Quick, think of a Winter Olympics sport. You thought of curling, didn’t you? That weird, shuffleboard-on-ice game where men and women with brooms frantically sweep the ice to influence the line and pace of a 44-pound puck of granite as it glides slowly across the frozen playing surface. They yell. They sweep. They celebrate with a monk’s stoicism. Of course you thought of curling.
If you’re not yet a curling obsessive and therefore unfamiliar with how the game is played, the basic objective is this: to place your rocks closest to the button in the center of the “House”, the painted bull’s-eye area on the ice. Only rocks that are closer to the button than your opponent’s nearest rock are scored. To complicate matters, the mercurial strategy of the game can change either suddenly and dramatically or only slightly and imperceptibly from one stone to the next, of which there are 16 thrown per end and eight ends per match. Yet for all its enigmatic qualities and murky in-game tactics, the game’s quirks and odd intensity draw us in. It’s not exactly the snowboard half pipe, but it’s no ice dancing, either.
What you may not realize is that you don’t have to wait until the Olympics for the pleasure of witnessing this odd spectacle on ice. In fact, you don’t even have to wait until tomorrow. Just come on down to the St. Paul Curling Club (SPCC) and watch it live, in the cozy upstairs bar where the beer is cold and cheap, the fire warm, and the game itself as confounding as ever.
The SPCC opened its doors at 470 Selby Ave in 1912, so folks have been curling — and drinking — here for a very long time. And although it’s a private club, the bar upstairs is open to the public, a statement that does not come without this small caveat: the club kindly asks that you call the manager in advance if you plan on showing up with four or more people. And you don’t want to make a guy with a broom angry.
When you come, don’t mingle around downstairs with the club members. You’ll just be in the way. Instead, take the stairs up to the second level where they hide the bar. If you come on a league night, which you should, you won’t be alone. There will very likely be other curlers in the bar partaking in the noble tradition of restorative post-match beers, courtesy of the winning squad. You could say that beer is to curlers what Gatorade is to basketball players.
As far as ambiance goes, it’s a lot like what you might expect. The décor emits an old-timey club vibe, with wood armchairs arrayed around large, round wood tables. There’s the requisite glass case filled with dusty trophies, old photos, and other memorabilia. And a large brick fireplace, of course. The room overlooks eight sheets of ice, where all the action is. Despite all the glass windows, you can still hear the loud, commanding shrieks of the skips below imploring their sweeps to either sweep harder or to not sweep at all. And should nature call whilst things are heating up on the ice, you won’t miss a thing, thanks to a well-placed window in the bathroom.
For as much trouble as you might have trying to follow the games you’re watching, you won’t have any trouble at all deciding what to order: Summit EPA or Labatt. Pitchers are $9, cash only. They have a kitchen, too, called The Granite Grill, an homage to the material used to make the stones, but it wasn’t open when we stopped by. But you didn’t come to a curling club to eat bar food. You came here to drink cheap beer and to throw a distinctly Northern monkey wrench into your otherwise routine winter bar schedule.
Sure, this isn’t the type of place you go to get rowdy, or to try the latest smoked porter from such-and-such brewery, or really for any reason at all other than to watch curling and to try something new. But for everything that the SPCC bar isn’t, it makes up for with what it is: a quiet, unique spot that exudes offbeat winter kitsch. Plus, by the time the Olympics start in February, you’ll be able to impress your friends by knowing the difference between the hack and the hogline.
League play held nightly, Sunday-Friday, now through late March.
The bar can get crowded during the season, so if your group numbers four or more, call the Club Manager in advance, at 651.224.7408, to make sure there’s room.
St Paul Curling Club
470 Selby Ave
St Paul, MN 55102