“One last call for alcohol, so finish your whiskey or beer….. Closing time, you don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.”— Semisonic, “Closing Time”
The kitchen closed for good last night– for me it was always the “Tex Mex” breakfast with a Bloody Mary to wash it down. Maybe two Bloodys– it kinda depended on what I had lined up for the rest of the day. Music and booze will be served tonight and then after the lights come up, they’ll go out for good at the Uptown Bar and Cafe.
This sort of out-of-left-field news that broke in August has stunned and angered the denizens of the Rock ‘n Roll landmark that took the name of the area when it opened in the 1930’s. Real briefly: the owner of the building and bar is in his 80’s and was looking to sell to leave the windfall behind for his family. The manager of the bar is working hard to re-open in another spot in Uptown, but faces the daunting task of transferring the liquor license over to the new spot. (New bar/restaurants in the area must sell 60 percent food to 40 percent alcohol to satisfy the liquor license– The Uptown Bar has never come close to that and simply can’t, their old liquor license didn’t have those number requirements.)
It’s not that the bar was failing, it wasn’t– it’s simply that the owner wants to sell and the price tag in the area has risen too high for anyone but the corporate/chain-store world to buy into. The closing of the bar could be the last gasp of “Uptown” as those of us born before 1990 knew it. Chain stores have swallowed up the mom and pop stores of my youth in the area at an alarming rate– and the chain stores have come and gone at an equally alarming rate– the area has become schizophrenic over the last decade.
“Getting on the bus now, throw away your change. Don’t forget your transfer… driver’s acting strange. Bus is really crowded, can’t find a seat, going real fast, gonna crash in the street.”— Husker Du, “MTC”
I was around 10 years old when my friend from down the street and I, along with his older sister would hop on the MTC and take it to 31st and Hennepin Avenue to go bowling at the Uptown Bowling Alley. Only about a mile and a half around Lake Calhoun from where I grew up, but to the 10-year old me, I might as well have been stepping off the bus into the middle of Times Square (the 70’s Times Square, with murderers, robbers, bums and lots and lots of prostitutes). I think it was late spring the first time we made this trek and I didn’t like it. First of all, I sucked at bowling (show me a 10-year old who’s a good bowler and I’ll show you a kid with some problems) and secondly, it just felt too out of context to my life at the time. I can remember walking out of the dingy, cigarette smelling bowling alley into a bright sunshine and thinking, “What the hell was that? It’s a beautiful, sunshiny day and I’m coming out of a bowling alley???” I wanted to be back home playing whiffle ball or swimming. It wouldn’t be the last time I’d walk out of a dingy, Uptown establishment and be shamed by a late-morning sun.
“Take me to the place where you go….. where nobody knows if it’s night or day. Please don’t put your life in the hands…. of a rock ‘n roll band– who’ll throw it all away.”— Oasis, “Don’t Look Back In Anger”
I’m not going to claim to be an Uptown Bar regular, I wasn’t at all. I saw between 10-15 rock shows there in the mid to late 80’s. Calhoun Square, like it or loathe it, opened in 1983 and certainly changed the look of the neighborhood. The Calhoun Square that opened in 1983 was a far different place than it is now– back then it was bustling with independent stores and bookended with places to eat and drink. Now it’s a skeleton of failed retail chain stores, it almost looks like something you’d see along an interstate somewhere in Nebraska. My high-school buddies and I would frequent Esteban’s on the South end (free chips and salsa when you’re 19 is HUGE) and The Ediner on the North end, one of us worked there, so cheap malts didn’t hurt. We didn’t go to the Uptown Bar much, but I liked that it was there. I liked walking out into the late night and hearing and feeling the rumble from across the street. I liked watching the rock ‘n rollers and punkers and new wavers wander in and out.
I started college at St. Thomas and I remember bringing some out-state football buddies to see The Replacements. Packed and loud is what I remember. I’d love to put a shine on it, like it was the night my life changed forever, but it wasn’t. I loved the ‘Mats, but what I remember of the Uptown Bar was just packed and loud. Really packed, Really loud. I think my 30-year old self would have absolutely reveled in it. The Replacements! At the Uptown Bar! The truth is my 20-year old self wanted free chips and salsa.
“Woke up this morning hung over again…. And I looked at the cuts on my hands and I wondered where I’d been. Who all did I offend last night?…. I tell myself for the thousandth time, today I start to live right.”– Gear Daddies, “Strength”
It’s now 1994 and I live in Uptown, I have for a couple of years. My trips to The Uptown Bar are now for breakfast after nights spent doing what people do in their late 20’s. This is my favorite version of the place. By far.
“Hey barroom, hey tavern…. I find hope in all the souls you gather.”— The Hold Steady, “Citrus”
Well isn’t that what it’s all about? Again, I was in no way a regular to the Saturday and Sunday breakfast crowd at The Uptown… We’d go out downtown regularly on weekend nights, but most Saturday and Sunday mornings were spent playing hockey or hoops or running off the previous night around the the lakes… but every once in awhile…
“Achy breaky….. feeling rather shaky, think I’ll stay in bed.”— Likehell, “Doom”
Every once in awhile one of those nights would happen where there would NOT be any early morning hockey being played. And every once in awhile somebody would get on the phone (and it would only take one guy to get the idea going and everybody else would fall in)– “let’s head up to The Uptown for bloodys.” Um…. okay.
If you’re a good Catholic boy, there are times when you ask Mother Mary to watch over you, you ask her to put in a good word to her son, our Savior. If you’re a bad Catholic boy, there are times when you reach out to Bloody Mary and beg her to Save you herself from a previous night of poor decision making. “It’s just so good when it hits your lips.”
You walk in and almost get knocked over by the smell of grease (fantastic) and/or the smell of people being hung-over (not so fantastic). Sheepish grins all around the place. It’s always nice to know you weren’t the only idiot who tried to drink the City the night before. Half of your first bloody is down when you’re brought to your booth that’s held together with duct tape and bar rags. A gulp of coffee followed by two gulps of bloody. Eggs, sausage and hash browns all smothered in Tobasco and last night’s sins are forgiven– thank you, it’s been 24 hours since my last confession.
“Come as you are…. as you were, as I want you to be. As a friend… as an old enemy.”— Nirvana, “Come As You Are”
Late 90’s, it’s winter. I have Fridays off and I’m a regular at the 3pm game at Lake of the Isles. I usually play for 2-3 hours. It might be 5 degrees out, but I’m sweating my ass off. I’m pulling off my skates just past 6pm and one of the fellas says, “Hubbs, stop in at the Uptown for a bump.” Well, why the hell not? I walk in on a cold Friday night at 6:15 wearing sweats, choppers and a winter hat. I belly up to the bar with some of the Isles regulars and am handed a shot of Jag and a beer chaser. I throw it down and it warms the cockles. The bar is sprinkled with those just off of the work-week and those just off the hockey rink. Some of both are drinking, and I don’t mean recreationally. I join in the post-skate banter, but I hit the brakes at one beer….
“I don’t want to be there when you’re coming down…. I don’t want to be there when you hit the ground.”— Oasis, “Don’t Go Away”
I’m back out in the cold winter-night air by 7pm and home for a quick nap before whatever shenanigans that Friday night might have in store. No, I won’t deny that I might have ordered an appetizer of tator tots with my beer on occasion– c’mon, 3 hours of hockey, I think I earned it.
“The hour glass is draining fast, it knows no future, holds no past… And all this too shall come to pass– never, forever, whenever….”— Soul Asylum, “Sometime To Return”
Sunday, October 4, 2009– I walk into The Uptown Bar for the last time at 11:30am. I’m with my girlfriend and we’re meeting a married couple (who’s got a sitter for the two kids) and another friend of ours. It’s packed and nostalgia is in the air as the end is near. We sign the petition hoping to get the liquor license to transfer to a new site. Why the heck not, whoever is in charge of such things? We order bloodys and breakfast. It’s been almost a decade since I’ve been inside, but nothing has changed. As if a tip-of-the-cap to the old days, a beer is spilled all over our table– but as I look around at those I’m with, we’re undeniably different. We held it off as long as we could, but we’re…. gulp… grown-ups. The Twins are winning to tie for the division on the last day of the season and people are cheering… and to me it feels like, at least for a moment, some of the cheers are for the old place itself.
“First the lights, then the collar goes up, and the wind begins to blow
Turn your back on a pay-you-back, last call
First the glass, then the leaves that pass, then comes the snow…”— The Replacements, “Here Comes A Regular”
To all those who played at , worked at, ate and drank at, laughed and told stories at The Uptown Bar and Cafe, thank you, it was fun– I’ve got the beer glasses to prove it.