I was up in the Twin Cities recently and set up a morning meeting with the guys from the Needle Doctor. Jerry, the owner, suggested we get together for breakfast at a place just down the street from his store in St. Louis Park - Bunny's Bar and Grill. Along with his right hand man, Kenny, we met there for breakfast one morning.
Bunny's has been around since just after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933. Henry Aretz was getting ready to open his bar along Excelsior Blvd. and he needed a sign for the front of his building. Fully expecting to call his new tavern "Aretz's Place", he asked a sign painter to come up with a sign for him. The sign painter had screwed up a sign that said "Bunnys" instead of "Bunnies" and he didn't want to scrap it. The sign painter asked Henry if he wanted a deal on the sign - a GOOD deal. Coming out of the Great Depression, Henry was watching his money, so he bought the sign for pennies on the dollar. Thus, "Aretz's Place" became "Bunny's".
Aretz and his wife, Lottie, ran Bunny's along with their nine children. One of the big draws during the first few years the tavern was open was a slot machine they had on the premises. Slots were legal in Minnesota until then Governor Luther Youngdahl (who was obviously a fun-hater) shut them down just after he was elected to office in 1947.
In addition to running Bunny's, Aretz was also a home developer. He built homes in five subdivisions in north Minneapolis in the 50's. About this time, the Aretz's added a liquor store to their St. Louis Park bar. The liquor store was run by Henry and Lottie's oldest son, Harold. They operated the liquor store at the Bunny's location for less than a year before moving it to the Miracle Mile shopping area just down the road. The Aretz's were one of nine applicants for a liquor license to sell at Miracle Mile. They opened the Miracle Mile liquor store in August of 1958. Harold Aretz ran it for 18 years before closing it in 1976 to run Bunny's full time after the death of his father three years before.
Harold Aretz and his family ran Bunny's up until 1988 when Sherman Rackner and his son, Gary, bought the bar. The Rackner's immediately added a kitchen to the tavern and began to serve food.
Sherman Rackner passed away in 1997 and about that time, St. Louis Park officials were looking at a plot of land to develop for a condominium complex called Park Commons. It happened that Bunny's was smack dab in the middle of those development plans and they had to be out of there by the end of 1998. Gary Rackner brought in a new business partner, Steve Koch, and the two moved Bunny's to the present day location just down Excelsior Blvd. in 1999 (see map).
Bunny's is actually two places - the main part which is known as Bunny's, and the back bar which is known as "Sherm's" after Sherman Rackner. It's in Sherm's, I found out, that breakfast is served 6 days a week - except Sunday - starting at 8 a.m. I believe Jerry from The Needle Doctor told me Sherm's and Bunny's do a brunch on Sunday beginning at 10 a.m.
Sherm's (lower left) is a smaller place than Bunny's. It has a bar with a number of high top tables. A handful of flat screen televisions hang from the ceiling and are turned on to either MSNBC or ESPN.
Bunny's (above right), on the other hand, is much larger, features a number of televisions, a bigger bar and a broad menu of food. There's a game room toward the back and is a family destination. Bunny's features pizza, pastas, steaks, burgers, salads, sandwiches and appetizers of all types. Through the week, Bunny's has their daily Blue Line specials that consist of comfort food such as meat loaf, hot beef sandwiches and roast pork.
I was a bit early and grabbed a table at Sherm's (after going to Bunny's front door and seeing a sign that said breakfast was served in Sherm's with an arrow pointing north). The bartender was also the waiter and he came over to see if I was by myself or if others were coming. He set up a couple more place settings while I looked through the breakfast menu.
Most of the signature items at Bunny's/Sherm's are their skillet breakfasts - scrambled eggs, potatoes and cheese with ingredients such as gyro meat, other breakfast meats, veggies and other items. With the skillets they also offered a free orange juice OR you could get a free bloody mary or a free screwdriver. They also had pancakes, french toast and eggs benedict. Or you could get eggs any style.
Kenny came in about five minutes after I got there, followed by Jerry soon thereafter. Jerry apologized for being late, "I started to drive over to the old location. (They moved to St. Louis Park in 2010 after being in the Dinkytown area over by the U. of Minnesota since the 70's.) I just spaced out thinking about things and the next thing I know I'm near downtown and thinking, 'Where the hell am I going?' "
The bartender, Sam, came over to greet Jerry and to take our orders. I ordered up the egg sandwich - a hard fried egg topped with your choice of bacon, Canadian bacon or a sausge patty, along with cheese on an English muffin. I had a lunch meeting scheduled for later in the day and I didn't want to load up on a big breakfast skillet.
Kenny ordered the eggs benedict. That sounded good, too, if I wasn't going to have lunch later on. Then it was Jerry's turn to order.
Here's the conversation between Jerry and Sam, about 98% verbatim -
Sam: What would you like, Jerry?"
Jerry: I'll take a vegetarian omelet.
Sam: We don't have omelets.
Jerry: Oh, you don't? Well, how about some scrambled eggs. Like five scrambled eggs with some vegetables.
Sam: We don't have any thing like that.
(At this point, I interjected that Jerry should get the Greek skillet and have them hold the gyro meat. By this time, poor Sam was completely flummoxed. If it wasn't on the menu, he had no idea how to improvise.)
Jerry: Well, I just need protein. Just get me scrambled eggs. Make 'em with five eggs.
Sam: Our eggs are pretty big. Three eggs should do you fine.
Jerry: OK, yeah, that's fine.
Sam: Would you like some mushrooms mixed in with them?
Jerry looked over at me and gave me this incredulous look of "What the hell?" Jerry said, "Yeah, sure."
Sam: Want some onions?
Jerry (now with a knowing smile on his face): Sure!
Sam: How about some green peppers?
Jerry (now with a nearly laughing smile on his face): You bet!
Jerry: Not a tomato guy.
Sam: Want some cheese melted on top?
Jerry: No cheese. Just the eggs and veggies.
Sam: OK, I'll get that right out!
By the time he left, Kenny and I were just about ready to burst, stifling laughs as Jerry and Sam went back and forth. Jerry said, "What the hell was that? I ask for a vegetarian omelet and he said he didn't have omelets. So I asked for scrambled eggs with veggies and he said he didn't have that either. Then he starts asking if I wanted all these vegetables with my eggs and I couldn't believe he was going through the list. That was extremely weird."
A good sized breakfast crowd - especially for mid-week - was in Sherm's so it took about 20 minutes for Sam to bring out breakfasts out. That was OK as we were talking business during the time we were waiting. My egg sandwich was pretty non-descript - it was basically an upgraded Egg McMuffin with sausage. Jerry's scrambled eggs with vegetables were just that - scrambled eggs with veggies. But Kenny hit the breakfast jackpot that morning. The eggs benedict featured two large poached eggs on English muffins drenched in a bearnaise sauce. A large side of hash browns came with his eggs benedict. Kenny's reaction when Sam set the plate down in front of him was a simple, "Wow!"
Actually, my egg sandwich was very good - a lot better than going to McDonald's or any other fast food joint for a similar breakfast sandwich. Kenny thoroughly enjoyed his eggs benedict and Jerry said that his scrambled eggs and veggies - and Sam was right, three eggs were more than enough - were also very good.
I've driven by Bunny's a handful of times since The Needle Doctor moved to their new location last year. I never knew what it was until now. I'm always looking for a sports bar alternative in the Twin Cities since I'm getting kind of burnt out on Joe Senser's, and Bunny's is now on my radar. The portions were huge and the cost was a very good value ($26 bucks for all three plus a nice tip for Sam who was obviously having a bad day). The history of Bunny's is reason enough to stop in and have a drink and some food. But if the rest of their food is as good as their breakfasts - and as good a value - I'm definitely going back at some point to get a meal while I'm watching a game some time down the road when I'm in the Twin Cities.
(Update - I've been back to Bunny's a couple of times since my initial visit and I tried their tuna melt sandwich with a cup of homemade chicken noodle soup on one visit and one of their 1/2 lb. burgers topped with sauteed mushrooms and pepper jack cheese. It's tough to screw up a tuna melt and I'd say it was above average. The burger was pretty good, as well. Not the best, but it hit the spot that particular evening. But the best of all three was the homemade chicken noodle soup. Large chunks of chicken, a nice amount of noodles, and a good chicken broth. I was very impressed with the soup.)