The Anchor Bar is one of several foreboding taverns in an industrial non-neighborhood near the Duluth shipyards. None looks like a promising culinary destination, and a quick look inside this one does nothing to alleviate that first impression. It’s nearly pitch-dark, and when eyes adjust you see walls packed with dusty nautical memorabilia. Customers at the bar and big round tables include a lot of rugged-looking seamen having rugged-sounding conversations.
But what’s that smell? Mmmmm. It’s beef grilling and potatoes frying. And pretty soon you see beautiful hamburger plates emerging from the galley kitchen at the far end of the bar. In fact, not all patrons of this unlikely eatery are old salts. All kinds of citizens of the Twin Ports (Duluth, MN, and Superior, WI) and beyond can tell you that the Anchor Bar serves the best hamburgers in the northland, accompanied by handsome hand-cut French fries. Each burger is a thick, hand-formed patty made of meat fatty enough that is fairly weeps juice into the bun even before you apply finger pressure to lift it. It is not high-end prime beef, that’s for sure, but its stout, blue-collar satisfaction is undeniable. And its proletarian price is unbelievable. A single burger, served in over a dozen guises including topped with cheeses, hot sauces, even cashews, costs under $5. A heap of those golden fries – big square, spuddy logs laced with lots of crisp squiggles and burnt bits – adds exactly one dollar, twenty-five cents to the price.
Big eaters, take note. The Anchorburger is a sandwich of two 1/3-pound patties. The Gallyburger is three of them, with a layer of cheese on top of each. “That’s what we call meat loaf on a bun,” the waitress jokes when she sets down my mammoth Gallyburger. It is served with a plastic fork and knife, but I found that, with care, it was eatable by hand with only minimal spillage.
Other than a cheese sandwich and ham sandwich, burgers and fries are the only items on the Anchor Bar menu … not including countless ales, stouts, and porters, and plenty of non-yuppie hard liquors, too.
Note: Wisconsin law requires that customers must be at least 21 years old to be in the Anchor Bar without a legal guardian.