Thursday, January 21, 2010

Review: Donny Dirk's Zombie Den in Minneapolis

Last week was my 30th birthday (no, I'm not shy about it) and to celebrate, a bunch of my friends and I went out to dinner and then to Donny Dirk's Zombie Den. It was a unique experience.

We went out to eat first, because for the life of me, I couldn't find a menu for Donny Dirk's. But then I saw it mentioned on their website that the Zombie Den is "One of only a handful of lounges where you can relax and drink... and there is no pressure to eat." Hmm, with the zombie theme, I can understand why the menu might be light. Additionally, the place is so small, I find it hard to believe they have much of a kitchen, anyway.

But they have a beautiful bar. Yes, beautiful. Donny Dirk's may be a new bar, but the building it inhabits has been around for at least 100 years. The architecture of this century-old building is still in tact. The bar used to be Frank's for decades following World War I. When the owner died and a new one took over, all of the bar stools were removed and Stand Up Frank's was born. Its tag-line appears to have been "We Mix 'Em Strong." No, I'm not kidding, just take a look at these ads. With nothing more to do than stand around and drink, Stand Up Frank's became a trouble-spot, filled with drunks and crime. Needless to say, it was shut down sometime in April of 2009 and remained closed for a while.

The tiny building was bought by the people who brought us Psycho Suzi's Motor Lounge and Saint Sabrina's. They've been busy redefining the place. The age-worn bar that ran the length of the building is still there, along with its ornate ceiling, but there are stools! And booths! Extra chairs for those extra people, which we needed to fit 5 into a 4 person booth. And the joint was jumpin'.

When we arrived, there was no place to sit - the booths were filled, along with all the stools, and there were some people standing at the bar. We made our way to the end of the bar to order some drinks while we watched for a table to open up. I had a Voodoo Zombie, my friends ordered Sister Switchblades and Dark'n'Stormies. The Sister Switchblade was strawberry flavored. The Dark'n'Stormy was a ginger and rum drink. And the Voodoo Zombie was a strong rum drink with something called Pernod in it. All of them were exceptionally strong. And they had unique flavors, as many of Donny Dirk's signature drinks are old recipes from the 1930s and 1940s. If you only like frilly frou-frou drinks, the Zombie Den is not the place for you.

If you are hungry, Donny Dirk's is not completely without food. A Batphone, just like the red one in the "Batman" TV series has a direct line to Psycho Suzi's. You can order food from there and it will be delivered to the Zombie Den at your bidding.

When we finally got a table, I took a good look at the interior decorating here, which I love. It's sort-of like 1920s speakeasy meets 1950s horror movie mansion. The walls had this smoky mirrored tile that reflected the low lighting, making it seem brighter and dingier at the same time. The ornate ceiling was a yellow color and the floor had tiger-print carpeting. The booths and stools were brightly colored vinyl. Really, there was a richness to the decorations here. Until you saw the machete on the wall, the chain saw in the corner, and the zombie heads mounted to the wall. A neon sign behind the bar proclaims "Undead Frank Lives." At this bar, don't expect to watch The Game, whatever the sport, as there were horror movies being played on all the TVs.

The service was excellent. The bartenders were obviously busy but were very engaged with their customers. After we found our table, our server was extremely attentive. I didn't quite get the differences between the uniforms, though. The guys were wearing white-button up shirts with fake blood stains on them and black ties, ala Sean from Sean of the Dead. The ladies were wearing long black evening gowns. Big disconnect there, but that's part of the enigma, I guess!

The crowd at the Zombie Den was eclectic. There were some hipsters, goths, geeks, preps, working stiffs, and some people who looked like they had just come from the theatre. The atmosphere was lively, jovial, and warm. Because of the trouble associated with Stand Up Frank's, there is a dress-code at Donny Dirk's Zombie Den. But it's very easy to deal with, just don't wear a sports cap or a team jersey. Pretty easy, right?

When I told my friends we were coming here, they had a lot of ideas in their head of what it would be. I'm not sure if it met their expectations. They thought it would be more like an undead paradise, but I thought of it more like the bar in Sean of the Dead: A place to make your last stand should the zombie apocalypse happen. With the solid brick walls, few windows, and weaponry all over the walls, it would be a great place to hole up during a rising of the undead.

But until then, it's a great place to wet the whistle on a Friday or Saturday night.


  1. Hi Sara - I'm a freelance editor in MPLS also and I love the Zombie Den! Maybe it attracts us editorial types... I dunno. I think I like it too much. My last bank bill showed PS, coop, ZD, PS, ZD, gas, coop, ZD... and then one day it was PS for lunch and ZD for dinner - eek! That Voodoo drink sure has put a spell on me!

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  3. I've heard Donny Dirks is on the spendy side. Do you recall the average costs of the drinks?

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