Veteran treasure hunters are giving Shamrocks high marks. But nothing was as good as standing in line in front of the Pioneer Press.
The seats are warm, the beer is cold and the mood is a wintry mix of jovial, secretive and anticipatory.
It’s Shamrocks bar and grill on West Seventh Street in St. Paul. Wednesday evening. Awaiting Clue 5 in the annual Pioneer Press Treasure Hunt.
As they have for generations, hardcore medallion hunters bring their kin and kind out in the evening to await the first editions of the printed newspaper, where, on the upper left-hand corner, next to the rest of the news, the next day’s clue appears. The seating area is filled nearly to capacity with Carhartt-bibbed folks sharing insights from clipboards and maps and ribbing each other over follies of past hunts and glories yet to come.
They don’t have to be here. These days, the clues are beamed to smartphones and tablets at the speed of light. Pioneer Press newspapers arrive at Shamrocks around 11 p.m. each night. A scrambled version of the clue has already been posted online by then, and the unscrambled version is posted on TwinCities.com/TreaureHunt around 11:30. So it’s a modest head start.
And on Wednesday, only a fraction of the patrons bothered to hustle up to night manager Katie Schille when she plopped down a stack of them — face down of course — to buy the pulp.
But they still come.
“These are some of my closest friends,” said Jason Michaelson, a longtime clue hunter. “We all know each other. There’s a camaraderie here.”
This is the first year the early editions of the paper have been distributed at Shamrocks. From 2012 to 2016, the early clue reveal was held at The Original Gabe’s by the Park in the Como Park neighborhood. Before that, the site was the front door of the Pioneer Press, which itself was at various addresses in downtown St. Paul.
When the PiPress was the site, it was an outdoor event, a cross between a tailgate and line outside Target on Black Friday. It was often cold, with little shelter for the line that often stretched the length of a city block, without any stalls when nature calls.
So far, Shamrocks has gotten solidly positive reviews. Some noted the area where live bands often perform on Friday and Saturday nights. “I think it’s going to get louder, and I’m not sure where we’ll all fit,” said Edy Elliot, who said she once found the medallion at Swede Hollow but didn’t realize what it was.
Shamrocks has enjoyed playing host, Schille said. “It’s fun to see all these people who are really into it,” she said. “They really, really analyze these clues.”
Gabe’s is under new ownership. The Montpetit brothers — Dan, Kevin and Rick — took over Jan. 4. Asked about Gabe’s not hosting this year, Dan Montpetit said: “We wanted to pass it along to our good friends Mike and Ted to give them the opportunity.” He was referring to Mike Runyon and Ted Casper, owners of Shamrocks.
A departure from Gabe’s was inevitable, said hunter Brad TeGantvoort. “When you’re at one place for four or five years, it’s probably time to move on.”
Yet, for the longtime hunters relaxed in the warm glow of Shamrocks beer lights Wednesday night, the newspaper’s front door was the best.
“I miss that,” said Joy Obernolte. “I miss standing in line for all that time, and then everyone just running off when they got the clue.”
It might sound like rose-tinted nostalgia, like open-air Vikings playoff games, but Jesse Anibas, author of “Pioneer Press Treasure Hunt History,” said there were other dynamics at play.
“When you’re inside, you can talk to who you want to talk to and sit where you want to sit,” said Anibas, seated with his son Justin. “But back then, it was a line. You had to hold your place in line. you stood next to whoever was on either side of you, so you had to talk to them. That’s how we all got to know each other.”