Gettin’ Ripped at the Ground Round

I sure am enjoying the holiday spirit today. Specifically, Glazur Russian Vodka, a spirit I found on sale — Merry Christmas to me — at my favorite local liquor store. So the flask is full for my annual trip to the Miller Hill Mall, where I will wander around frightening people without even trying. It’s a gift, and it’s the kind you can’t buy.

Ultimately, as the headline indicates, this column will be about drinking at the Ground Round, but I know from past experiences that nothing worth writing about will happen there. So I’m padding my word count with information about the trip there, such as how awesome the guys from Energy & Air Systems are. I saw them whipping shitties in the snow with the company van in the parking lot of Holy Family Catholic Church, and it made my afternoon.

Anyway, here I am stepping off at the Duluth Transit Authority’s mall stop. It’s somewhat dramatic, me standing here in a cloud of freshly queefed bus exhaust on a cold December afternoon. I pause for a moment to do my best Clint Eastwood squint before crossing the sidewalk and entering Duluth’s largest shopping complex.

I go straight for the food court and order a small soda cup at Taco John’s, which I fill with raspberry iced tea at the self-serve fountain, topping it off with the Russian vodka. With cocktail in hand, I’m ready to go heckle those bell-ringers outside Sears.

No amount of alcohol, however, can prepare me for the encounter I’m having with a young woman named Alona, who has come to Duluth from Israel to sell nail-care products. Her target market is apparently creepy alcoholic men in their 30s, because she’s pulled me out of the walking lane to a kiosk called “The Natural Way,” and has convinced me to let her examine my fingernails.

Perhaps Alona sensed — correctly — that I have less purpose than the shoppers around me. Most people would politely decline her invitation and continue searching for lovely knick-knacks, but me, I am quick to rudely accept attention from attractive foreign women regardless of the circumstances.

After sanding the ridges off one of my nails and applying some glossy goop, Alona assures me that my nail will continue to shine for months, no matter what I do. She seems to think I will be happy about this, but it actually creeps me out, so I tell her I’m going to deal with my nails “the natural way” and not spend $39.99 on a nail-care package.

Entering the Hollister Co. clothing store, I find a nice comfy chair to sit in and sip from my paper cup. At least six people look at me as if they’re about to call Homeland Security.

Eventually, when my flask bottoms out and the scent of Sbarro pizza starts to threaten my gag reflex, I decide to finally do my job and go to a drinking establishment. Crossing the mall parking lot, I enter the Ground Round Grill & Bar, hoping the happy hour special will be good enough to make up for how boring the place will inevitably be.

I order the 22-ounce “Colossal Long Island Tea,” which seems like a good deal at $3.50. Of course, like most big-drink deals, it contains the same amount of alcohol as a normal-sized cocktail would, with more cola and sour mix.

Not counting the female bartender, there are seven people in the bar side, which is thankfully separated from the restaurant side. In the corner booth, four women pretend they are on Sex and the City. To my left is a couple in their 40s eating something steaming and sizzling. To my right is an old dude, probably 65.

For the most part, things are quiet here. There are two TVs on different channels, with the sound down. Barely audible is some soft rock radio station playing the Eagles. At one point, the bartender calls a server over from the restaurant to show her what sloe gin is.

After a while, a bubbly young woman enters and playfully says to the bartender, who clearly is a friend of hers, “Hi gorgeous.” The geezer next to me says, “Hi, how are you?” which is one of the oldest jokes in the book, but still qualifies as the highlight of my stay at the Ground Round.

Slim Goodbuzz knows that sloe gin fizz works mighty fast when you drink it by the pitcher and not by the glass. E-mail him at hatemail @ slimgoodbuzz.com, and look for the next edition of “Gettin’ Ripped” in the Jan. 12 issue of Transistor.