First Avenue's Black Tuesday

In the 24 hours before First Avenue declared bankruptcy, employees were told to cash their checks, gather their things, and wait.

"I'm taking it," Dunlap said.

The issue of whether First Avenue's new landlords turn it into a parking lot is a personal one for Dunlap. "I spent almost every day of my life down here since I was three, four years old," he said. "What the hell am I supposed to do?"

Dunlap witnessed the club's storied '80s up close. "I remember meeting Prince right there when I was 10, and being taller than him," he said. "I remember seeing Prince wipe out on his motorcycle when they were filming Purple Rain right there. I played pinball here most of my childhood, and watched my dad buff this floor here."

First Avenue on October 31, 2004
Lisa Venticinque
First Avenue on October 31, 2004

Within minutes, Olson announced that everyone had to get out. We all walked out into the sunlight, where several of those present had started getting teary. Olson, the last one out, locked the door behind him. Employee Carolyn Hansen said, "I think a round of applause is, uh..." And at that, there was some clapping. But mostly it was a quiet end.

"Hey, let's everybody back up," said Ian Rans. "Once more with more feeling."

Hansen and Olson hugged, their eyes filled with tears. Others shouted goodbyes to friends in passing cars. "Let's all go to the Quest and have a beer," said Kranz, to a round of laughter. The Quest, booked frequently by concert behemoth Clear Channel Entertainment, provided First Avenue its fiercest competition.

By the time the group had gone to Eli's for a round, and later the Triple Rock, I was on the phone with Allan Fingerhut, who sounded despairing and defensive. Fingerhut said he was forced out: It was his landlords, he said, not the city or the county, that were pushing for his eviction for failure to pay property taxes. F-Troop, he said, proposed raising his rent to $20,000 a month, up from about $7,200 a month. Meanwhile, Frank, McClellan, and Meyers had filed several lawsuits against him, which he couldn't afford to fight.

"They will drop these lawsuits if I just turn over First Avenue, its name, its liquor license, to them," said Fingerhut. "Then they won't have to evict me. So you connect the dots." (To read a complete interview with Fingerhut, visit my blog, Complicatedfun.com.)

None of the plaintiffs would comment about their lawsuits on the record, and F-Troop spokesperson LeeAnn Weimar, another former First Avenue employee, said she could not address Fingerhut's specific claims. "I know that the parties on this side of the fence have offered him many options legally that I felt were good, secure, reasonable options," she said, "and he didn't choose any of them."

At press time, it was not certain whether First Avenue would reopen next week or next year, or what the club would be named in either case. ("I can tell you this," said Weimar. "It won't be called The Club Formerly Known as First Avenue.")

The known facts are these: As of Tuesday, November 2, Fingerhut and Frank had not spoken to each other directly since 2003. At 1:30 p.m., control of the club was handed over to a bankruptcy trustee, John R. Stoebner. Stoebner met with representatives of McClellan and Meyers on Friday, November 5, at which time the parties reached an agreement that Weimar says might get the venue up and running again as early as November 13. A bankruptcy court judge is scheduled to hear the case on November 12.

Meanwhile, First Avenue bartender Tracy Lindgren has e-mailed the mayor and other city politicians asking them to speed up the approval process for a new liquor license.

"Hello, they've only been serving liquor for over 34 years," she says. "I think they have enough practice."

 

For more First Avenue photos, interviews, and links, visit Complicatedfun.com.

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