Well, folks, we’ve finally arrived at that crucial time for compiling best-of-the-year lists: Spring.
The Mankato Free Press has released its Best of Mankato 2015 poll, and while the list of categories is certainly exhaustive, the nominations seem rather arbitrary.
For instance, NaKato is nominated for breakfast, yet, perplexingly, not lunch or “hamburger and french fries.” Also, there’s a “fast food” category, pitting the likes of Wendy’s and Burger King against local establishments.
Additionally, The Wine Cafe’s Wine Rack offshoot was somehow left off the liquor store list, and upstart pubs and eateries such as The Bicker Inn, Ummie’s, and the Garden of Eat’n go totally unmentioned, while Taco Bell gets a nod under “Mexican cuisine.”
Curious as to why this list is/was so haphazard, at least in its initial form? Well, scope this nifty little note at the bottom:
“Don’t see your pick? Nominate your favorite below, let us know which category and we’ll get it added!”
Ah! That’s the reason why the ballot has ballooned since the first draft of this post.
What could be more professional than letting your readers compile your cultural data for you? And after they’ve already placed all of their votes?
Certainly not predicting the victors in an overly-cynical blog post.
Here’s what we’re banking on the voters of Mankato choosing as their Best of 2015, in various categories:
Breakfast – Perkins
Look, we’re just banking on sheer numbers here. No establishment so wholeheartedly captures such diverse demographics: Blue-haired octogenarians that need to kill time between trips to Menards; the coveted 18-to-34 pisshammered-at-three-a.m. crowd that cares little about their unthawed, barely-cooked eggs Benedict; youth-group teens that are trying their damnedest to fill their free time with anything but what their bodies are telling them to do (namely, ingest drugs and have sex).
It’s almost unfair.
Coffee Shop – Caribou Coffee
Give Minnesotans some credit. Even the most milquetoast of sprawl-shoppers will gravitate to a homegrown chain. And, honestly, we’re the only ones that can stomach Caribou’s 800-calorie concoctions. It’s like Dairy Queen…for breakfast!
Hamburger and French Fries – Culver’s
However, we’re not above sampling fare offered by our exotic neighbors to the east, who are the only ones with the guile to put butter on a goddamned hamburger and serve it with freaking cheese curds.
Ice Cream/Frozen Yogurt – Cold Stone Creamery
Because it’s not a treat unless it makes you feel like dying.
Fast Food – Chipotle Mexican Grill
Seriously, have you been to this place at any hour of the day? It’s hey-there’s-a-new-restaurant-in-Mankato panic mode ALL THE TIME. The shine never wore off.
Plus, it’s right next to Wal-Mart.
Pizza – Papa Murphy’s
I mean, why dine out and interact with other humans when you can cook someone else’s food?
Don’t forget to stop by the nearest Redbox on the way back to your cardboard mansion in Skyline. Night At The Museum 7 just dropped.
Steak – Applebee’s
Barring the inclusion of Benderzzzzzzzzzz’s TUESDAY STEAK NIGHT, Applebee’s saline-injected sirloin will reign not only by virtue of its sumptuousness, but its affordability. Again, the Perkins formula is at play: If you can nail down the high school / Social Security recipient ends of the spectrum, you’re gold.
Sub / Sandwich Shop – Jersey Mike’s
This will win because, somehow, it was listed twice on the ballot. This could be because there are two locations (both located in strip malls adjacent to superior fast food outposts), but it’s most likely due to the fact that the Free Press’ editors are terrible.
Mexican Cuisine – Taco Bell
One of the best things about the southwestern Minnesota is the glut of quality Mexican restaurants, but since college students can only afford Baja Blast and ergonomically-designed burritos after they’ve spent their allowance at South Street Saloon, this should win out.
Plus, it’s right next to Wal-Mart.
Asian Cuisine – Leeann Chin
Sure, getting a Leeann Chin in the mall was a decade late and twelve bucks short, but we FINALLY GOT ONE. (“Just like Rochester!“)
Italian Cuisine – Olive Garden
Mankato’s Italian game is bleak, son. BLEAK.
The Neighbor’s might put up a bit of a fight, but it’s crazy expensive. Furthermore, it’s marooned in that weird part of west Mankato where the town just kinda ends.
Wings – Buffalo Wild Wings
Nothing tempers the indignity of smashing your face full of barbeque sauce like being served by a bunch of depressed millennials forced to wear the leftover football jerseys from gym class scrimmages.
Bakery – Panera Bread
One time, I was tripping on acid at 7 a.m. in Nicollet Mall and couldn’t get into a Panera Bread bathroom because they had a keypad on the door that prevented homeless people from using it unless they entered a code from a valid receipt, so I bought a bagel and only finished half of it.
Also, if it’s good enough for Mark Kozelek’s dad, it’s probably good enough for Mankato.
Buffet – Pizza Ranch
Remember when you were a kid, and your parents hated taking you to the pizza buffet? It wasn’t because they were terrible parents. It was because it was loud, packed with screaming kids, and the food sucked.
But portions were unlimited, so they made concessions. However, you ultimately realized that the opportunity to play Pit Fighter on an arcade cabinet wasn’t worth the ensuing domestic dispute, and the dessert pizza really, really dried you out.
Date Night – Red Lobster
Look, we know you’re on a budget, and your date is probably going to want to throw down on a huge platter of crab and lobster, so you need to fill up on those free Cheddar Bay Biscuits if you have any hope of pulling off the “wining” part of the equation.
Happy Hour – Number 4
Behold! The best place to crush discounted drinks (that are actually the same price as regular drinks everywhere else in Mankato) amidst an ambiance of bizarre condescension and glitter.
Sports Bar – Rounders
Of all the places in Mankato that have lots of televisions and Bud Light with olives, this place has the most televisions and Bud Light with olives.
Patio Dining – Blue Bricks
“Dining” isn’t really something that one does at Blue Bricks, unless that’s the new euphemism for “smoking cigarettes with dangerously-drunk college students that haven’t yet mastered the art of social interaction.”
But the chicken sandwiches are pretty good.
Locally Owned Restaurant – HOW IS THIS A SEPARATE CATEGORY
Okay, this is exhausting. I’m tapping out before we even escape the dining bracket, and I’m sure you are, too.
Up next? The Mankato-area businesses that should take home the championship belts, with runners-up included.
See you soon, Mankato.
This weekend, local non-profit Midwest Art Catalyst is throwing their 8th Post Holiday Extravaganza, a two-day celebration of music and art that benefits, well, local music and art.
Supporting Greater Mankato’s independent art is a noble undertaking, but it’s probably going to take more than goodwill to lure people out of their climate-controlled caves. Thus: LOUD GUITARS.
If the names on the above flyer seem foreign, don’t fret. (Most of ’em are just from Minneapolis, you filthy xenophobes.) We’re here to school you on some of Minnesota’s best music before it lands on your doorstep.
The festivities kick off at 9 p.m. at the Mankato Event Center–the space formerly known as the Aboveground, located across the hall from the former Buffalo Wild Wings in the formerly (?) thriving Mankato Place indoor mall.
Mankato vets Old Towne Ghosts will be the first to take the stage, rocking a brand of straight-up punk rock that draws from mid-80’s hardcore (you know, before hardcore became hardcore) and 90’s melodicism. It’s pretty timeless stuff, and currently, these guys are the closest thing the Mankato scene has to an institution.
Strap yourself to those sinewy basslines and HOWL.
Next up are Minneapolis’ Buildings, the weekend’s most abrasive act. But those with an aversion to noisy riffs and jagged edges shouldn’t flee, as the trio’s compact, bass-driven bursts rain down like a storm of tiny hammers. (That’s a good thing, if you’re keeping score.)
Their frenetic kinetics are comparable to a band like Coliseum, yet gravel-mixed with noise-rock dredged from the chasm between Big Black and Unsane.
Finally, the evening is headlined by BNLX‘s first appearance in Mankato. A calming wash to counter Buildings’ racket, BNLX weaves robust post-punk (think The Church‘s Starfish, only with Red Bull in lieu of NyQuil) into towering shoegazey soundscapes.
Sensing a pattern here? Three bands culling all the right influences from three decades of punk rock to create something fresh, vital, and wholly of-the-moment.
Three bands. Six bucks. Nine o’ clock.
While Friday evening is strictly a 21+ affair, Saturday’s daytime events are open to enthusiasts of all ages, free of charge.
The Mankato Event Center will once again open its doors, this time from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. On tap? A bake sale, art raffle, silent auction, and other superfun shenanigans. (If you’re clamoring for a sneak peek at some of the initial art submissions, a handful of the offerings have been posted on MWAC’s freshly-brewed Instagram.)
Those craving literal taps can retire to the NaKato Bar & Grill after the daytime festivities, where the raffle winners will be revealed and Liquor Beats Winter will storm the stage / billiards room floor at 9 p.m.
Here’s the deal with NaKato’s musical guests: Most fall within the wide-ish spectrum of folk and roots-rock, from the likes of Teague and Ian Alexy to AARP favorites Ross Kleiner and the Thrill. But the best nights are had when bluesy filth is dealt in spades, from bands that sound like they fell off a train and rolled their ragged asses into the venue leaving a trail of too-warm whiskey in their wake.
(Basically, the nights when The Hooten Hallers swing through town.)
But Liquor Beats Winter wreaks a similar recklessness; a little more ragged, a little more sparse, a little more garage-rock…if they torched the garage and generator-jammed amongst the ashes.
If liquor does, in fact, beat winter, lets band together, take up arms, and bludgeon the thing to death.
See you this weekend, Mankato.
In the wake of the What’s Up’s closing, February’s events have been viewed as crucial for the Mankato music scene’s short-term survival. The month’s most vital shows, Hardcore Crayons / Fury Things / Crash Cuddle and PHE 8, have found new homes at Busters and the Mankato Event Center, respectively. With these events in safe standing–and, arguably, in situations more conducive to robust attendance than they were originally–the RJKT scope settled upon Lower North, where a pair of all-ages shows at Benderz commanded unusual attention.
Two weekends. Two shows. Two stories.
The first show was previewed on these pages, and by most accounts, it was a rousing success. Even when presented with a vibrant, enthusiastic crowd, Benderz seemed to have a decent system worked out, with the bar’s architecture making it much easier for the staff to work the door. Essentially, the building is a wide-angled “v”, with the entry at the vertex. Show-goers were diverted to the back room on the right, which was solely dedicated to music, while bar patrons could avoid a punk rock assault by taking a sharp left upon entry.
The place was near capacity that evening, for a few reasons: On one side, Old Towne Ghosts are one of the town’s biggest draws. On the other, the bar was airing UFC 183. (Following the death of the downtown Buffalo Wild Wings, Benderz is the only establishment in Mankato tuning into UFC events. And with the diluted, top-heavy cards Zuffa has been cranking out, even hardcores are opting to watch PPVs for the price of a few PBRs.)
But the biggest reason? The all-ages crowd came out in force. By the time Minneapolis’ Remo Drive triggered one of the most kinetic, spontaneous kid-pits I’d ever witnessed, it was clear that reports of the Mankato music scene’s demise were greatly exaggerated.
All told, it was a great night, one that was enabled by a largely hospitable and accessible venue. Even if one didn’t feel like watching an entire band’s set, drifting over to the bar side was smooth, and the waitstaff seemed to genuinely appreciate our business. It was a welcoming atmosphere.
At the following week’s show, however, blemishes began to surface. And we’re not talking zits. Straight-up leprosy.
Comparatively, attendance was sparse, possibly due to the illness-related cancellation of headliners Arms for Elephants. As we walked in, a group of kids were pounding out a scraggly brand of post-grunge, so I dragged my lawyer, Adam, to the bar side to throw back some Jagermeister like distinguished adults.
We quickly realized that our presence was less than welcome.
Our status as interlopers wasn’t immediately apparent. But, scanning the scene, we stuck out from the crowd, and not by virtue of our own weirdness. In a contrast to the previous week, the bar’s population had been reduced to regulars: Shitfaced-at-eight-o-clock, physical-activity-averse, camo-and-fossil-fuel-worshiping rednecks.
We took a pair of open seats at the bar. A few minutes into our conversation about the potential Legend of Zelda Netflix series, a grumble emerged from the woman seated to my right. The first part of her sentence was unintelligible, but it finished with “…stay the fuck on the other side.” As the phrase snagged my ear, I looked over to see her furiously scraping away at a stack of lottery tickets with a three-inch folding knife.
(Call me “liberal” like it’s actually a pejorative if you must, but even if someone spent their very last scratching quarters at the Kwik Trip Casino, I’m not sure that flinging around an open blade is acceptable behavior in an establishment that specializes in serving alcohol, regardless of said establishment’s affinity for blaze orange and motorsports.)
Soon after, we stepped outside for a smoke. Almost immediately, she threw her purse on my seat. We took the hint. So we hit the sidewalk.
Clearly, our semi-sober presence wasn’t welcome; in stark contrast, of course, to the sweaty, walking heart attack the bartender managed to overserve before 9 o’clock. We later saw this same mouthbreather behind the wheel of a vehicle in the parking lot of PJ’s Liquor. (And we’re 100% sure it was the same dude, too, because he actually got out of his car to greet us with some kind of primal, jubilant grunt of familiarity, even though we hadn’t even spoken a goddamn word to each other previously.)
Needless to say, this experience didn’t get generate a whole lot of excitement for a return visit.
Admittedly, this two-weekend sample size is small. But it’s pretty safe to conclude that, failing a special draw such as a notable punk rock show and/or Anderson Silva’s (steroid-aided) return from a horrific leg injury, Benderz has a problem: Their clientele. If their obvious indifference to regulation continues, their long-term viability as a venue is in significant jeopardy.
Music isn’t the issue. People are.