“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