Other than Portland
Across the country, I’ve been to a number of fine grungy establishments. I like Old Chicago in Boulder, CO; Falling Rock in Denver; Gingerman in Houston; Goose Island Wrigley’s in Chicago; Chumleys in New York; Bert Grant’s Brew Pub in Yakima, WA (the first in the United States to offer cask conditioned beer); and McGuire’s in Pensacola, to name just a few.
But if you want true treasures, go to Chodeau (MT) Steak House in August for the Testicle Festival; or to a place called Frankie & Johnny’s, a you-can’t-get-there-from-anywhere kind of place, somewhere in New Orleans at a carefully guarded secret location. The decor is Old Prohibition Speakeasy: smoke-stained, wood-paneled walls and old wood floors. They only need sawdust on the floor to take you back to the 1920s. Although the beer selection was minimal, Dixie Blackened Voodoo proved just right.
The food was classic grungy. I liked their muffelatta sandwich, quite delicious, and indigenous to that area. The muffelatta has a special thick olive salad spread, prosciutto ham, provolone cheese, and God only knows what all else.
Did I forget Tommy’s Joint in San Francisco or Gasthaus Zur Krone in Milwaukee? I hope not. And I would be truly remiss were I not to mention the Brickskeller in our nation’s capital, with a beer list of 500 or so!
The champion of grungy bars is not in Portland, I would argue, although many would disagree; nor is it any of the above exotic establishments. It is in Frankenmuth, MI, a small town with a population of fewer than 5,000. Everybody is bilingual German-English. This is Keith Boesnecker’s Main Street Tavern & Pizza. He and it are “old” Frankenmuth.
The beer these days is Leinenkugal Red. Which is OK, but not of the character that the old Frankenmuth Brewery’s beers had before that brewery was destroyed in the 1996 tornado. The Main Street Tavern is an old (1938) neighborhood tavern. It has all the advantages of that genre. It reeks with local identity (real local, not the ersatz professional German-American local) of old Frankenmuth.
There are many signs and photos, a bottle collection, and a pewter mug club. There are dart boards and old breweriana filling all of the walls. There’s a lovely old worn honky-tonk piano, badly in need of tuning, that Keith (who must weigh over 300 pounds) plays on some nights.
Keith is a great character, but he’s owned the tavern only since 1988. He started out as a baker, but even now his bread, especially the Bier Brot, is of world-class dimensions.
When I complained about no peanut shells on the floor, he said that was Tuesday and Thursday nights. I had thought I was joking. The sandwich menu is good, however, and there are some “dinner” (mostly fried) items and good soup, too. Even so, the best thing on the menu is the fine pizza (best in Frankenmuth). Main Street also has a breakfast menu that includes quite decent omelets. This is definitely a funky neighborhood tavern for locals, not tourists.
Well, not unless you are into championship grungy.