By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
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The Rally Room is owned by the Minnesota Vikings. During Twins games, it is open to anyone with a ticket to a game. In the fall, though, on Saturday afternoons, it becomes the Maroon Saloon, playing host to Gopher football fans. On autumn Sundays, it's the Vikings Lounge, and entrance is guaranteed to only 120 fans willing to plunk down $2,000 a season for a full buffet, an end-zone seat, and a chance to hobnob each pre-game with aging Purple People Eaters like Bill Brown or Jim Marshall.
When the Dome opened in 1982, former Vikings general manager Mike Lynn used the space to host parties for the media, coaches, players, and corporate sponsors. Vikings Lounge packages were not made available to the general public until Red McCombs bought the team in 1998.
In 1988, when Twins mania seized the Cities following the team's 1987 World Series win, the Rally Room was opened up to the roughly 10,000 Twins season-ticket holders. It was closed for the 1991 Twins season, another World Series year, because the Twins and Vikings couldn't agree on some general operations. But shortly after it reopened, in 1992, the Twins' season-ticket base declined sharply. As a result, in 1993 the Rally Room was opened to any fan with a ticket.
In the old Met Stadium, it was the Twins who made money on all the concessions sold--even those sold during football games. Naturally, as details were being hammered out for the two teams to play in the Metrodome more than 20 years ago, Mike Lynn battled Twins owner Calvin Griffith over the rights to concession revenues in the new facility. And by the time the Dome was built, the Vikings were the more successful franchise. The wealthier team put up the money to build the suites in the stadium, and so the organization gains revenue from the food and liquor sold in them. Additionally, Vikings Food Services, Inc., holds the license to sell liquor and provide the catered food in the suites, the Rally Room, and other parts of the stadium. (Another company operates the concession stands; each team gets a chunk of revenue from those sales.) So the Rally Room--or the Vikings Lounge, or Maroon Saloon, or whatever you want to call it--is a year-round revenue source for the team.
Todd Montgomery, the Vikings' director of food services, won't say how much money the room generates each year, or how much the Vikings take home. But as a source of profits, it is certainly laughable in comparison to the flashy restaurants and bars in other, newer stadiums around the country. During Twins games, 70 percent of the revenue generated in the Rally Room goes to the Vikings, 22 percent goes to the Twins, and the rest goes to the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, the public agency that owns and runs the Metrodome.
"Last year was the first time we made money," says Matt Hoy, the Twins' vice president of operations. The take? Less than $10,000.
The final out of the April day game has been made, and Eddie Guardado and the Twins have sealed up a victory over the Royals. Back in the Rally Room, bartender Freddy Latenville pours another round of rum and Cokes for a couple of fortyish women and bids adieu to a regular: "All right, Stan, see ya in a few games." Everybody who comes in greets Latenville simply as Freddy.
Latenville, a wiry, well-dressed man of 68, has slung drinks in the room during every event--public or private--since 1982. To the regulars, he's part of the allure of the hideout. Latenville says the spread on Viking days is "like what you get on a cruise ship--that's how great the food is." In contrast, "Twins games are fun, fun, fun because it's open to the public."
Latenville has been bartending in Minneapolis for 45 years and has seen his share of joints--and old baseball players--come and go. His fondest memories are reserved for the Blue Ox, a high-class watering hole that was near the vaunted Leamington Hotel, where out-of-town ballplayers often stayed when playing the Twins.
"It was 1963 when I started there," Latenville recalls with a chuckle, "and suddenly I'm serving all the greats like Al Kaline, Reggie Jackson, Billy Martin, and Brooks Robinson over the years. They all became good friends of mine."
Talking about the Blue Ox gets Latenville revved up, and pretty soon he's spinning a yarn about former Yankees relief pitcher Sparky Lyle dropping off a bag of autographed baseballs at the bar before a game one day in the early 1970s: "It was a Sunday-afternoon game, and the Yanks were leaving town right after," Latenville recalls, explaining that the night before Lyle had promised the balls to Latenville, who wanted to give them to his family. "The Blue Ox didn't open until noon, so he decided to take a cab to the game instead of the team bus. He waited until we opened, and left the balls behind the bar for me."
Billy Martin, Latenville continues, "was a real class guy, very misunderstood." "In those days, all the managers drank, and Billy was one of the good drinkers," he explains. "But he was always real good to me and remembered me. He never caused any problems."