WARNING!!! - If foul language and political incorrectness upsets or disgusts you, do not read this entry!
With that said, welcome to the Gopher Bar (click here for the link to their web site - WARNING - it is not politically correct, nor suitable for sensitive eyes) in downtown St. Paul where their logo sign tells you to "Sit Down, Shut Up and Wait Your F***ing Turn!" It's the quintessential dive bar that just happens to sell some of the best coney dogs this side of Detroit. I had heard about the place from someone who I call on in the Twin Cities and on a recent visit up to Minnesota, I made an effort to have lunch at the Gopher Bar.
Before I went to the Gopher Bar, I read a number of user reviews on Yelp and Urbanspoon about the place. Some of the comments were, "I'll never go back!", or "The owner was so rude!". But reading between the lines with other comments led me to believe that the majority of people who gave the place a bad rap didn't see the "forest for the trees", so to speak, in regard to the Gopher Bar. I had to check this place out.
The man behind most of the controversial slogans and signs is 65-year-old George Kappas, the son of the original owner of the Gopher Bar, Andrew Kappas. George is sort of known to speak his mind on issues that upset him. To say that George is on the right of the political spectrum may be an understatement. When St. Paul instituted a smoking ban in restaurants and public areas in 2008, George put a series of signs in his windows decrying the effect the ban was having on his business. Many of the signs used four-lettered works and were deemed "inappropriate" by city leaders. George eventually took them down, he evidently says what's on his mind.
George's father, Andrew, opened the original Gopher Cafe in downtown St. Paul in 1931 after immigrating from Greece. After living in New York, then Chicago, he came to St. Paul to open his little restaurant near where the Xcel Energy Center now stands. After Prohibition ended in 1933, Andrew began to sell liquor on the premises and changed the name to Gopher Bar.
In the mid-40's, Andrew fell in love with one of his waitress, Phyllis, whom he eventually took as his wife and business partner. That led to the birth of three children with George being the oldest.
In 1955, the Gopher Bar had to move to make way for the old St. Paul Civic Center which was being built very near where the bar stood. The Pappas' moved to the present day location of 7th St. and Wacauta Streets, about 7 blocks east of the original bar. (see map) George took over running the bar from his father in 1968 and his mom helped out until she retired in 1990. George and his wife, Cherie, who was a waitress at the Gopher Bar in the early 1980's, were married in 2005 and run the bar together.
After finding the Gopher Bar, I was able to park on Wacauta Street on the side of the building. Not quite knowing what to expect what I walked inside, I found a place that looked like a delightful dive bar. Some people are immediately offended by the Confederate Flag, Sarah Palin bumper stickers, and signs that read, "No F***ing Credit Cards!" and "No! We Don't Have Any F***ing Coleslaw". The Gopher Bar also has T-shirts for sale that has - what I've been told as - George's favorite saying, "Shut The F*** Up" on the front of them. Being a pretty apolitical person and bringing out the inner crassness in my nature, I immediately loved the place.
It was around 1:30 when I got into the Gopher Bar and a handful of people were having lunch in the place. People of all sorts were in the place. A table of people dressed in business attire were at a table having beers and in a deep discussion. Three or four people were spaced down the bar - one of them was a lady who was reading a book. I decided to pull up a stool at the bar and see what all they had on the menu.
Well, other than coney dogs, I found that they don't have much. You can get the coney dogs with cheese or without. They also have a number of appetizers, a soup of the day, a house salad and, interestingly enough, fish and chips. When the bartender came over to take my order I said, "You know, I want to order one of your coney dogs."
She asked, "Do you want cheese on it?" I declined. "Any fries," she asked again. Nope, just the coney dog. And since it was a great dive bar in Minnesota, I got a glass of Grain Belt Premium that they had on tap.
It wasn't moments later that the coney dog showed up in front of me. It wasn't big and sort of expensive for $3.50. But it was piled high with Gopher Bar's homemade meat sauce (they don't call it a chili dog and you can't really call it chili what they put on top) and a generous portion of chopped white onions. The toppings hid the grilled hot dog that was laying on a bun that had been shot with mustard before the hot dog went on. The bartender dropped about 8 napkins off for me. Even though there was a fork, I decided that I needed to eat this with my hands.
The bun was sort of surprisingly crunchy on the outside, sort of like a crust. But the bun, itself, had a soft inside. I couldn't tell much about the hot dog, itself, but the meat sauce was very interest. It was ground beef in sort of a Greek spice/tomato-base concoction. While it seemed to be similar to Cincinnati-style chili with the all-spice added, it had more of a subdued taste. It was like a Sloppy Joe on a hot dog. At first I wasn't certain that I liked it, but after a few more bites I decided that it was a different taste that was pretty damn good.
I only had one since I'd had a large breakfast earlier in the day. But I could have easily had two. Finishing my coney dog and my beer, the bartender came over and said, "Anything else?" When I said no, she said, "Wow! Talk about the ultimate dine and dash!" I had been in there for less than 10 minutes. My tab came to $4.75. I gave her six bucks and told her to keep the change.
The Gopher Bar may not be everyone's place to go, but I found it to be a delightful dive bar with good chili dogs. I didn't get an attitude from anybody working there, nor was I offended by the signage and other items they had on the wall. Maybe I'm one of those who gets what the Gopher Bar is all about. It's far from fine dining and not the place to take the kids for chili dogs. I'd go back to the Gopher Bar in a heartbeat.