Gettin’ Ripped at the Palace Bar

[original publication date: August 28, 2006]

Author's note: Two months after this article was written, the Palace Theater was demolished. The Palace Bar, however, is still in business.

Years ago, when I was still cutting my beer teeth, the Phallus was my favorite place to get my drink on. Pitchers of Killian’s went for three bucks, pool was practically free, and a dollar got you five songs on the jukebox. All of this meant that I could get myself half in the bag, shoot two rounds of billiards, listen to “God of Thunder” by Kiss five times in a row, and still have ten bucks of plasma money left over to spend on Limplifter strippers and Smack Ramen noodles. For a young man wandering Tower Avenue in Superior, this was the stuff dreams were made of.

Eventually, somehow, the shine wore off for me as I discovered the great big world of drunkenness that was out there, but in those halcyon days, the Palace was palatial indeed.

The thing I remember most about those days was that the bar was divided into two rooms. There was the room with the pool tables and the juke, where all the young people hung out, and then there was the room with the bar, where shady and mysterious weirdoes hung out. No one liked going into the bar area to get more beer, because the people there were fairly intense about their drinking, and no one had time for the bright-eyed youngster begging hopefully for three dollars’ worth of happiness. Still, beer is beer and you have to get it somehow, so we’d all take turns venturing into the unknown, returning with pitchers of liquid gold in our clenched, trembling hands.

As I walk into the Palace tonight, however, I know immediately where my people are. The room with the bar is the place to be, because even though the Palace had a brief stint as “Odyssey’s Rock & Roll Cafe Sport Emporium,” and I use those quotation marks disparagingly, nothing has really changed at the Palace, except for me. I’m in the room with the shady and mysterious weirdoes now.

One of my favorite local bands, Giljunko, had a song that went, “It took a decade of practice to be a regular at the Palace.” Only now do I truly understand those lyrics.

Inflation has hit the Palace, like everywhere else. Tonight's 34-ounce mug costs more than a pitcher did 10 years ago. I don’t investigate the pool or the juke, because frankly I don’t give a shit about the Romper Room anymore. Put some fucken beer in front of me, an Altzheimer’s patient beside me, and turn on the fucken TV.

Recently, I erroneously heard that this place is slated for the wrecking ball. It turns out that ain’t true. The city plans to tear down the old Palace Theater two doors down, which is just as well, because, what are they going to do with it anyway? Attempt to preserve it and show movies there once again? Yeah, right. Duluthians know how that works — years upon years of unrealistic idealism and then suddenly your crown jewel of the local arts scene becomes a seedy strip club.

Hey … wait a minute. The Palace Bar two doors down from a seedy strip club? Fucken Ay.

For that, I’d easily move to Superior.