DULUTH – The only road access to Superior's forest-fringed Wabegon bar, about 15 miles southwest of Duluth, is through Minnesota.
The Wisconsin state line intersects the driveway about 100 yards in from Minnesota Hwy. 23. It's a quirky geographical feature of the 80-year-old North Woods-chic bar and grill, and a solid bar stool conversation-starter.
"It's the only bar in the state of Wisconsin that you can only get to from the Minnesota side," said owner John Hartwick, which made for interesting times during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when Minnesota shut down restaurants in fall 2020 and Wisconsin establishments stayed open. "It was nonstop crazy, good, bad or otherwise."
People love a good bar burger. Here are a few more standouts in the Twin Ports.
Butter and garlic salt are among the secrets to Mike Ronning's special burger blend, but the nearly 50-year-old grill tucked into the tiny bar kitchen probably has something to do with the well-seasoned flavor. Johnson's Bakery in Lincoln Park makes the buns, which do a good job of holding the lettuce, tomato, onions and beef together. The Round-Up has been a family-run fixture in downtown Duluth for more than four decades. It's filled with framed and autographed pictures of country stars; Ronning used pandemic closures to make some interior improvements.
"We've been here a long time doing the same stuff, and it seems to work," said Ronning. He's right. It does.
415 E. 4th St., Duluth, 218-727-1454, roundupbarandgrillmn.com
The Breeze Inn
There's no dubious claims to Jucy Lucy creation at this cozy bar on the outskirts of Duluth, only homage. Melty American is stuffed inside the handmade classic with an 80-20 coarse-grind burger blend, which always manages to stay sealed until first bite. Another longtime establishment, the Breeze Inn was built as a house in 1949 and turned into a bar shortly after that. It's won countless local burger awards, but the boreal forest setting, weekly live music sessions and good-for-kids atmosphere are the kickers. Co-owner Kate Waggoner won't say where the local beef comes from because, "we don't want anyone else to use it!"
5168 Jean Duluth Road, 218-525-2883, thebreezeinn.com
The Other Place Bar and Grill
Deep in Duluth's Woodland neighborhood, this newer-construction bar is a bit country. But the rich bacon cheeseburger, with its ripe red tomatoes and crisp romaine, is bistro-quality. (And they've got bar bingo, for the win.)
3930 E. Calvary Road, 218-733-0214, theotherplacemn.com
Gronk's Bar and Grill
On the south end of Superior, Wis., is Gronk's, often overlooked by its cheaper and more famous Superior counterpart, the Anchor. Filled with wooden tables and a lot of beer signs, Gronk's knows its audience. Amid a lengthy list of creative choices, it's hard to resist the Bacon Beer Cheese Burger. Friendly service, too.
4909 E. 2nd St., Superior, 715-398-0333, gronksgrill.com
Beloved by mountain bikers using the nearby Mission Creek trails or the Mont du Lac Ski Resort (also in Superior), the Wabegon began as Peter's Supper Club in the 1950s. John Hartwick, who bought the place in 2017, focuses on the patty, a brioche bun and crinkle-cut pickles.
"You've gotta have the basics," he said.
It's a very satisfying burger. While you're there, try the "wabby balls," a deep-fried breakfast-for-dinner concoction of hash browns, cheese, cream and bacon.
14030 Hwy. 23, Superior, 715-636-1700, wabegon.com
Jana Hollingsworth • 218-508-2450