The hardest place to get a drink right now isn't on the packed deck at Psycho Suzi's or the busy rooftop at Crave.
If we're talking pure logistics, that award goes to University Avenue between Minneapolis and St. Paul, where light-rail construction has turned a miles-long commercial strip into a noisy, dusty disaster zone. Similar construction sites have popped up in downtown St. Paul and on the U's East Bank, which now resemble obstacle courses filled with Bobcats, careening excavators and dump trucks.
Most people can agree that the $957 million Central Corridor -- which will connect the two downtowns via light rail -- will be good for business once it's completed in 2014. But for now, it's one big hassle for the small bar owners along this 11-mile stretch.
"Our day business has pretty much died out completely," said bartender Leah Hart of the Dubliner, a small, decades-old Irish pub that sits along a particularly messy part of the construction path.
There's been some relief. Recently, Minneapolis and St. Paul began offering forgivable loans to ease the financial burden. Of course, the best remedy is more bargoers. The bars along University Avenue aren't glitzy or glamorous.
Many are dives, but even a bar like Tracks (which is connected to a Days Inn) is kind of charming.
Some bars have been in this mess longer than others. One end of the Central Corridor begins in downtown St. Paul, where construction that started two years ago already has claimed one casualty. A gay bar called Rumours & Innuendo shut its doors in October, blaming slow business on the ripped-up streets.
Nearby, the owner of Señor Wong said he's beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
"We're still here," said Son Truong. "When it's over and done it's going to be good."
Until then, here are five bars worth your business along the Central Corridor construction gauntlet.
Why it's worth it: This classic St. Paul neighborhood bar has an Irish attitude, nightly live music and a wood floor as ancient as its cast of old-timer regulars. The bar is offering cheap beer to entice people during the construction ($3 Grain Belt Premium and Miller Lite taps).
Where to park: Hooray, there's a parking lot. The only problem is getting to it. If you're turning off University, check your clearance: You'll have to drive over a mound of dirt.
- 2162 University Av. W., St. Paul. 651-646-5551. thedublinerpub.com
Why it's worth it: Talk about cheap drinks. One of the oldest gay bars in the Twin Cities still offers $1 drinks on Wednesdays (with a $5 cover), and it has great drag shows and karaoke the rest of the week.
Where to park: After losing much of its street parking to construction, the bar began leasing a next-door parking lot.
- 1415 University Av. W., St. Paul. 651-646-7087. townhousebar.com
Why it's worth it: It may not be much to look at, but the Turf is still one of the Twin Cities' coziest live venues, serving up local musicians and touring acts (including Jason Isbell, Needtobreathe and Gene Ween earlier this summer).
Where to park: Parking is nil on University, but there's a ramp across the street or spots in the neighborhood.
- 1601 University Av., St. Paul. 651-647-0486. turfclub.net
Why it's worth it: This downtown St. Paul bar hasn't survived on its curious name alone. The Asian/Latino menu features some of the best tacos around, aggressive happy-hour specials and a late-night scene with DJs like King Otto.
Where to park: Even before the construction, customers had a tough time finding the bar (which is tucked into the Kellogg Square building). But parking is actually really easy: The building's ramp (enter on Kellogg) is only $1.50 after 5 p.m.
- 111 E. Kellogg Blvd., St. Paul. 651-224-2019. senorwong.com
Why it's worth it: After almost 40 years in business, this no-frills college bar has seen a lot of change on the U campus. One change it probably didn't expect: a chain-link fence just feet from its front door and, beyond it, massive dirt piles. Regulars still love the place, and for good reason. It does two bar-food specialties -- wings and subs -- better than just about anyone on campus.
Where to park: If you get past the roadblocks, there's a lot of parking nearby in ramps, surface lots and at meters. But you'll have to pay.
- 606 Washington Av. SE., Mpls. 612-378-0467. www.big10restaurant.com