Would you believe me if I told you the coolest bar on Minnesota’s Iron Range was tucked away in a Mountain Iron basement? (Thinking about it) You probably would, wouldn’t you?
It’s true, though: Brad and Tammy Hejda of Mt. Iron have built one hell of a watering hole in their basement. It’s adorned with fitter furnishings than what you’d find in most upscale oases, all stashed under the loo and the room I sleep in when visiting. Rows of bottles stand under the bar; boxes of Cards Against Humanity await you on top of the bar.
Yeah, that’s right: I killed my vagina. How, you ask? Lumberjack fantasies.
Let’s take a closer look – at the bar, I mean.
The Basics: I’m not telling you where it is. It’s somebody’s house! Weirdo. The Thirsty Salmon does not have a website. Yet.
If you’re too tall, the breathtaking first glance will be followed by a dull thud when your head smacks the ceiling. Otherwise, it’s a harmoniously chaotic display of metallic signs, figurines, and the bar’s namesake: A 67-pound salmon Tammy reeled in one day. Couches line the path to a big-screen opposite the bar, and it’s all brought together by a sleek stone table, topped with a giant print of the bar’s logo.
That’s right, it’s got its own logo. It’s carved into a wooden sign behind the bar, too. You can even buy T-shirts, and they give you branded beer sleeves. When you’ve mounted a 67-pound salmon, going small is pretty much out of the question.
Some congregate at the bar with the cards, others catch up on the couches and air out their grievances with the area cable provider. Others will just walk between circles with a joke or two on the go. Real talk: If there’s at least one gray-haired man with a crippling handshake and a unique snarky remark for each time he approached you, you know you’re in a good place. Last time I drank there, two such men graced the Salmon.
The craft beer craze hasn’t crept up to the Iron Range just yet. They still enjoy their Michelobs and the occasional ‘Kugel’s, but I brought a bottle of Lift Bridge Biscotti to share. Opening a corked beer bottle induced awe from the audience – by awe, I mean expressions of general indifference. Adding to the elegance was my struggle operating the corkscrew.
I was invited to the potluck table, where I pigged out on porketta and a potato dish I could’ve eaten continuously until dead. Also worth mention were three types of chicken wings, miniature meatballs, a bowl of boozy-laden cherries, and a sandwich fragment whose contents I squirted onto the carpet when I squeezed it too hard.
It’s not that I’ve no culture; it’s just that most Twin Cities entrees can be swallowed whole without chewing.
The night was pure fun. My only regret is having ever considered skipping the party. I’m glad my senses got the better of me. Thirsty Salmon parties don’t just come around. They’re one of the last true wait-until nights we’ve got in a world full of pop-ups and instant gratification.
The Range is the perfect place to let time slow down and look forward, and the Thirsty Salmon is her most unexampled establishment. The experience is unlike anything you can have anyplace else, just like the Salmon itself.
Addendum: Eliot, the Hejdas, and I vegged in the living room Sunday morning with cups of coffee and the morning paper. The Hejdas then made us breakfast, a pleasant recovery system of sausages, eggs, cinnamon rolls, and orange slices. It was the best.
I remember being a kid, constantly bummed out by my mother’s home cooking but ecstatic at the Mickey D’s drive-thru. Today, we nuke our miserable meals on the run and a home-cooked meal crashes a Facebook server if you photograph it correctly. Isn’t that funny, how those tables turn? Just a thought.