Celebrating Thanksgiving with Keith Berg came with an open invitation.
The annual holiday feast at Palmer's on the West Bank was as tender as any regular night — an abundance of food, Jameson whiskey, music and, most important, conversation.
After Berg, 56, died unexpectedly earlier this month, a potluck at Palmer's was held to celebrate his life.
"It's a reflection of how you lived your life," said Berg's wife, Lisa Hammer, "the bounty of the food at your potluck."
Berg, formerly a bartender, purchased Palmer's 14 years ago and ran it as a place that was inviting to patrons of all genders, races and creeds. The bar, founded in 1906, was named one of the best bars in America by Esquire last year.
At Berg's memorial potluck there were tables and tables full of food, including ham — a staple that Hammer always cooked just how Berg liked it. As happened on gatherings for Christmas Eve or Easter, everyone else brought the sides. It was that kind of a joint.
The service for Berg at Palmer's was attended by more than 500 people, including his daughters, Claire and Anna; his mother, Jan Berg, and siblings Joy Herman, Karen Piper and Dale Berg.
"I've heard people say it was the best funeral they'd ever been to," Piper said.
This time, there were stories about the North Mankato, Minn., native who rarely spoke about himself. That time he helped Dale deep-fry a turkey after wrapping up at Palmer's. That time when he almost left a lake empty-netted until he gave it one more try, reeling in a catch and inspiring the spot's nickname, "Bergey Point." That time he gave Piper a leather-bound copy of his favorite book, "The Hobbit," which he read once a year.
A Midwestern homebody, Berg's retreats — often for hunting and fishing — were rooted in Minnesota, Iowa and North Dakota. He died just a day before embarking on an annual fishing trip with his best friends from high school.
In 1977, Berg moved to the Twin Cities to study biology, math and science at the University of Minnesota. During his early 20s, he picked up shifts both researching in chemistry labs at the U and bartending at Caesar's, now the Red Sea, also on the West Bank.
A voracious reader, Berg left behind two grocery bags full of unreturned books from the high school library at his parents' home that his mother later found. He also liked to "hunt, hunt, hunt," Hammer said, often with his chocolate Labrador, Buster.
"It didn't matter what the subject was," Hammer said. "He could dissect it. He would research it."
She added: "Buying a washer and dryer was a project for Keith. He was always conversing with people. There was no such thing as an impulse buy."
Their purchase of Palmer's was long-discussed with the bar's former owner and came in two halves. One of the mainstays for Berg was the music. Among his favorite acts were Twin Cities legends Cornbread Harris and Spider John Koerner.
The endearing dive bar soon became emblematic of its devoted owner, who valued tradition. Fishing trophies hang from the ceilings. Its nothing-fancy interior has remained mostly unchanged over the decades.
A few years ago, a woman visited Palmer's to celebrate her 100th birthday and deliver a black-and-white photograph of the place in the 1930s, when her father had owned what was then called Carl's Bar.
The contemporary crew, of course, re-enacted that photo with a party last year. Berg dressed in an open, white shirt, positioned behind the bar, with Hammer in a feathered cap, mink stole and lace. Period music set the scene.
At Berg's memorial service, Hammer brought a roll of duct tape to symbolize how Berg always held the bar together. He kept Palmer's open 365 days a year, for anyone who needed a place to go.
"There has been Thanksgiving dinner at Palmer's Bar since the 1980s," Hammer said, "and it will continue. That's what we do at Palmer's."