One (last) night at the Uptown

Every night in October, the Uptown Bar is doing its best impression of the Titanic, as patrons bid farewell to the soon-to-be-demolished local legend: At one point or another, the room tilts and all the tables, glasses, silverware and pub-goers careen down the plank and into the icy waters of the past, as the bands play on.

OK, that only happens in the mind’s eye after a couple of the Uptown’s famous Bloody Marys. But come Nov. 2, the lone noise from the Uptown will be that of the wrecking ball (relocation rumors continue to swirl), but for one night anyway — Friday, Oct. 10, 2009 — this is the way it was:

10:00 p.m. Asked what they make of the Uptown closing, the six-person crew at Jimmy John’s in Calhoun Square offers a collective shrug.

10:05 With the exception of the Uptown Theater’s late show of “A Serious Man,” The Uptown is the lone Uptown business hopping tonight. Victoria’s Secret is closed. The North Face is closed. Urban Outfitters is closed. Chino Latino’s shimmering storefront sums it up nicely: All that glitters isn’t soul.

10:10 The Kitchen Window’s vast bookshelves reflect in the Uptown’s picture window across the street, making the red-spotlighted Mammy Nuns look as if they’re playing in a cozy rock ‘n’ roll library, or wing of the Minnesota Historical Society.

10:15 One of the back booths in the front room is commandeered by sisters Samantha Loesch and Molly Barnes, co-owners of Kings, the new wine and beer bar/restaurant that opened two months ago to much acclaim and good tidings in South Minneapolis (and, full disclosure, where I do some work). The irony of the new kids on the block bidding adieu to the old Hennepin haunt isn’t lost on many.

10:17 The Mammy Nuns roar on about the medicinal qualities of guitar chords and cords, as local musicians Gini Dodds, Tony Zaccardi, Terry Walsh, Larry Sahagian, Chris Pericelli, and local music fans Tom Hallett, Tom and Fran Willford, Lizzy Leff, Debbie Donovan, Jay McHale, Andy Everett and dozens more nod and bop along.

10:18 Zaccardi: “I spent my 21st birthday here. June 13, 1998. Ian Rans (of “Drinking With Ian” infame) brought me here for a beer. I was sitting here, having my birthday breakfast beer, and 10 feet away Robert Plant from Led Zeppelin stands up and asks the server if there’s a record store nearby. Page and Plant played the Target Center the night before; he was wearing electric blue clothing. She pointed him up the street, he walked out, and no one said a thing. That was my introduction to the Uptown Bar.”

In a booth near the stage, one guy reports to another that, after a couple decades of no communication, an old flame has found him on Facebook. Heavy sighs all around.

10:22 Flat-screen TVs on both ends of the bar broadcast endless replays of Alex Rodriguez’s game-tying home run off Joe Nathan earlier in the night. Picked scabs all around.

Flamin' Oh's Robert Wilkinson and Jim Riley send off the Uptown Bar Friday night-Saturday morning.
Photo by Steve Cohen
Flamin’ Oh’s’ Jim Riley, left, and Robert Wilkinson send off the Uptown Bar Friday night-Saturday morning.

10:23 The single-strip tickertape neon sign above the soundboard scrolls along: Welcome to the Uptown Bar and Café … Check out our website … Monday October 5 Western Fifth … Tuesday Oct. 6 D-Mine and Lothario and Wise Guyz … Wednesday Oct. 7 Grant Hart … Thursday Oct. 8 The Idle Hands with The Melismatics and 500 Miles To Memphis and Blue Sky Blackout … Welcome to the Uptown Bar …

Singer Ashleigh Still and a girlfriend walk in but turn on their heels immediately to catch Hookers & Blow at another bar, because the Uptown doorman “was mean to us.”

10:25 Joe Henry, from California, via Facebook: “My best night in collaboration with the Jayhawks was a night at The Uptown … freezing cold out, fur hats on stage … pulled a drunken Dan Murphy on stage to sing happy birthday to him, but we launched into [Soul Asylum’s] ‘Cartoon’ instead.”

10:30 Chatter in the back booth turns to bulldozed-but-not-forgotten Twin Cities music landmarks Jay’s Longhorn, The Prom Ballroom, Goofy’s Upper Deck, Duffy’s, etc.

10:31 The Tisdales kick off their set with a blistering kick drum-guitar combo as Hallett tells a friend, “The thing I’ll miss most about this place is seeing Tommy Stinson play here every New Year’s Eve.”

10:32 “When I moved here in 1989, this was the place in town,” says a sweaty Rob Rule, still amped from his set with the Mammy Nuns. “You could see the Cows and Freedy Johnston and the Gear Daddies and Babes In Toyland. No cover, great food, shitty sound. It was awesome.”

10:33 Woman to man in booth: “You like a contrary woman, don’t you?”

10:34 “We came here looking for guys with feathers in their caps,” says Uptown newbie Margaret Campbell. “We’re a little disappointed. There’s a distinct lack of hipsters here.”

10:35 Mike Wolf, from New York, via Facebook: “I will equally remember: Brick Layer Cake and Today Is the Day in opening slots, each torturing sellout crowds; almost every AmRep band, several times; Scrabble with Franklin Bruno; Mark Eitzel bleeding and in tears; Sun City Girls speaking in tongues; Thinking Fellers wearing suitcases on their heads; the 12:45 a.m. call to “HIT THE BRICKS!” and the hash browns with melted hell-I-guess-it-COULD-be-real-cheese-on-top.”

10:40 “It sucks that this will be replaced by another Victoria’s Secret or something,” deadpans Campbell. “I don’t think Victoria’s got as many good secrets as the people in this room.”

10:45 The server’s POS screen flashes the Uptown Bar logo, which reminds a fellow of a time when the Uptown sponsored softball teams — not to mention the sight of Dave Pirner, a ringer for the Twin/Tone-Uptown team, who befuddled a squad of dentists and doctors with his unruly dreadlocks and his unrulier hitting stance.

11:00 Sahagian: “I played on this stage more times than any other band in Minneapolis (with the Urban Guerillas). We were the first band, along with the Wallets, to be booked here as an alternative rock band.”

11:30 On stage, Kruddler singer Shane Gallivan riffs about Molly Ringwald and Robert Plant, and concludes with a cry of “F— the Yankees!” to a smattering of cheers.

Midnight Good clothes: Bartender in the bright green T-shirt emblazoned with the Clash’s first album cover; guy with the Big Money, Inc. jacket; a few straight-outta-Vargas vintage fall female fashions.

12:15 In the back booth, news about local wiz kids All Mod Cons and their fedoras, parkas, and Felix Unger-like fussiness, inspires in at least one bar-goer a bucket-list desire to see “Quadrophenia” on the big screen this fall.

12:30 Paralegal Tammy Belka leans her head through the doorway of the music room and listens to the band. Color her unimpressed: “[The Uptown being demolished] doesn’t matter to me at all. I don’t have any emotional attachment to this place. I’m just here to see my friend’s band. But they serve Wild Turkey, which is nice. There’s not a lot of bars that serve Wild Turkey: The Uptown, the Nomad, Stasiu’s, the Turf Club, that’s it.”

1:00 a.m. From the suddenly dimly lit stage, Flamin’ Oh’s singer/guitarist Robert Wilkinson tells the crowd that, “This is the only bar I’ve ever been 86-ed from.” Then, with a laugh, “You’ve gotta be pretty f—ed up to get 86-ed from the Uptown.” Then, with reverence, “We’re very happy to be here, and honored and proud to be invited to send this great bar off in magnificent decadent style.”

1:10 Sahagian: “… Let it die and move on. I’m a dinosaur. I have enough petrol in my body to support a small country. But Angie Dickinson did sit in that booth where your ass is right now. My mom was Angie Dickinson’s daughter’s psychotherapist, and I showed her around town a bit back then.”

1:15 Stickers on the soundboard case: God’s Favorite Band, Eclectone Records, Birds of Avalon, Accident Clearinghouse, “Drum Machines Have No Soul.”

1:30 The Tisdales’ Rich Mattson joins the Flamin’ Oh’s on stage and instantly ratchets up the ruckus. Wilkinson, wielding the white Gibson he’s been playing for almost as many years as the Uptown has been in business, lurches into the Clash’s “Brand New Cadillac,” pointedly spitting out the lyric, “Balls to you daddy, I ain’t never comin’ back.”

1:45 As her husband Bob plays keyboards on stage, Beth Burns opines that, “Once this goes away, Hennepin and Lake is gonna look like the strip in St. Cloud, which has been the biggest hole in the world forever.”

1:55 Mattson: “My first Uptown experience? We left the Alice Cooper concert on Halloween, 1987. Said, ‘Let’s go check out this Uptown thing.’ Run Westy Run was playing. Kirk Johnson was swinging his mic around, and I got smashed in the face by it. I got a black eye from it, but at the end of the song he came over and said, ‘You OK, dude?’ It was the greatest thing ever. It was heaven.”

2:10 Jimmy Johns is closed. Sign on the door reads, “Rock Stars Wanted.”

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Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by Dan Emerson on 10/12/2009 - 10:05 am.

    hey, don’t think of it as losing a bar, think of it as a chance to give your employers (Kings) a free plug

  2. Submitted by Paul Sand on 10/12/2009 - 10:59 am.

    Great piece, Jim.

    To Dan Emerson: if you think the point was to plug Kings, you’re not paying attention. One time-stamped entry out of 31 and you’re up in arms. Geez.

  3. Submitted by John N. Finn on 10/12/2009 - 11:12 am.

    Closing, eh? I moved from Mpls almost fifteen years ago after having lived just down the alley from the Uptown. Lots of memories. A while back I put some old sketches from time spent there on Photobucket.

  4. Submitted by John N. Finn on 10/12/2009 - 11:19 am.

    I guess you have to click on my name to see the Photobucket link.

  5. Submitted by Matthew Hegge on 10/12/2009 - 12:04 pm.

    The Uptown area is rapidly loosing it’s appeal and swagger. Nothing of any substance is left. I was able to take my 14-year-old daughter there for dinner recently so she could see what real culture is.

  6. Submitted by Dan Emerson on 10/12/2009 - 12:31 pm.

    Pls. forgive me for being so insensitive and clueless

  7. Submitted by Chuck Olsen on 10/12/2009 - 03:17 pm.

    Thanks for this. I went to the Uptown on my 21st bday too, to see My Dad is Dead. Which was confusing, because he was (and is). More fond memories: Various Ed Ackerson bands, Jim Ruiz, Pavement, Built to Spill, Papas Fritas, Dandy Warhols, Vinnie & the Stardusters, too many more half-remembered good times.

  8. Submitted by antony cliffton on 10/12/2009 - 04:08 pm.

    Sad no one near the Uptown Saturday seemed to care. The Flamin’ Oh’s have closed up one old bar after another over the years. The Union, O’Gara’s Garage, Moby’s, Duffy’s, and many more I’ve long since forgotten.
    They’ve outlasted them all and need to play in town more. The yearly Famous Daves, or Fine Line show if we’re lucky, are not enough.
    Oh, and when they do get a gig, they need to play more….. (…ahem, more time on stage playing)

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