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

As Adams says, "We knew to get there for the happy hour at six, and we knew the school bus was coming at ten. [Then] it was time for us to go. I'm serious: That's the way all the older professional adults in this community would talk about the Riverview."

But the hip-hop crowd was huge--and necessary to keep the View financially afloat. It took only a relatively small percentage of "knuckleheads," as Adams calls them, to trash bathrooms, throw food on the floor, succumb to fisticuffs, and otherwise leave the impression of rampant disrespect. One fight even knocked down the 85-year-old Fuller Sr., an event as disturbing for the family as it was to the community that revered him.

 

There is a pervasive sense, among a certain class and age and color of Minneapolitans, of betrayal by the young, and also abandonment by the powers that they helped into office. Exclusion was nothing new to Jimmy Fuller Sr., who had to fight for his place in the Minneapolis establishment; some say he could have helped the club survive its bouts of violence. His son remembers the elder Fuller being turned down twice by the city council when first seeking approval to open the View, and later taking the case to court. "I said, 'Why don't you just quit, Big Jim? You know, take your money and enjoy your life.' He said, 'I'm not gonna let these people beat me.'"

Eventually the city council, and a succession of mayors, came to value the club, at least as a crucial campaign stop in the black community; In 1993 the business cosponsored a get-out-the-vote rally that helped elect Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton. Thus many patrons were shocked when, a few weeks after the November shootings, new street signs were erected along West River Road that banned parking from midnight to five o'clock in the morning. Tickets were duly distributed to cars lining the street.

"For 20 years, when we had an overflow of a nice crowd, we would have all our people park up and down the river," Fuller Jr. says. "There are about 300 parking spaces, but we could have up to 600 people in the club. When I finally got a hold of my alderman, he basically said the police told him to do it, and he apologized for not saying anything. The first weekend the police started handing out tickets...that's when I knew something was going on."

Fuller Jr. says police officers and the city council were verbally supportive after problems began. He adds that officers expressed an interest in driving by the club more often. "Then after the shooting, the police officer came in, and I'm thinking it's for support, just to show police presence. I offered him some drummies and stuff like that. He basically was looking for cups on the table after 1:15 [a.m.]. He gave me two citations for that. Then the third thing was, the fire department came in, and after 20 years told me that my janitor's closet was not in compliance with the rules and regulations of the fire department. And then we had a health inspector come in at midnight, the Friday before we closed.

"So it was a real indication, those four things, that they wanted me closed--and with all the violence, all the citations, the combination of all of it together was overwhelming. There's no way you could operate a business like that."

James III is more vehement on the point: "Instead of putting up those signs to make people upset, they could help us control the flow. I drive by a lot of these clubs downtown, and they've got police officers sitting outside in cars on the streets. And they won't even provide that service to us."

Inspector Tim Dolan of the Fourth Precinct confirmed that the police applied pressure to the club in comments to the St. Paul Pioneer Press on December 23. "We tried every little hammer we could use," Dolan said, citing the 34 police visits required at the club last year. When contacted by City Pages, he added: "They were going well over what they thought was a safe limit of people inside, so they brought it on themselves."

"Safety at the club was a major issue, which I have to believe was the influencing factor in [the city] discouraging people from patronizing the club," says council member Joe Biernat, whose third Ward includes the Riverview. "I wanted to work with the club to promote their business and help them," he adds, "but in exchange what we received were more police calls and more problems. Hawthorne is a neighborhood with many challenges, and I simply cannot afford or support a police officer helping close the establishment at closing time. How could I tell people in that neighborhood that a police officer's not available because he's sitting in a parking lot at a bar for 45 minutes." Biernat is quick to point out that he worked to include the club in an ordinance that allowed bars in the downtown business district to close at 3:00 a.m.

But Fuller Jr. suspects that the city's long-range designs on the upper Mississippi corridor may have diminished official support at a critical moment. "I think that whole Riverfront development project has a lot to do with it," says James Fuller III. "And I think that's why we haven't seen support from those people that campaigned here."

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