The Last Supper Club

With the shuttering of the Riverview Supper Club, black Minneapolis loses its premier meeting place--and a foothold on the future of the Mississippi

"It would host a golf tournament every summer--that's pretty unusual for a club to do things like that," notes Pearson. "They were just a pillar of the community. Fraternities held meetings there. Wedding receptions, black fashion shows, black hairstyle competitions. If you talk to anyone in the African-American community, they will have some ties or some memory or some function that they attended at the Riverview besides just going there to dance." Friday nights between six and ten o'clock took on a special aura, as local soul and jazz bandleader Billy Holloman held down a standing gig for years.

It was the place where middle-class blacks could network. Lettie McCoy, a 49-year-old civil servant who frequented the club from its opening day until its last Friday remembers feeling like she actually owned a booth there.

"Me and my girlfriends would always be there because you were kind of up higher," she recalls. "I'm a people watcher, and you could see people coming in." The club's title was just as appropriate inside, where social ritual brought patrons from table to table to mingle and flirt. "This was where you could find a group of black people that felt like you did," she continues. "They worked all week; these were professionals. And they would be happy to see you."

Teddy Maki

 

Owned and run by three generations of Fullers, the Riverview had the kind of atmosphere where rival football coaches could bring their kids and boast of certain victory in Saturday's game. The milieu felt like family, especially during dinner hours. "Every time I went in, there was somebody I went to high school with, or my old schoolteacher was there, and we could just sit down and talk about what was going on in the community," remembers Charlie Adams, a leader of the Black Police Officers Association and chief of security for the mayor, who guarded at the View for years. "You'd go up there and listen to the nice musical group, and you didn't have to worry about anything. You ran into other professional people there. And sometimes you would run into some people that were on the other side of the law, who would probably tell you something that you needed to know."

Adams was as aware as anyone when the Riverview began to encounter problems with a rougher clientele in the Nineties. In 1994 a longtime friend of the club first addressed Jimmy Fuller Sr. about the problem squarely: There were a number of patrons on a particular night that had guns on them.

"I had told my dad about this before," says James Fuller Jr. "But he just didn't want to put metal detectors in because he was afraid it might hurt his regular customers. He said, 'There has never been anyone shot inside the Riverview, and I'm not about to put in metal detectors.'"

About a month later, a gunman opened fire in the crowded bar area after closing time, then used a barstool to smash one of the windows and make his escape. That was the beginning of the end, says Fuller Jr. now, sitting at the club's dimly lit bar on a sunny day before New Year's. The windows are boarded up, blocking a bright view of the snow bank outside and the river and skyline beyond. The bar is lined with glasses, which 30-year-old James Fuller III is counting for resale.

"It really ended with the metal detector," says the 62-year-old, a note of continuing disbelief mingling with resignation. "I mean, this was a supper club, and having to go through a metal detector, be patted down, go through the purses....It changed from a supper club to a bar."

When a 1998 Minneapolis police mandate forbade off-duty cops to work security jobs in the wake of a spate of excessive-force complaints, the club began to grow more dangerous. Without a police presence to hem in those people "prone to commit violence," as Fuller Jr. puts it, unruly guests simply moved to the parking lot. One night in 1998, a patron was shot in the lot. After staggering into the restaurant, he died on the floor--an incident that passed into community lore. At one point, when Fuller Jr. had taken over the business from his father, he sat outside the club with his pistol, waiting for a threatened drive-by that never came. Eventually the violence took its toll on his nerves.

This past November, three security guards were shot, allegedly in retribution for the ejection of a rowdy patron. Though all three survived, Fuller Jr. was amazed when the rest of the security team resumed their duties. They feared that without their presence, the place would shut down. But this time they were talking about wearing vests and carrying guns. Fuller Jr.'s daughter, Daphne Hill, then head of security, even asked if she could borrow her father's gun for target practice.

"That was it for me," he says. The business had been losing money for years. Offers for the six-acre property were on hand. It was time to close.

Many longtime Riverview patrons bitterly blamed the after-ten crowds of Fridays and Saturdays--the hip-hop audience--for the trouble. In part the split was generational. "I can honestly say that I've never been at the Riverview when something has happened," McCoy points out. "But you chose the time that you would be there."

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