At first glance, Grumpy's Downtown, 1111 Washington Ave. S., looks like your classic drinking joint: spacious square bar dominating a wide no-frills front room that shares space with three pool tables getting full use even on a snowy Monday night.
But hidden inside this basic roadhouse are fun and original events designed to tweak tastes from tawdry to intellectual.
On Sundays, the converted garage in back hosts gaggles of gals bonding over "Sex and the City," the bawdy HBO series about four Manhattan babes on the make. On Mondays, film buffs gather beneath two suspended 16-mm film projectors for "City Club Cinema," a labor of love for the sprockets set featuring everything from "Jazz on Film" and "Girls and Guns" to the Orson Wells classic "The Third Man" and even educational filmstrips that you slept through in grade school -- miraculously transformed into entertainment through the miracle of dollar-off beer and a "teacher" encouraging you to talk back to the screen. Don't think of your typical cinema-and-brew; think the Walker Art Center with a stiff cocktail and bar fries.
Throw in Sunday afternoon slot car races -- yes, real slot cars with the cinemaphiles providing Steve McQueen movies as background -- plus monthly '60s go-go nights and Thursday "Stareoke", described as "a wacky obscuro sing-a-along with Arzu from Selby Tigers," and you have a bar working overtime on a cornucopia of fun. That's all the excuse we needed to check out the scene and provide these eyewitness reports:
"Sex and the City" on Sundays
By Ellen Nigon
Watching "Sex and the City" in a bar Downtown and drinking Cosmopolitans, my friends and I felt oh so, well -- cosmopolitan.
"This just feels so urban," my roommate Kate cooed, and the three of us decided this would become our new Sunday night tradition.
This soon-to-be ritual is the Drive-105 Girl Party at Grumpy's. Hosted by Drive-105 deejay Shelley Miller, the free-admission Girl Party consists of two hours of "Sex and the City," two-for-one Cosmos, makeovers, manicures and prizes.
For our first Girl Party, Megan, Kate and I arrived a little late to find a room of 20 people held captive by Sarah Jessica Parker on the television. We shuffled to a table in the back and were immediately sucked into Parker's glamorous world of sex, cigarettes and lots of Cosmos.
Never having had a Cosmopolitan, I decided, when in Rome ... or Manhattan ... or Downtown ....
Kate, however, was not so easily convinced. Just because Sarah Jessica Parker slurps the pink drink, Kate wasn't sure that she had to as well. So, Kate asked our waiter, "Are Cosmopolitans good?" To which the cute-but-rude waiter replied, "No."
Unmoved by his bluntness, Kate went ahead and ordered one anyway -- and realized the waiter was right. "Ewww," she said with a scrunched up face. "This is really strong."
But Megan -- who's known as the lightest drinker in the crew -- threw down two of the strong drinks, much to our surprise. I, as the designated driver (sigh), nursed one Cosmopolitan all night.
Though our drink opinions differed, we shared a common opinion about "Sex and the City" -- we loved it. In less than two hours, the three of us became "Sex and the City" devotees.
It's the type of show that you don't have to see from the beginning of the season to understand. Basically, it's about a group of beautiful women who live in Manhattan, have great jobs, live in fabulous apartments and fall in and out of lust often.
The best part of the show is that Sarah Jessica Parker plays a big-time journalist -- just like me. Except I'm not big-time and she actually writes a racy sex column. I write about ... umm, watching TV in a bar.
But we didn't just watch TV. We also participated in the ultimate girl rituals -- makeovers and manicures.
Jonathan Addy is the makeover artist and he is, in one word, fabulous. (Especially since he doesn't charge anything for his Grumpy's work.) He speaks of his work passionately and you quickly realize that he is an artist in the true sense of the word. The only difference between his work and that of an artist working on canvas is that his creations wash off at the end of the night. Within a half hour, Jonathan had my face catwalk ready.
I didn't get a $3.50 manicure from Rena, because my fingernails are the product of 22 years of biting. Kate did, and her nails looked great with silvery-white polish.
But Kate's fun wasn't to end with her beautiful nails. We had all entered a drawing for prizes like CDs and videos. Kate ended up winning the new Pete Yorn CD (her new favorite artist). Upon winning, she squealed, "I'm coming back here every Sunday." We probably will.
Film on Mondays
By David Brauer
Dressed in a skinny '60s suit, "Senator Richard Brinkman from the great state of Idaho" toddles into the main bar and informs the crowd that he's about to screen films on "Simple Civics: Roles, Rights and Responsibilities," part of the "National Projects Academy of Learning."
"Are there naked chicks?" one of the bar-goers calls out.
"Occasionally there are 'naked chicks,'" replies Brinkman with crisp Idaho vowels and a faint titter. "But not tonight."
"Brinkman" is Mike Dust, a real-life Minneapolis curator who, with partner Phil Harder has helped organize outdoor film festivals in Minneapolis' Steven's Square neighborhood and at Red Eye Theater, 15 W. 14th St.
Dust, Harder and City Club founder Kevin Karpinski are pack rats who have reclaimed 16-mm films from public library trash bins and basements (one south Minneapolis film distributor unloaded a crate of unmarked films on the trio).
While they unearthed some amazing works of art ("The Third Man" is one of my all-time favorites), and some irresistible lures for the main-bar crowd (see "Girls and Guns" this Monday), a lot of it is earnest educational stuff replete with wooden dialogue and lopsided '70s hairdos.
But with a beer in hand and encouragement from Brinkman/Dust, the "class" of ten on this snowy Final Four Monday has some pretty interesting discussions and even learns a thing or two.
We all agree that in "The Right To Privacy" (16 mm., color, 1976, 18 minutes, A Bernard Wilets Film), the two dirtbag bookies arrested because the police eavesdropped with a parabolic mike should be let go because their 4th Amendment rights were violated. A few of us glean what the 4th Amendment is, a relief to our high-school teachers wherever they are.
Still, there are plenty of outright laughs, such as when a bookie tells the search-and-seizing cop that he wasn't taking phone bets, he was reading Robert Louis Stevenson's "Treasure Island" -- which he just happens to have nearby.
Along the way, "Brinkman" traces the declining arc of 16 mm film stock -- from still-gorgeous '40s and '50s Kodachrome and Technicolor stocks to cheap '60s film whose green and blue inks were eaten by the red, producing the "pink and tan" films you sometimes see on late-night TV.
As it is on this night, City Club Cinema can be a little too "clubby" when a larger crowd fails to materialize. But there's a friendliness and plain love of film that can't help but be charming, and Dust said non-weather-challenged offerings bring bigger crowds and bolder participation. It's not for every barfly, but if you have celluloid spirit, adding alcohol and fryolator grease makes this a club worth checking out.