Fifteen years ago, I turned 21 years old and the Anchor Bar in Superior became my first official watering hole. I’ve got probably 100 Anchor Bar stories, but two stand out among them.
The first began after, oh, I don’t know, three or four pitchers of Miller Lite. We’re talkin’ 2003, 2004 here. Back in these days, we had a friend who always brought back this weird beer with him when we went out to Wyoming. “Fat Tire,” it was called. Whenever he got back into town from those trips, we congregated in the basement of his East Duluth house and we each had a couple “Fat Tires.”
That’s not the memory.
It really did begin after three or four pitchers of Miller Lite. Five? At least three. Anyway, I’d been sitting at the bar and the waitress that night was my college kid self’s kind of beautiful: tall, blonde hair that sat at the shoulders, but went absolutely no lower because her upper body was covered in tattoos and they had to display gloriously. They did. They screamed out from her top and covered her down to her wrists and collarbone. I don’t remember what they were. Most times, at least in Superior, people just had stuff tattooed on them.
The Anchor Bar in those days was much the same way. Like this beautiful woman’s tattoos, the Anchor Bar’s walls and ceiling were delightfully congested with nautical weaponry, globes (so many globes), old photographs, tchotchkes I swear had been rejected from local antique shops, canoe paddles, harpoons, you name it. It was a smell you could see, like an old book filled with short stories written by many people over many, many years.
I paid my tab. It was probably like $10 or something ridiculous, even for those days ridiculous. I slid my cash over. She flashed me a smile, and glided on out of sight. Maybe we talked more. I don’t remember. I do know she had to circle the bar and come out onto the main floor, because that’s when it happened. I was looking forward when I felt her slender, adorned arms close in around my shoulders and a kiss press onto my left cheek.
How cool was that, I thought. The servers were always nice, sure, but … yeah, I think this was when I could finally shake the “never been kissed by a cute girl” aspersion.
This is getting a little emotional. One second.
The other memory was the time I ate two one-pound Galley Busters back-to-back in less than an hour, AND the fries. The cook that night signed a ketchup bottle and let me take it home with me. I didn’t eat or poop for two days. There might still be some of this inside of me.
I have my Anchor Bar stories. Tower Avenue is … different now. My Lucky’s, the poll hall at which my buddy Zach and I would play pool for hours, the place my wife and I would go during our lunch breaks to pal around and canoodle, has been closed for some time. The Palace Bar, where my buddy Corey and I went with our pack, had its roof cave in and has since re-opened. Stargate, where the bro-iest bros and the bravest underaged girls converged over kamikazes and vodka-somethings, has been replaced by something called The Board Room. Very little remains of the Tower Avenue I knew, besides the Anchor Bar.
I’ve changed. Now, I can have a gorgeous blonde put her arms around me and kiss me whenever I want. I’ve conquered so many two-pound servings of beef, I’ve had to abstain from my favorite restaurant to resist the temptation. I have my own Anchor Bar memories, but now I’m helping other people make theirs.
Enter my buddy Nick, a.k.a. Slick Nick, a.k.a. my friend with the really nice arms. This story is about his sister.
His sister was visiting from San Diego, where she inspires in its youth a seething distaste for the Los Angeles Chargers and teaches them about “doped up water head logged surfers.” I was the only one to notice her fingernail polish changed based on the temperature of her hand. She seemed genuinely impressed by that, even though it really just means I’m kind of a weirdo.
This story is about her boyfriend, Peter.
I forget what exactly he does, but it’s something that requires an advanced degree and a high level of intelligence. I don’t mean that in the everyday sense. The man is a genius. I can’t even remember the extent of it, and he probably knew I wouldn’t remember. That’s the intelligence gap we’re talking about here.
This story is about Peter’s first Galley Buster.
The story begins at Blacklist Brewing, where I’d just completed six hours of driving through a snowstorm that wasn’t as bad as drivers were making it look. I dumped myself onto a barstool and, by all rights, should have disassembled. Should I sit like this again 20 years from now, I just might. We met there, had a pint, got to know each other, tabbed out, piled into a car, drove to Canal Park Brewing, had a pint, thought about food, decided nah, but maybe, but everyone’s eaten the Anchor Bar, right?
I’d only known him for like 45 minutes, and I already felt like I was letting him down as a friend. Seriously?! I’m at the ‘Your girlfriend has a nice manicure’ phase but I haven’t gotten you out to the Anchor Bar?! Drop everything, I decided, we’re hungry for Anchor Bar.
Ten minutes later, we’re plopped at an Anchor Bar table.
Though its decor has been toned down some, the Anchor Bar is still chaotic enough for an OG to call home. There will still be at least one globe in your vision line, wherever you look. The old-timey pictures, and most of the nautical baubles, remain. It still looks like the smell of an old classic book, and that’s the most heartfelt compliment I’ve dished out in a while.
I ordered for Peter. He was getting out of here without a Galley Buster over my dead body. I was having one with him. Pitchers of Miller Lite began to come through. The burgers never take long, even on semi-crowded nights like this one. Maybe it wasn’t that crowded. Maybe the cartoons on the big screen just made it sound crowded. I never did pay much mind to the crowd.
The Galley Buster: three patties, three slices of cheese, fried onions, bun. I watched Peter pick his up, with the anticipation of a father watching his child ride a bike for the first time without training wheels. Everything we’d been through together – that one beer, that other beer, me farting in the car on the way over – it all came down to this.
I couldn’t have been more proud.
His form was impeccable, no? He got through that whole burger without having it fall apart on him or wussing out and using a fork. I don’t even think he used ketchup! This was definitely not the first cheeseburger this man has ever eaten, but it was his first Galley Buster and I was welling with joy at the sight of it. He finished it! First try!
He acted like it was no big deal. Very smooth operator, this one.
One of the staffers took notice, and brought him over a trophy of sorts: a shot with a slice of bacon hanging out. He gave it to us on the house, asking only to be in the picture “just to get a black guy in here.” (his words) Nick and his sister finished their burgers, and I got around to the systematic destruction of my Buster. It was as I remember it: bursting with grease, hands shining like freshly-buffed car bumper while I held it, ready to crumble at the first wrong flick of the wrist, bursting with the kind of goodness no modern fancy diner fryer could capture. There’s only one cheeseburger on Earth I enjoy more than a Galley Buster.
That’s the Anchor Bar. It’s revered by visitors, but it’s not taken for granted by locals. They may let the rest of Tower Avenue go, but nobody’s taking the Anchor Bar. Twenty years from now, I’ll probably march another friend in and give him or her their own piece of the magic. Such is the cycle.
RELATED: On the other side of the bridge, Hugo’s Pizza II busts galleys with unbelievable sandwiches and CHiPs. If you missed it a few years back, Canal Park Brewery also offers great food and a breathtaking view of Lake Superior.