As hard as it is to admit, sometimes good spirits and good conversation aren’t enough. Sometimes when you head out for an evening of revelry, you want to know that there’s something more in store for you than just a frosty mug and a warm bar stool. Those are the nights when you’ll want to check out one of these bars where fun and games means more than just Big Buck Hunter and seeing how high you can throw the popcorn before catching it in your mouth.
Darts at the Dubliner
2162 University Ave W
Saint Paul, MN
Hours: Daily 11am-1am
Sure, you could go to lots of bars to find darts — most any pub worth its salt is going to feature at least one machine—but the Dubliner sports several machines to keep waiting to a minimum, and the extra space means fewer people crossing your line of fire to the bathroom. The Dubliner also features two of the perfect accompaniments to a good game of cricket: black and tans made with Smithwick’s and Guinness and Red Breast, one of the world’s finest Irish whiskeys. Another good option for darts is Grumpy’s Downtown, which has several machines and also Staraoke on many nights, if you consider singing in public to be a competitive sport.
Shuffleboard at the Bulldog NE
401 E Hennepin Ave
Hours: Daily 11am-2am
If the only kind of shuffleboard you’ve ever known is the kind you play at the pool with your grandparents, you haven’t lived. Not that the heavy little pucks (often called shuckles) used in the indoor version couldn’t do serious damage to your little brother still, but the indoor game is more about touch than a major muscle workout. Much as with cornholing, there are even scoring zones on either end of the table so with teams of two there’s no need to take so much as a step other than to refill your beer (the Bulldog has more than a dozen on tap, plus plenty of exotic imports and even beer flights) or get some more truffled French fries ($5.50).
Bocce at the Nomad World Pub
501 Cedar Ave S
You don’t have to be serious about bocce to roll at the Nomad—there’s open rolling seven days a week—but it certainly helps. The Nomad World Pub Bocce League competes four nights a week from 7 pm to close during their season, so you can come and play yourself or just root for teams like the Blue Balls, Ralph Bocce-o and the Rolling Ovaries. If lawn bowling is more your thing (the balls are asymmetrical), you could head over to Brit’s Pub with its luscious green rooftop lawn for something a little more British and a little less Italian.
Board Games and Video Games at the Chatterbox Pub
When it comes to drinking and games, it’s pretty hard to match the Chatterbox, where you can play board games from chess to checkers to Risk to Scrabble to Candyland and dozens of vintage video games on Sega Genesis and NES ($2 per game checked out) and even Atari ($1 per game). They just don’t make them like Strider and NFL Football 94 anymore. A full list of their available titles—sorry, there’s no Road Rash for Genesis—can be found right here.
Following the demise of City Billiards, it’s been hard to find a place in the Twin Cities that ably straddles the line between bar and pool hall. While there are plenty of places with a couple tables (the Groveland Tap in Saint Paul, Grumpy’s and the CC Club in Minneapolis, for example), most of the bigger places dedicated to billiards are out in the suburbs, most notably Shooters Billiards in Burnsville (Highway 13 and Cliff Rd, 952-894-1100) which is no joke when it comes to pool. Southtown Bowl and Lounge is a bit closer in Bloomington (7941 Southtown Ctr., 952-888-9248) plus sports giant Margaritas and Mai Tais to improve your cue skills. An exhaustive (and somewhat out-of-date) list can be found here, plus it has helpful tips (i.e. Déjà Vu is a strip club or that Club Metro is a drag club).
Steve McPherson is a writer and musician who has lived in the Twin Cities since 2004, where he teaches writing and music at McNally Smith. His dog is named after both a drink and a guitar. He tweets from @steventurous.