By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
The e-mail announcing that the Foxfire Coffee Lounge would be closing was sent out by one of its employees, Steven Pedro, at approximately 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, September 7. By 7:30, there were at least a half-dozen messages on my City Pages voicemail, and at least as many at home, some with questions, some passing along the information, but all tinged with shock. The closing itself wasn't a surprise: "The only full time non-exclusive all-age venue in Minneapolis," as Pedro correctly referred to it, had been experiencing well-publicized financial difficulties since its opening two years ago (City Pages last described the situation in April of this year). But the date of this final performance--that same evening--startled even those closest to the club.
The reasons for the Foxfire's fiscal challenges are obvious: steep downtown rents, the club's commitment to provide an affordable cover charge (recently raised a half-dollar to a still-reasonable $5.50), and, perhaps most crippling, the lack of alcohol sales, the monetary lifeblood for all live-music clubs. That said, the exact reason for the Foxfire's immediate closing is known only to owner Elizabeth Larson and, maybe, her creditors. (Larson is said to be out of town and could not be reached for comment.)
According to Tom Rosenthal, who handled booking for the club, Larson announced the shuttering of the Foxfire at a Thursday-afternoon staff meeting. A final show was hastily called together and a somewhat somber crowd of 200 gathered, many of them regulars or occasional performers, to see bands such as the Plastic Constellations and the Hidden Chord, who had established their reputations at the Foxfire.
"[The Foxfire] was a place where some bands broke that really wouldn't have otherwise," Rosenthal notes. The young bands that developed their craft at the club would have an effect on the larger Twin Cities music community. In fact, the Foxfire was widely recognized as having revitalized the local rock scene: City Pages' 2000 new-band poll, for instance, was rife with "Foxfire bands."
The club also drew national touring acts, such as L7 and Magnetic Fields, that accepted a percentage of the door rather than their usual flat fee. "It was so important to them to play an all-ages show they were willing to cut their price in half," Rosenthal explains. "It was amazing to see such an incredible number of people regularly willing to meet one another halfway."
You could say that the fate of the Foxfire calls into question the viability of any downtown music venue that doesn't rely on liquor sales to stay solvent. (The neighboring electronic-music club Liquid, with a limited liquor license and predominantly young patrons, went out of business a few weeks ago.) The stream of pedestrians coursing sloppily along First Avenue on weekend nights, from crowded bar to crowded bar, suggests that downtown has settled on its preferred clientele: a drinking, party crowd.
What about the rest of Minneapolis? "Communities where you might be able to do this commercially wouldn't allow it," Rosenthal says, adding that when Larson initially went looking for a spot in Uptown and Northeast, public officials were cool to the idea. Their basic attitude, as paraphrased by Rosenthal: "We don't want someplace where kids are going to be hanging around." That attitude has been borne out previously in the Mall of America youth curfew, and the piped-in Puccini along Hennepin Avenue.
Rosenthal notes that another approach to underage clubs is being explored in Rhode Island. There, a commercially unstable all-ages venue was resurrected through public funding as a nonprofit organization. Public money subsidized the building of a downtown theater district, and soon will build a bar and restaurant complex on Block E. Another Foxfire could be opened for a fraction of that cost.