staff is way nicer. One more thing they just don’t special deans has 10 different kinds of hot dogs too.

  64. You fucking Sally’s! You sound like the non-smoking, bicycle types! If you don’t like the fuckin place, stay the fuck out! You Fucks!!!! And for the record, George would tell you to go FUCK yourselves! Fickin Lib’s….

  65. And the food was fuckin great by the way! Thanks George!!

Trackbacks for this post

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  2. [...] link takes us to Heavy Table’s review of the Gopher [...]

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