One look at it and you’re hooked by curiosity for the whole of your visit. The deep red hues give the entire restaurant beneath it a trashy, yet strangely sexy, appeal. The pile is a bit tight and you can feel cheapness in the texture. You would never have it in your own home, but you can respect it in somebody else’s. It’s exotic, for sure; you won’t find another restaurant with this inside, and I’m not sure you’d want to eat at that restaurant if it did.
It takes a special kind of restaurant to pull off a red leopard ceiling carpet, and there just happens to be one hiding out by the courthouse in Stillwater. It’s Meister’s, one of the friendliest hometown dive bars south of Superior and home to a stank-fabulous cheeseburger. Go on in. Bring your Oktoberfest mug. Touch the bathroom ceiling.
It’s only weird if you make it weird.
The Basics: There are a few members of the Meister family with restaurants, but this location belongs to Bill “Pooker” Meister. He can be seen working the bar on some nights. It doesn’t matter what square the calendar’s on, his smile and hello heightens the mood of the whole room. He’s the type of man the world just can’t have enough of.
You won’t find Meister’s in the St. Croix clustermug or crammed in with the big cement squares along Highway 36. “Pooker” holds down the corner of 4th and Churchill, about two blocks beyond the Washington County Courthouse if you’re coming from 36.
There is a Meister’s website, but it’s the page of a different location. “Pooker” doesn’t need a stupid web page.
Park in the lot across the street from the front door and spend your entire walk in marveling at a) the Germanity of the exterior design; and b) the second-floor apartment above it. Living above Meister’s would ensure a swift and pleasurable death, I can assure you.
This bar is sort of an anti-T.A.R.D.I.S. – it looks huge on the outside, but the square footage inside is considerably dwarfed. You’ve got a row of booths to your left, a couple of big tables dead center, and the bar to your right. The mirrors behind the bar don’t make it much bigger. I’ve never had a problem getting a seat here, but Saturday’s trip with my wife’s family had us at the last open table. It can happen. If you’ve got a large party, call ahead.
Service was and has always been excellent. Most times, the servers are more attentive to you than you are to them, and you’re the one all sheepish and apologetic. This crew genuinely gives a crap whether you enjoy your experience there, a reflection of the owner’s attitude. These things matter.
Other key points include the Oktoberfest mug I bought a few years ago. It still buys me a fill of any tap I want for $9. It’s not a good deal if you fill it with, say, Grain Belt, but it’s a steal if you have it topped up with a Lift Bridge offering or an always-in-season Oktoberfest pour.
Our table went 4-for-5 on the Burgermeister, a 1/3-pound patty with cheese and bacon bits. I had mine with fried onions; my wife had hers with lettuce and tomatoes. From above the booths, a wooden cut-out of Betty Boop watched from inside a Leinenkugel’s canoe as we began feasting.
Although I’m not a HUGE fan of the bacon bits, it’s easy to taste what puts this place in the conversation of best burger-makers in the area. The beef is juicy to the point of instability, but no so much that you worry about the patty falling apart. I love a patty that falls apart, but I really love a patty that nearly falls apart. Like any great dive bar, the essence of the place itself seeps into the patty and onto your buds. Somewhere in that rakish grind, you can taste 65 years of business. I didn’t hear a single complaint at the table. The plates were cleared off in short order … which meant it was time for our first-timers to take turns touching the bathroom ceilings.
It’s possible to get out of your seat without smirking, but you make this walk with it printed in bold on your face: I’M JUST GOING IN FOR THE CEILING. You step into that little nook, the one with the cardboard model glomming on a bottle of Mich (I think it’s Mich), and step into your gender’s assigned lavatory.
I’ve found that jamming the door with my foot eases my anxieties once I’m in by myself. The last thing you want is another dude stepping in there while you’ve got your fingertips wiggled into the ceiling carpet … or, maybe that’s the first thing you want. Different strokes.
I would love to live close enough to Meister’s to make it my home tapper. Everyone in there is happy to see you. I struggle to find a single negative about Meister’s. The food is trumped only by its service, the prices are triple-take low, and you can find a beer at whichever price-point you came ready for.
Like I said up top, you won’t find another restaurant with this inside.
Go on, touch it.
RELATED: If you’re in Stillwater, follow this up with some barbecue and a Killdevil at Smalley’s. If you’re across the bridge, don’t forget about my priest’s favorite burgers at Hudson’s Agave Kitchen.