Closing time: Peter Duc on what makes Nye’s unique

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh
Peter Duc: "If you look around, most of the time everyone has a smile on their face. It’s not like any other place around."

For the past 20 years, Peter Duc has been overseeing the comings and goings of Nye’s Polonaise Room, which is set to close April 3 to make way for the wrecking ball and a proposed apartment complex. Last week, the 73-year-old Duc sat down with MinnPost in one of Nye’s legendary naugahyde booths to talk about the looming swan song for one of Minneapolis’ most beloved nightclubs.

MinnPost: You’ve been a fixture here for almost 20 years. Do you have a title? Bouncer? Security?

Peter Duc: No, no. Basically, I don’t even work for Nye’s. I work for somebody else. I have no title. I just watch people, and I watch the workers, and that’s all I do. I just kind of take care of things so it goes better. That’s all I do. I’m here three or four nights a week, four hours a night.

MP: What are your plan for when Nye’s finally shutters?

PD: I’m going to Texas, and then to Arizona, and I might not even be here when they close up. It’s been fun. I couldn’t find a nicer place to be for a long time. There’s people who come in here and they’ll introduce me to people from other bars and restaurants, ‘Here, I want you to meet Pete. Nobody knows what he does here, he doesn’t even know, so he can’t even tell you.’ I get that all the time.

People say, ‘Do you work here?’ I go, ‘No.’ Everybody thinks I own the place. I’ll never ever say I own the place. If people want to impress someone and introduce me as the owner, I’ll never say anything. But if they come out and ask me directly, I’ll say, ‘No.’

MP: You’ve seen a lot here. Are you sad to see it go?

PD: Yeah, I think everybody’s sad to see it go. I think the owners are sad to see it go. It’s progress, whatever progress means. But I’m not that sad, because I’m at the age where I’m not going to be doing much of anything anyway.

MP: For people who don’t know, what is it about Nye’s that makes it special?

PD: It’s not like any other bar. Most bars you go to, people are sitting at the bar slamming down drinks and talking either to the person they’re with or the person next to them. Here, people are 70, 80 years old talking to people who are 21, 25 years old, and singing and dancing. And if you look around, most of the time everyone has a smile on their face. It’s not like any other place around.

I’ve been all over the place. I grew up in St. Paul, and I’ve been in a lot of bars and restaurants in my life, and most places are really cliquey. This place has no boundaries. I think that’s the reason why they won in 2006, Best Bar in America, because of the fact they came in here and saw people having a really good time, and came back and saw it again.

MP: You’ve been a fly on the wall here for almost 20 years. What are your favorite memories, as an observer of what goes on in here every night?

PD: Some of the singers and piano players can’t sing real good over the years, in my opinion (chuckles). But they knew how to put on a show. I’ve met a lot of people here. A lot of movie stars, actors, actresses — and they’ve all been really good. Somebody who came in here who I never thought would come in here was Mikhail Baryshnikov a few years ago. He was here, and he had a red baseball hat on, and he was very pleasant. Woody Harrelson, really nice; Josh Hartnett, really nice guy; George Wendt, ‘Norm’ from ‘Cheers’; super person, loves it here.

MP: Do you know the Replacements song “Here Comes a Regular”? It’s about a bar, and George Wendt has said how much he loves that song, like it was written about him.

PD: That’s the truth. Super person. Down to earth, just like if he lived across the street and was walking in here and having a beer. Very nice. He said he was born near I think Wrigley Field in Chicago and this place reminded him of that neighborhood.

Who else? Charlize Theron … Bridget Fonda … Jonny Lang, Kid Rock, Chris Robinson from the [Black] Crowes. Then one year we had a private party for all the past and present NCAA basketball coaches, where we shut it down to the public, and we had everybody from [UNLV’s Jerry] Tarkanian to all these guys, and they were all great people. Nice as can be.

MP: Has it been a wild bar in terms of needing to bounce people?

PD: Oh, no. No different than any other place that serves alcohol. I’ve been around bars all my life, and there’s always going to be some kind of trouble, or whatever. But for the amount of people that we’ve had over the years, it’s really not that bad.

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