Packed into its seven large tables and underneath several antique stores worth of trinkets, the Sunday afternoon lunch rush begins at the Anchor Bar. The crowd is a mix of hungover college students and a after-church crowd consisting of the elderly and their families.
They all come for the food. The Anchor Bar's menu is a simple one; it consists entirely of burgers. (Technically you can order a grilled cheese if you're a vegetarian, but no one ever does that.) The variety of burgers available is impressive however. There are 15 different 1/3 pound creations to choose from, with options ranging from the bizarre: the Cashew Burger (topped with fried cashews and mozzarella cheese) and the Hawaiian Burger (topped with a slice of grilled pineapple and mozzarella) to your more standard cheeseburger and bacon cheeseburger.
Fries can be added for a buck, which everyone does because they are ridiculously good. They are made by placing a potato in a contraption that looks similar to a can crusher. The contraption slices the potatoes into french fry shapes, and into the deep fryer they go. As the menu puts it, 'They were potatoes a minute ago.'
The after-church crowd casually converses, with the conversation frequently steering towards the eclectic collection of antiques mounted on the walls and ceiling of the dim, cramped bar. There seems to be a general maritime theme, (maps, globes, ropes, a harpoon, paddles, life preservers, dozens of framed pictures of the gigantic ships that populate the Duluth/Superior harbor in the summertime) but if you look hard enough there is some weird stuff to be found: A pair of old military helmets, a set of bongos, mannequin heads, a prosthetic leg and foot, a book containing a complete list of new Wisconsin statutes and ordinances enacted for 1977, the list goes on.
A table of grandparents with their grandchildren becomes enamored with the gigantic plastic sailfish that is roped in directly above their table, until their food arrives. The baskets of burgers and fries are carried out by the only cook on duty, a short-haired, plump old lady with skin creased deeply by decades of cigarette smoke. 'Here she comes, Ms. Superior...' a UMD student jokingly sings to the tune of the Ms. America jingle at a nearby table.
His friend offers a meek laugh, still reeling from an unpleasant encounter with the bar's waiter. The friend had asked the waiter 'what beers they had,' to which the clearly aggravated waiter replied 'Christ, do you really want me to name all of them?' Which he then sarcastically attempted to do just that, rattling off 15 or so different names until finally the student, obviously newly legal, settled on a Bud Light. The Anchor Bar is not renowned for its customer service.
Another member of the hungover college kid table returns from the bathroom having discovered another piece of the bar's charm. The bathroom's ceiling is covered in graffiti. There's the offensive, (Mike B is a CUNT) the uplifting, (Jesus is love) and a whole lot of unintelligible ramblings that seems to be typical to bathroom etchings. And they are etchings, literally carved into the wall.
Suddenly his tales of bathroom literature are interrupted by a cacophony of shrieking and stomping. A group of five people enter and head straight to the bar. There are four females, two dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt, two dressed like they came straight from a nightclub. They are accompanied by a man who looks like a parody of a pimp: he's wearing a white Sean John tracksuit matched with his impeccably white Nikes. Below his crispy gelled hair stylish glasses perch, tinted a light shade of brown, which matches his mulatto skin. And, of course, he is wearing a gold chain and several rings.
At two o'clock on a Sunday afternoon their intentions are clear: They came to drink. After taking a shot at the bar they find a table and continue ordering drinks. Their conversation is much more interesting than the grandchildren's sailfish fascination, or the college kid's rehashing of weekend shenanigans. Although they speak in loud, quick bursts, which renders most of their discourse indecipherable, it's clear that it is a vulgar, sexually charged discussion. Needless to say, the crew accelerated the exodus following the lunch rush; the Anchor Bar cleared out quickly.
On Friday night the Anchor Bar is packed. The college kids are back, putting in work for their impending hangovers. Crusty barflies are entrenched at the bar, 20 cigarettes deep into a 70-cigarette night. With the exception of one table at the far end of the restaurant, families are absent. A steadily growing group of people linger by the entrance, waiting for a table to open up.
The jukebox blares over the loud crowd. Linkin Park, Beck, Meatloaf, 3-6 Mafia, Journey, Tim McGraw - there seems to be no rhyme or reason to the music selection. Any top 40 hit in the last 40 years can and will be played, and only the college kids seem to mind, or notice.
There are two working televisions at the Anchor Bar, both located behind the bar. A Lifetime movie plays on one of them. Some of the barflies watch impassively, others ignore it completely. No one asks to change the channel, although, as some college kids note, both the Bucks and the Timberwolves are currently playing. The other TV is tuned to Animal Planet. No one pays any attention to the poor wildebeast being devoured by crocodiles.
A similar feast is happening with a Gallybuster not 15 feet away. A Gallybuster is the Anchor's biggest burger. It consists of three 1/3 pound patties topped with American cheese housed between two flimsy buns. This Gallybuster quickly devolves into a sloppy mess of ketchup-covered ground beef chunks, interspersed with bits of disintegrating bread.
In one of the more perplexing displays of wasting money, three people sit at the bar's slot machines. These are not you typical casino slot machines however, in that they don't pay out any money. They take money, people press some buttons, lights flash and electronic wheels spin, then the machines ask for more money. This group of people engages in this expensive, pointless routine for 45 minutes before moving on to pool.
One of the waiters, understandably stressed due to the large crowd, argues with a middle-aged patron. This argument, which seems to happen fairly often, is over the Anchor Bar's 'no plastic' policy. Only cash and local checks are accepted here. There is an ATM near the entrance, but it comes with a $2.50 surcharge. The patron, after voicing his displeasure with the policy, goes grumbling to the ATM. Next time he'll be sure to bring cash.
It's Tuesday night and business is slow. A family of six, a table of college kids, a table of tatooed 30-somethings, and a handful of crusty barflies is all there is. CNN and NBC's 'The Biggest Loser' flicker muted on the televisions. Ms. Superior is back at work in the kitchen, quickly flipping burgers while pleasantly chatting with a waitress.
The ceiling in the bathroom has been painted black, although some of the more vigorously etched statements remain visible. Two of slot machines are out of order, although no one attempts to play the one working machine.
One of the barflies asks a college kid, who is sitting at the bar paying for his meal (with cash of course) if it's supposed to rain tomorrow. The kid replies "Fuck if I know, I think the weatherman said it could but you know that they don't know shit." The barfly, taken aback by this vulgar response, quickly turns away. The kid, who overestimated the barfly's crustiness, sheepishly tips out the bartender and makes a quick exit.
"How's the food?" the waitress asks one of the regulars politely.
"It's great, as always," the barfly repies.
Of course it is. In the eclectic chaos that rules the Anchor Bar, the food reigns supreme.