Gettin’ Ripped at Grandma’s Saloon & Grill

If you’ve ever wondered where all the nimbys who live in Duluth’s painfully dry Lakeside neighborhood go to get their drink on, all you need to do is step into Grandma’s Saloon & Grill in Canal Park to get your answer. Because tonight it seems every middle-aged Duluth Pack sweatshirt-wearing caketown dickslap has hopped into his Dodge Grand Caravan and soberly chosen to head to the tourist district.

While there might be a fraternal feeling in the air among men who’ve gathered to drink away the emptiness they’ve felt since little Brandon and Kylie graduated and shipped off to the U of M, the mustaches and receding hairlines suggest another story, and add credibility to the rumor that Grandma’s is extremely popular among Duluth’s most closeted gay men.

Secure with my own asexuality, I climb onto the one empty barstool in the joint and order a beer. It’s happy hour, meaning that the drinks are half price, which makes them cost the same as regular-priced drinks at the other bars in town. This discount allows me to get just as drunk as I would if I were at, for example, R.T. Quinlan’s Saloon, but with the added bonus of being surrounded by a bunch of people eating dinner.

Grandma’s could be the only place in the world that’s part gay bar and part family restaurant. Well, other than the whole TGI Friday’s franchise. Of course, Grandma’s is a franchise of its own, but with local appeal. It’s known for its vast collection of Duluth memorabilia on the walls, such as old signs and license plates. That’s right, someone went antiquing.

Adding to the gay vibe is the funhouse mirrors effect going on in the men’s room. When you’re at the urinal, if you look straight ahead, you’ll be staring directly into the face of the dude pissing next to you. But whatever you do, don’t look at the mirror to your right. You don’t even want to know what you’ll see in that one.

Having experienced the voyurinal in the past, tonight I elect to go upstairs to piss, where there’s another bar with its own set of restrooms. I figure getting away from the dinner crowd will improve the drunk shui anyway. I’d hate to pass out onto a table for six celebrating Skylar’s confirmation and Zak’s perfect report card.

Upstairs, there’s a college-aged crowd, and it surprises me that none of the Lakeside dads ever make it out of the closet far enough to get up here and hit on all the young meat. I think it would be a relief for them to be in this atmosphere, where they don’t have to spend any time pretending to be attracted to women. Up here, one side of the bar is 100 percent men; the other side is 85 percent men.

The first thing that captures my attention when I enter the john is a Miller Genuine Draft bottle sitting atop the urinal. I don’t think much of it at first, but as I’m pissing I notice that the bottle is full. Also, the color of the fluid inside is lighter than beer, and darker than water. That’s right, some pervert has preserved his sample for everyone to see.

If you’re not already convinced that this place is gayer than a banana split, perhaps this next piece of evidence will bring you around. As I leave the men’s room, I notice a wall displaying historic photos of Duluth’s shipping canal, each one with a gay caption. Go to Grandma’s and see for yourself. I’m not making this up. Captions include: “Tugs Away,” “Men at Work,” “Classic Tourist Shot,” “Minnesota’s Famous Erection of 1910,” and my personal favorite, “Wider … Deeper … Longer.”

The two women who are here tonight seem to be working pretty hard to get the attention of the 26 guys in the room. One of them has a rather robust bosom and is taking great efforts to display it. Still, no one seems to be gawking at it except for the dirtbag bar-review columnist 50 feet away. So she chooses to constantly lean in to the table, as if she’s going to sop up spilled wine cooler with her bra pads.

How ironic it is that a century ago, so the story goes, a brothel stood on this site. These days, the whores can’t even give it away.