Throughout human history, many a divisive line has been drawn. Allegiances have formed and faltered, defining who we are as a society and what we stand for. Consider: Allies v. Axis, Row v. Wade, North v. South. Each party involved held their convictions as the moral standard, and in turn, their character was defined by those convictions. These grand and polarizing issues make us - as human beings - examine the deepest nuances of our being, and align our hearts and minds behind one unflappable, concrete belief.
We are now faced with a new challenge. We are called upon to make an imperative and contentious decision that, in terms of importance, dwarfs anything discussed within the walls of Independence Hall during the Second Continental Congress: We must, at this, the 11th hour, decide who is better at putting cheese betwixt hamburger patties - the 5-8 Club or Matt's Bar. And we must award, definitively and with honor, the one true and deserving Ju(i)cy Lucy, and the establishment responsible for it. (Editor's Note: We here spell "Ju(i)cy" thus because of the variations in spelling of the name, wholly dependent on locale. If we were to spell it "Juicy," as the 5-8 Club does, or "Jucy," as Matt's Bar does, it could be construed as favoritism. Throughout the article, each reporter shall maintain the burger's spelling in respect to his preferred locale.)
For the ill-informed among us, the Ju(i)cy Lucy is a cheeseburger. But not just any cheeseburger. You see, the status-quo in the burger world has always been a tiny bit of cheese atop the burger. But long ago, culinary pioneers had other plans. Defying all convention, they changed the way the world views cheeseburgers: copious amounts of cheese - on the inside. The idea to craft a burger with a reservoir of melted cheese in the middle of that patty has taken the cheeseburger beyond its call of duty to benefit humanity. However, it has also incited an ongoing conflict over "The home of the Ju(i)cy Lucy" and which faction may properly lay claim to the Minneapolis institution.
To gain perspective on this issue, two charmingly gangly A&E reporters journeyed down Cedar Avenue, stopping at Matt's Bar and the 5-8 Club, who both claim to be the fabled burger's home. Not unlike most South Minneapolis residents, they were torn over the origins of the infamous Ju(i)cy Lucy.
In the course of their field-work, they learned that siding with either joint is less a statement of taste, and more a statement of one's self.
WHERE: 5800 Cedar Ave. S., Minneapolis
HOURS: Sun-Wed 11 a.m. – 11 p.m., Thu-Sat 11 a.m. – midnight
PHONE: (612) 823-5858
JAY'S LUCY AT 5-8
I really wanted to like Matt's Bar best. You see, not unlike a similarly titled Lynyrd Skynyrd song, I'm a simple man. I grow my beard long, enjoy my beer cold and am able to appreciate the Hank Williams catalogue. That being said, Matt's Bar and I seemed like a handsome match. That's not to say that Matt's Bar is a country bar or that I'm a hillbilly, rather, we both don't see any purpose in showing off or dressing up.
The 5-8 Club has quite a different life perspective. Whereas Matt's Bar is a crowded and dingy hole-in-the-wall, the 5-8 Club is a pseudo-nostalgic T.G.I. Friday's kitsch-clone. If the walls were not sporting cheap replica posters of middle century American icons (Monroe, Bacall, etc.), they were singing the praises of Bud Light and Travel Agencies via tacky advertisements.
Obnoxious advertising aside, the 5-8 had the better Juicy Lucy hands down.
Matt's Bar would like you to think otherwise. Ask any South Minneapolis resident which establishment is the better, or the original, and rest assured you'll get strong loyalist answers in favor of either restaurant. Because the two have a longstanding debate regarding who is the original purveyor of the Juicy Lucy, I asked 5-8 Club marketing director Jill Scogeheim to clear things up. "Matt's Bar has used incorrect spelling (they use 'Jucy Lucy'). Ours is truly a juicy burger so we spell it the way it's meant to be spelled." Checkmate.
In terms of atmosphere, Matt's Bar would like you to believe they have character. The walls are wood paneled, there's an old, worn jukebox and an aged feel throughout. My colleague Justin Flower - among others - feels those "features" illustrate a down-homey, no B.S. charm.
I contest this claim.
What Matt's Bar has is not character. What they have is a disregard for aesthetics, lazy housekeeping practices and a lack of concern for their customers' comfort. As mentioned earlier, from an atmospheric standpoint, some aspects of the 5-8 Club (read: ramped consumerism), made me cringe. But after I got off my hipster high-horse to really examine the situation, I realized that the only thing the 5-8 Club is guilty of is pleasing their customers. Yes, the lame attempts to create a period-specific nostalgia bar and gonzo advertising grind the nerves, but it's the income generated from both those decisions that allows the 5-8 Club to cater to their customers. Be it through their offering of pull-tabs, a squeaky clean restaurant, an expansive menu or roomy seating, the 5-8 Club's aim is to please its patrons. If they come off as a tad cheap in their execution, so be it. The fact of the matter is, it's an overall better dining experience than feasting in a dank pit. Sorry, Matt's Bar.
At the heart of the argument, though, is the Juicy Lucy. Matt's Bar's take on the sandwich is beyond uninspired. Upon being served a Matt's Bar Juicy Lucy, you'll immediately take notice of the bun. You can buy an identical bun at ALDI. Eating this bun makes you feel as if you're applying for welfare and eating a crappy burger bun at the same time.
Once your teeth unfortunately pass through the bun, you're met with a dense and crusty burger filled with a watery and napalm-hot substance that approximates dairy. It's the Paris Hilton of burgers: fake and curiously famous.
The 5-8 Club's J.L., on the other hand, is a calorie-laden treat. Flavorful bun, mouthwatering beef and your choice of several gourmet cheeses make the 5-8's Juicy Lucy an unprecedented burger.
Summation: The 5-8 Club patron is a grounded and thoughtful individual. Not persuaded or influenced to lower his/her standards by subscribing to some absurd hipster notion that "unconventionally filthy = credibility," the 5-8er is in it for the food. Why disillusion yourself to believe that anything overrides comfort, quality and diversity? Patrons of the 5-8 Club know what they like, they understand the workings of the world, and overall, they know what tastes better.
WHERE: 3500 Cedar Ave. S., Minneapolis
HOURS: Mon-Thu: 11 a.m. to midnight, Fri-Sat: 11 a.m. to 1 a.m., Sun: Noon to Midnight
PHONE: (612) 722-7072
JUSTIN'S LUCY AT MATT'S
"I don't care what anybody says, when somebody wants the real 'Jucy Lucy' they come to Matt's," said Scott Nelson, the current owner of Matt's Bar. Nelson purchased the bar from the original owner Matt Bristol in 1998.
"We just do the same thing we've been doing since 1954," he added.
There you have it: Matt's is an institution, everything else is imitation.
Other gangly-bearded fellows may say that a better "Jucy" is out there, but this isn't true. If you don't trust the numerous accolades on the walls inside Matt's, including several consecutive years as the City Pages' and Minneapolis/St. Paul Magazine's choice for best burger, then trust me when I say Matt's is the one, the original and the best Jucy Lucy in town.
According to Nelson, the Jucy began at Matt's Bar before Matt's even existed. It started in the same building, back when the bar was called "Mr. Nibbs," and Matt Bristol was making "Jucy's" by order. Then in 1954, Bristol bought the bar, renamed it, and put up the menu advertising the "Jucy Lucy."
"He started making them at his customers' request, and he hated making them. They were a pain in the butt," said Nelson.
The reason Jucy is spelled the way it is, Nelson told me, is because when Matt's had the original signs made, they came back with the spelling error, and he just decided to go with it.
Matt's keeps things simple. Who needs a plate or even a basket for a burger when you are going to eat it with your hands anyways? Give it to me hot and greasy in a piece of wax paper and I'll be happy. And that's just how they do it.
One of the easiest ways to keep things simple is to not change. Since 1954, Matt's has been making Jucys the same way in the same bar. The bar more-or-less hasn't changed, a few knick-knacks have been added to the walls, but that's about it.
If you have ever been to a VFW, you already know what the inside of Matt's looks like. Retro gold tiles covering the walls, a dark stained wood bar, and brown vinyl booths and stools create the feeling of a place your grandpa would have taken you when you were a kid. With that raspy voice of his from years of drinking whiskey and smoking Lucky's in dives like this, he would tell you to eat your pickles and don't make a mess.
That's right. I said "dive," and a dive it is - in the best sense of the word. The place is dingy looking, but that's the kind of character I expect to be around when I eat a Jucy Lucy. I could go numerous other places for a burger, but why not come here where I can watch the bartender create perfection on the three-by-four-foot grill squeezed behind the bar.
Another reason to love Matt's is its honest community feel. The servers don't pretend to be nice. They are nice and they don't have time to pretend because they're too busy running orders to patrons in the packed house.
An example of the community feel I am referring to happened when I stopped by with my bearded evil-burger loving colleague, Jay. One of the waitress' asked me if I could help her change an empty keg because she was unable to lift the weight and no-one else was available. I agreed, and she showed me what I needed to do. It only took a couple of minutes and when I got back to our table she said the burgers were on the house.
Summation: The feel of Matt's is comforting; add great burgers and you have a winner. I have tried the 5-8's "Juicy" and it's good, but it's not the classic that is Matt's, nor is it the original. Others may say being able to choose your cheese is an important deciding factor, even going so far as calling it a necessity. I call it what it is: a novelty. Because all we really need for the perfect Jucy Lucy is American cheese inside ground beef and between a bun. Matt's has got it. Me, I like to get the
fried onions too.