The Juicy Lucy is serious biz in the Twin Cities – so when I tell people “Matt’s Bar was tested and found unworthy,” I know I’m going to get on some shit lists. But first, I’ll give Matt’s this: If I had to guess between them and the 5-8 Club who invented the Juicy Lucy – a million cash if I won, uneven legs and a baby with Tonya Harding if I lost – I’d guess Matt’s.
I don’t know if Matt’s realizes this, though, but their longtime nemesis has reached its tentacles throughout the metro area and new contenders are punching harder than this archaic Minneapolis mainstay. Matt’s will no doubt live forever, but their crown is eroding.
The Basics: 35th and Cedar in Minneapolis. It’s been there for almost 60 years. They boast “No ice. No plates. We blew the budget on napkins.” They obviously didn’t blow it on the website. Matt’s continues to win award after award, as you can see in this gallery.
Editor’s Note: This is a cleaned-up, updated version of a review I originally wrote in 2011.
My wife and I hit Matt’s after Mass one Sunday, and the 10-minute wait for seating was pretty good from my understanding. The first thing you realize about Matt’s Bar is they’re cheap, and I don’t mean inexpensive. I mean cheap: In addition to what I already mentioned, only one water was brought to our table, with no ice in it; and soda was sold in cans at something like an 800% markup. I was tempted to ask if Al Bundy owned this place.
You already know what we both ordered. Why would you go there for anything else? We tacked on a basket of fries. For those keeping score at home, Matt’s $5.95 Lucy runs miles below what their competition is selling them for. The food took longer than our table, and the fries looked like they were stolen from the kitchen of a nearby McDonald’s.
Seriously, if you’re not running a fast food place, don’t do skinny fries. Just don’t.
Quick history lesson: I had tried to eat at Matt’s once before with two friends about four months ago, but we got in line behind 12 people and started outside. In the dead of winter, my friends decided to go elsewhere. On the way out, one of them said something profound.
“Their Juicy Lucy tastes like any burger with cheese inside of it,” he said. “It’s all just reputation.”
The moment finally came when the words ceased, the fries were whisked away, the soda can was shoved aside, and I faced the legend. As I raised the burger to my watering mouth, the revelation was finally at hand. Every snarky swipe I stocked up could have been quashed with the simple ecstasy of this one … first … bite …
There was no transformation of reality. My soda can didn’t refill itself. The clouds didn’t fizzle away and my office didn’t call with plans to stay closed an extra day. Nicky Whalen didn’t spring out from behind the bar and lunge at me with a pitcher of Leinie’s. The world was just as it was before I took that bite.
Don’t get me wrong: Matt’s Lucy is a good burger, but that’s it. I acknowledge it’s still the place to stand outside of and snap to get a zillion likes on Facebook, and it’s certainly in the discussion for Minneapolis’ most iconic food item … but, If Matt’s did indeed invent the Lucy, wouldn’t the originator feel some obligation to evolve their brainchild? It feels like nothing has changed about that place in 50 years. That works for some places, but there isn’t a single aspect of the Matt’s dining experience I’d care to relive.
The 5-8 Club now has three locations, which satisfies your visiting kin and your impatience alike. The Blue Door, meanwhile, compensated for its own dreadful wait time by high-fiving the popular Surly brewery and has opened a second location in Longfellow. The Nook has its inferior sister bar The Shamrock; and, five minutes from Matt’s Bar, Vincent A Restaurant is serving a Juicy Lucy nobody else can touch.
So why go to Matt’s? Why wait 10 minutes for a table and feel fortunate, feel like you’re dining at a garage sale, pay 12-pack prices for a pitcher of Mich Golden and eat a burger that supposedly fathered the rest of its kind but finds itself surpassed by many of them today? I can only really think of one reason, and it’s not a very good one.