The door creaks shut behind us.
The place is dark — conspicuously dark for early afternoon.
Our entrance seems to have awoken everyone in the bar.
As we come under the scrutiny of every squinty eye in the joint, it’s hard to forget the specialty here shares a name with an ethnic slur. The “Dagos & Liquor” sign hanging over the entrance isn’t subtle either.
We sit down and try to act like we know what we’re doing.
Without question, Dusty’s is a “Nordeast” bar. Wood panelling. Wood grain laminate counters. Wood particle ceiling that angles low over the cozy bar. Handwritten meat raffle and drink special signs tacked to the wall. Most of the light here emanates from beer signs.
Everyone seems like a regular. Except us (and maybe the new digital jukebox that sits awkwardly in the back of room like a nervous guest, not quite knowing if it belongs here yet).
The door swings open again and a blast of cold air and afternoon sun breaches the bar. Again, every head in the place turns. Again, eyes squint. Only this time, we get to stare with them.
A man with a cheerful face stamps snow from his feet and unzips his coat, revealing a plaid shirt and suspenders cutting into his round shoulders. He wears a cap with “Veteran” stitched in the brim. And he heads for a stool at the far end of the bar.
The owner nods from behind the counter as the guy passes. “Pesky,” he says. At first it sounds like an insult. But the nod tells you “Pesky” may very well have been coming here every day since the place opened in 1952. The nod tells you “Pesky” is welcome here.
Now that “Pesky” has passed inspection, the other patrons turn their attention back to their Dagos and liquor.
With some unease we ask the owner about the name “Dago.” Isn’t it… er… well, you know? The owner leans in so we can see his smile. He tells us his dad, Dusty — who opened the place long ago — was a Slovenian Iron Ranger. Lots of guys on The Range were immigrants, he says. It was common for best friends to trade ethnic barbs endearingly. Besides, he says, “I’m half Italian. My first name is Pasquale.”
And for an ethnic barb, this sandwich is exceptionally tasty. A smashed patty of spicy Italian sausage topped with sweet red peppers, caramelized onions, and mozzarella, served on a little white bun. It arrives from the kitchen on a small, plain, white paper plate that seems to be an essential part of the presentation. Served on anything fancier, it’d be a good sandwich. Served on a paper plate, it exceeds expectations.
“Pesky” turns out to be Wayne Peske. We ask how many days a week he comes in. He tells us after Vietnam he worked at a box factory just up the road. He’d come in for lunch almost daily. A few years ago he moved 200 miles away. Now he only gets in a couple times a year.
A couple times a year, and still treated like a regular.
Everyone here seems like a regular. Take the cook, Pat. “She came here to fill in for two weeks,” the owner says, “That was 11 years ago.”
Apparently just stepping into Dusty’s puts you in danger of becoming a regular, too.
BEST BET: The soups are homemade. The goulash was unmistakably goulashy and surprisingly good. But let’s face it, you don’t come to Dusty’s and not order a Dago. If the name makes you bristle, just smile and point at the menu.
Bar and Dago Shop in Northeast Minneapolis
1319 Marshall St
Minneapolis, MN 55413
OWNER: Pasquale “Pat” Stebe