When the Bamboozler shows up, everybody moves.
You shove your napkins to the side and pull your drinks back toward your chests. You scoot your plates over and cram your phones into your pockets. Hats and mittens get stuffed through a mysterious portal, never to be seen again. The shadow of a two-foot pizza looms over your table, much like the alien spacecraft from Independence Day right before it vaporized New York.
When the Bamboozler is set down, you learn a lot about the people you’re eating with. You could, theoretically, have 20 different toppings on this pizza – plenty of creative space to get kinky. The greedy bastards who hog the center slices are exposed. So are the martyrs who clean up those molecular corner slices. Do you friends eat the crusts, or leave them littered all over their plate? Are they really going to eat all eight of the slices they took? And who’s taking this home? When cut square, you’re looking at nearly 100 slices. There’s nowhere to hide on a pizza like this.
The Vermilion Club (VC) occupies Daisy Bay, overlooking Lake Vermilion. It’s been in business for decades, longer than even present owner Greg Archibald can recall. “Arch” first came to the club with his parents on snowmobiling trips, then with his friends as an adult. In 1999, he bought the bar.
The VC was named one of the 20 best dive bars in America, according to the Lake Vermilion Chamber of Commerce, and it’s got the right clothes on for the job. The interior walls are almost exclusively wood-paneled, but it doesn’t take you back to the cabins; no, it takes you back to the last friend you had with a really big, finished basement. It’s got that wood paneling on the walls, and those beer signs everywhere. It’s a comfortable place.
Friends and I circled a six-person table one night in December, seven of us, trading stories of good times and humongous, fake fish. My dude Eliot’s mom, Tammy – whose humongous fish is quite real, and hangs on a wall in her basement – told us about the summer of ’87. She was managing a Lucky Seven gas station, and had just divorced her first husband. She told us about long nights of dancing at the Vermilion Club, followed by hours of skipping from boat to boat, partying and dancing until the sun came back up.
“I’d go right to work from there,” she said, “curl my hair in the backroom, come out and open the store. I’m sure there were antics I don’t even remember. It was a lost summer, but it was the most fun lost summer I’d ever had.”
The Bamboozler is technically made by local pizza-maker Poor Gary’s, but can only be had at the Vermilion Club. Fun fact: Archibald was actually the first employee ever hired by Poor Gary’s. He was a teenager then, but he rose to ownership at Poor Gary’s just a few years later. He sold Gary’s when he bought the Vermilion Club, and the Bamboozler has been on the VC menu for about 15 years.
You can have up to five toppings per quarter on the Bamboozler (thus, 20). I dialed up Canadian bacon, pepperoni, green peppers, mushrooms, and cheddar for my section during our visit. It’s a combination I call “Shout Some Words Quick and Go Back to Drinkin.'”
We ordered a medium hamburger pizza, too.
Think about the last time you seriously over-ate pizza. It doesn’t happen often with pie slices, because “one more slice” can be quite a commitment. It happens with square slices, and it will happen with the Bamboozler. Are you the type who can’t help yourself when you say you’re done eating, but the last half of your meal is in front of you still? Are you the type who simply believes pizza is best fresh? Or are you just human? Whatever the case, you will be eating pizza for probably twice as long as you’d planned.
I’m willing to butcher a date night for this pizza, which I say that because I’ve done exactly that. It was over a decade ago. I was 22 or 23 at the time. I’d planned to take a young lady to the Vermilion Club one winter night, to show her a Bamboozler and impress her with how sloppily I could eat.
I took a wrong turn, though, and so did our date night. This doesn’t look right. Sh*t. This hill is really icy. Sh*t. SH*T! And just like that, my PT Cruiser was stuck on an iced-over Lake Vermilion.
It was the first time I’d driven on a frozen lake; the path was bumpy and the night was dark. Think about the last time you searched for a light switch in a dark room. Now imagine you’re driving around that room in a car, and the floor is a gigantic ice rink. I found the light switch eventually, but I don’t believe she went out with me again after that.
If you’re thinking about coming for a small pizza, don’t: the pizza sizes listed on their menu are medium (12-inch), large (14-inch) and Bam. Get Bam.
Your Bamboozler is free if you can solo it, by the way. I asked Archibald if he had ever tried, and he laughed.
“I wouldn’t even attempt to try it,” he said. Archibald estimates between 6-10 have ever done it single-handedly, but it happened twice when competitors from the Fortune Bay World Indian Taco Eating Championship stopped in.
There were seven of us at the Club that night, and we didn’t finish the pizza.
Elsewhere on the menu, chicken wings are listed on the menu as “Baked & Flash.” Available flavors include sweet chili, jerk, bourbon, hot, and extra hot. The menu is rounded out by cheeseburgers, including the VC Burger with pizza sauce and mozzarella; sandwiches like the Chicken Dinner, which promises four slices of “Northern Fried” chicken; prime rib cuts, a few pastas, and a small selection of salads in case you bring a serial killer.
Poor Gary’s Pizza has locations in Eveleth, Biwabik, and Moose Lake. More information can be found on individual websites and Facebook pages. More information on the Vermilion Club can be found on their Facebook page.
RELATED: The next day, Eliot and I went to Ely and I took down The Mutt at Gator’s Grilled Cheese Emporium. Oh, and did I mention the steak and eggs at Sportsman’s Restaurant in Hibbing? Just felt like bringing it up.