Thursday, July 2, 2009

Shawdows Over St Paul

Courtesy Pete Gilbertson; RE: our trip to Groveland Tap.

Shadows Over Saint Paul

The oldest and strongest sensation of mankind is hunger. And the oldest and strongest kind of hunger may be hunger for sandwiches. HP Gilbertson

Zounds, Gadzooks, and Other Arcane Lingo! The world’s oldest culinary pursuit, the Burger Quest, rides on once again this time at the Groveland Tap. Man, if you’re driving the speed limit down St. Clair Avenue you just might miss it. The facade is that small. However, a tiny store front with weeman-sized sidewalk patio obfuscates the cyclopean surprises inside this pub. I’m not kidding. The Groveland Tap reminds me of the doghouse of famous St. Paul alum Charles Schultz’s notorious beagle--ordinary exterior, paradoxically enormous interior. But as we were seated within the confines of the Lilliputian patio, I did not discover the Tap’s dark intricate secrets until much later when I went inside to find our server. Then it got weird. More of that later.
Customary reviews? The beverage and food quality were some of the best we’ve had. The beer selection? First-class! Especially for such a(n alleged) small bar, even if the beer pricing was literally out of sight. We inadvertently paid $40 for a pitcher of Goose Island; which, oddly, is a beer I did not pay $40 dollars for the weekend before when I was in Chicago--that interstate tax must be a bitch. What made the food so impressive (or oppressive as the night wore on)? Cheese, man, the cheese. It was everywhere! I began the night with cheese curds reminiscent of the vaunted Minnesota State Fair faire--so good when you first get ahold of that greasy red and white checkered boat, but as soon as those curds cool down the accumulation of grease on your hands, tongue, and veins wears you out until you can’t finish them. I’ve dubbed them “a cholesterol nightmare.” But I wasn’t done with fromage. Nope, I followed that up with a juicy lucy (best one so far. Fact!) and then finished the evening with a warm slice of apple pie, which was nothing extra-special--except that it was bearing a molten slice of cheddar cheese.

The service suffered due to a server no-show and the most peculiar dimensions inside the Tap (more on that later). Don’t get me wrong. Friendly service, ripe with innuendo, is a big advantage to me. But at the end our meal the experience became like the Hotel California; we could pay our tab anytime we liked, but we couldn’t leave because our server vanished. That’s when I decided I needed to take matters into my own hands and inspect the Tap’s other amenities. Little did I know, that’s when the night truly began.

The Tap opens into a darkly lit room accented by the grimy scarlet and amber glows of assorted neon beer and liquor signs. Their hues, however, barely reveal the establishment’s thoroughfare and merely hint of the hidden alcoves of booths and nether region locations of the restrooms. One thing they do highlight is the incomprehensible marshaling of beer keg handles lining the walls like a memorial to the draft beers served in the trenches of The Groveland Tap. The assembly of draft handles was eerily reminiscent of a battlefield burial; as if the beer levers were spear shafts and stanchions broken, retired, and driven into the battle-scarred terrain to commend their outstanding service and the sacrifice they rendered. Maybe it was the power of suggestion due to the establishment’s moniker, but for a moment I thought I heard Taps in The Tap. And during this musing I saw our server, told her we needed our check, she nodded and I tried to find the restroom.

That’s when I got lost. And my life changed forever.

In hindsight, it may have been the amount of excellent beer I had imbibed. Or it could have been the system shock I received when I realized how big the inside of the Tap was. Or maybe, just maybe, there was something more nefarious at work there as you could easily rename The Tap, “The House of Leaves You Bewildered” (read Danielewski’s novel and you’ll know what I mean). The darkened entryway stretched nefariously into a long hallway well beyond the bowling lane proportions I had assumed. A narrow bar extended along my left, while a slightly convex wall concealing the kitchen occupied my right. And yet, still no bathroom. I pushed on further into The Tap’s recesses and discovered, to my surprise, yet another seating area! And beyond that a pool table and an arcade! Where did all of this come from! Even more astonishing was that this back area was populated by dozens of people. Where had all of these people come from? Surely that much traffic hadn’t crossed the patio without my notice. Were they permanent residents? Did they ever leave? I mean the area was jammed with people and chairs and tables full of food and beer among elbows, food smears, and litter; the walls were lined with smiles and the glow from more neon signs, meanwhile the atmosphere was thick with banter, dim light, and the succulent smell of cooked meats and a concoction of all things deep-fried. Overwhelmed, I ceased my pursuit and retreated back to the entryway. And if you’ve traversed the inside of Groveland Tap, you know that its corridors were not meant to be crossed in a single day, which could explain both the high tariff on beer and the slow service.

However, the fearful symmetry of elongated wooden hallways, sloping floors, slightly off angle walls, and hidden alcoves of seating, gaming, cooking, wagering, and urinating couldn’t prepare me for the horror of what awaited me inside the men’s room...when I finally found it. The most terrifying of all was the love seat-sized stainless steel urinal. What an enigma! It was more than big enough for a normal man to use--luxurious in fact!--but woefully undersized for two men to comfortably use simultaneously. Fortunately, I was alone. Or at least that’s what I tell myself. Surely, an oversized gentleman--or possibly the Cthuloid embodiment of The Groveland Tap itself--raised on an excessive diet of cheese, beef, beer, and all things deep-fried and bearing pale and clammy flesh blasphemously exposed for all unwilling eyes to see on account of his being clad in a tank-top disgustingly grease-stained and yellowed along the sides by cascades of amber armpit crust neither stood next to me nor pressed his tuffs of hairy bicep flesh into my shoulder. Nor did he evacuate a fist-sized ball of writhing phlegm into that accursed urinal not quite built for two.

I capered out of the Groveland Tap’s inner sanctum and reported my findings to my comrades of The Quest. Thankfully, for them, none of them had to use the restroom. It took several more minutes for our tab to be processed, but it may take longer than forever to forget the sprawling chaos of The Tap’s inner architecture and the hoary madness of its bathroom fixtures.
Burgers 4-Better than other 4s I've had. May be the best. And I could revise in hindsight.

Sides 4-Dang near perfect taste, but I wanted more variety.

Beer 5-The selection of fluids along with the frosted glasses cannot be surpassed.

Service 2 -My 3 would be average service and no complaints.

Ambiance 3-That'd be a 5 if you wanted a house of horrors!: )

Value 4-Can we find this good (or better) for cheaper? Let the Quest continue!