Across the street is renewal and rebirth, the angular Vikings monolith rising. The endless clamor of construction. But inside the best Minnesota Twins bar in the city is a comfortable silence. The occasional clamor of saucer plates.
The last time I was here was Oct. 11, 2009, which is somehow six years ago. I was meeting my family, a split group of Twins and Yankees fans, for what ended up being the final baseball game played at the Metrodome.
We had seats in the upper deck along the third baseline, a perfect view to see Nick Punto head for home on Denard Span’s chopper up the middle, completely unaware that Derek Jeter had corralled the ball.
The Yankees swept.
My uncle, who made baseball breathe for our family, is no longer alive. Punto and Jeter are both out of the game, and finally on an even playing field. The Metrodome was turned into rubble and trucked out to who knows where. But Hubert’s remains, the same as ever.
As I walk back into the bar, on the corner of Chicago and 6th, the Twins are playing the getaway game of an eventual three-game sweep at the hands of the Yankees in New York. The more things change …
Stepping inside is like being in the concept of anticipated urban renewal. The back bar is curtained off and the beer taps are removed. The patio is empty. You seat yourself. The whole place seems to be waiting for something.
The maroon leather booths are comfortable and distressed. The TVs remain high up in the corners. The staff is endlessly polite and stays out of the way until you ask.
The pictures stay in the past, back when the present was in the previous decade. Shane Mack and Kirby, Jake Reed and Cris Carter, the youthful Gardy, maybe a season in.
In its current incarnation, Hubert’s is not changing. Not yet. I’m sure it’s coming, but for now this is like stepping into a most affable time capsule. I sit down and am taken back to a time when I was someone else.
I watch the Twins take an early and not-for-long lead, but find myself thinking of family, of coming here before any number of games at the Dome. My mother, my father, my brother, friends of mine still known or some forgotten, my uncle flying in from Denver to see the Yankees.
Before a meaningful game, the place would be shoulder to shoulder and six deep at the bar. Impossible seating. My father used to scan for vacating tables like Philip Marlowe looking down an alley for a suspect.
When you come back to a place that hasn’t changed you realize that you have forgotten memories, ones that are just waiting for you. I had to hold back tears, alone in a booth at 1:30 p.m. on a Thursday. Which is all a bit much for a sports bar.
I come by a few days later before a Saturday home game against the Astros at 6 p.m. The Twins are surging, competitive, in the wild-card hunt, and I want to see what the pregame scene is like compared to six years ago. The bar is closed.
I look through the windows on Chicago Ave. and see the greatest sports advertisement this city has ever had: Tom Kelly, mid-stride coming off the field, his managers uniform unbuttoned a couple and pulled open at the collar, a Hubert’s T-shirt underneath.
After I start coming back I don’t want to go to another bar. I drink some coffee at one game, share a beer and some shots before another. I try the loaded baked potato soup. It’s all just fine and nothing to really write home about, but I’m about as happy as I get.
The thing that can be tough about trying to describe why this is the best place to watch a Twins game in Minneapolis is that a lot of it has to do with how I remember it. But I have to imagine that many in the Twin Cities remember it exactly the same.
I come in for another day game before walking over to Target Field. The lunch rush around 11:30 a.m. is busy. The bartender tells me the construction workers across the street create a lot of business. I ask her about that Saturday night early closing time and she tells me they used to not even open on Saturdays, but now they stay open until 4 p.m., mostly for the Vikings’ stadium crew.
Somehow we end up on the topic of the Tom Kelly picture and I tell her how much I love that photo, and she agrees, says it’s her favorite. Then she tells me the man who took that picture is sitting right across from me.
And there he is, eating a salad.
And of course he is, because why wouldn’t he be?
I’ve been to the Hubert’s on the other side of town. The name was sold for a price. That bar is just fine They, too, have nice memorabilia on the walls. But they do not have the photographer of that memorabilia eating a salad across from you.
They all wear their memories, just not as well.
The original Hubert’s is of another time, and holds onto that truth through its sheer ability to remain. What in the world is it even doing still standing? What renewal is it waiting for? Ten home games for the Vikings and four or five national events a year?
The bar was sold a few months ago. This paper reported that the new owners plan only a few cosmetic tweaks and to perhaps change the name to “The Original Hubert’s” just to set it off.
Maybe the new owners are hoping the renewal that was supposed to come with the Metrodome is coming with U.S. Bank Stadium. That the “Original Hubert’s” will get to be a part of that long ago promise that comes with new stadium construction: High-rises, apartments, mixed-use development, constant foot traffic — a wave of economic resurgence engulfing a corner of the city.
I hope that all comes, and I hope that when it does I can step back inside Hubert’s and find that nothing has ever changed.
Jeff Day is a Star Tribune sports desk editor. He can be reached at 612-673-4103.