A visit to Coach Bombay’s counter
On the corner of West 7th and St. Peter Street in St. Paul, Minn., stands Mickey’s Diner (or Mickey’s Dining Car). Known for great food and a good time, the diner is also a famous featured spot in The Mighty Ducks trilogy, although it was popular long before the movies.
Conveniently, I had the opportunity to take a visit to the Minnesota landmark 15 minutes away from my hometown.
Before diving in, a quick background. In 1939, Mickey Crimmons and Bert Mattson purchased the building that would become Mickey’s after attending a National Restaurant Convention. The small diner was shipped to St. Paul by rail from Elizabeth, N.J., where the Jerry O’Mahony Diner Company manufactured it.
Mickey’s has since been a staple in downtown St. Paul, operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, while staying family-owned over three generations spanning almost 80 years.
“I’m living inside history,” employee Will Conley told WCCO radio in January, when the station’s listeners voted Mickey’s the top diner in the state. “I think there’s a continuity involved with the 24-7, 365. It’s like the game of telephone. You just keep the message going.”
Deservedly so, Mickey’s was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. It has also been featured in such movies as Jingle All the Way and A Prairie Home Companion, as well as a good share of TV shows.
But arguably, Mickey’s most popular movie scenes are in The Mighty Ducks trilogy. The most famous scene was its “debut” in the first movie, when Gordon Bombay tells Charlie Conway he plans to step down as coach, causing Charlie to run out in frustration.
Believe it or not, 25 years later, the diner looks exactly as it did when The Mighty Ducks crew paid its first visit there.
In a 2013 interview with Eater Twin Cities, 40-plus year server and cook Mary Kiritschenko offered insight into what it was like filming the scene, as well as a couple others, within Mickey’s.
“They closed the place. And there was Emilio Estevez hanging around with the folks,” Kiritschenko said. “You meet a lot of people, and I always say, they’re the same as me, they’ve just got a little more money than me.”
Believe it or not, 25 years later, the diner looks exactly as it did when The Mighty Ducks crew paid its first visit there. Going for an authentic ’30s and ’40s experience, the diner, resembling a railroad dining car, makes you feel as if you are walking into the time period of its inception.
From the outside, “Mickey’s Dining Car” lights up in big, neon green letters, just as it did in the establishment’s exterior-only appearances in the 1994 sequel, D2. One brief scene captures Jan picking up Gordon with the diner in the background on a rainy night, a good image of what the lit-up diner looks like after dark. Not to mention, the amount of people packed into the place during the night hours.
Walking in, you are greeted warmly and sat down at one of the stools along the countertop, unless you want to take a seat at the few booths on the west end. In my evening visit, I take a seat where Gordon sat in the first movie, trying to put myself in the movie star’s shoes.
Right away, Mike, the server and cook, grabs me a menu. There’s an overwhelming amount of breakfast and dinner choices. Fluffy three-egg omelettes. A California burger with bacon and cheese. Homemade Southern fried chicken. And much, much more. It makes you wonder how they fit it all into such a tiny place.
I finally gain the courage to ask what’s best, conceding my ability to make a choice. Mike suggests “The Two’s,” a combination of two golden brown buttermilk pancakes, two eggs, and two sausage patties. He says the pancakes are “really good.” So I take his word for it, while ordering a vanilla malt. I mean, you can’t pass up old-fashioned, hand-dipped shakes and malts.
As he gets the food on a small grill, he adds a heaping of hash browns, saying that as a first-time guest, I have to try them. Apparently, they are to die for.
While the food is cooking, I have a nice chat with Mike, along with Randy, a regular sitting a couple seats down from me. Mike tells me he’s been working for Mickey’s for five years and enjoys it, other than having to come in on an occasional off day, as he was that evening.
While he wasn’t around during The Mighty Ducks days, he knows that the movies have enhanced Mickey’s popularity over the years. Some patrons even coming in just to check out the place featured in the movies.
The Mighty Ducks cast must have been well-fed, or, at the very least, made a few friends given how friendly the servers and regulars at Mickey’s were in my short visit.
Fast-forward a few minutes and my meal is ready. A plate full of deliciousness as far as my eyes can see and let me tell you, my eyes weren’t deceived. The pancakes had outstanding flavor, while the eggs, sausage and free side of hash browns were equally tasty. In my mind, The Mighty Ducks cast must have been well-fed, or, at the very least, made a few friends given how friendly the servers and regulars at Mickey’s were in my short visit.
Based on The Mighty Ducks trilogy, one may think that Mickey’s is a downer of a place. In fact, all three scenes inside the diner end with a somber tone. The first two result in Charlie storming out of the diner after arguments with Gordon and his mom, respectively. In the third, Charlie hears that Hans has died. Basically, good things don’t happen at Mickey’s in The Mighty Ducks.
Contrary to the movies, my Mickey’s experience left me with a smile on my face, as well as a full stomach. There were no arguments, no tears, no people storming out. Instead, there was an environment of great conversation and laughter over fantastic food. You could call it a family-like atmosphere.
To its employees, Mickey’s is even more.
“It’s home. I was brought up here,” server Stacy Livingston told WCCO earlier this year. “My mom was a waitress at Mickey’s for about 32 years. If she didn’t have a babysitter we were sitting in the back on egg crates.”
Fellow server Mary Kiritschenko seems to view Mickey’s the same way.
“I’ll tell you (how much longer I plan on working at Mickey’s),” Kiritschenko said to Eater Twin Cities. “Probably until I can’t walk anymore. This is where I’m going to stay, and this is where I’m going to die.”
And where memories, be they scripted or real, will long live.