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Better Know a Dead Venue: The Bomb Shelter

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Venue: The Bomb Shelter

Opened: 1995

Closed: 1997-ish

Location: 2951 Bloomington Ave. S., Minneapolis

Capacity: Illegal punk venues don't have capacities, but at a guess, 200-300 fit very, very uncomfortably.

Vibe: Cramped, hot, and crusty. Punk as fuck.

Brief History:

Before the windowless basement adjacent to a pawn/gun shop at the corner of Bloomington Avenue and Lake Street became the venue known as the Bomb Shelter, it was the home base of the band Density Bomb, and literally home to one of its members, Scott Brown.

In 1994, after bandmate Jesse Shadoan leased studio space upstairs, Brown turned what had previously housed some sort of large-scale pot growing operation (“there were still lots of light fixtures and other associated equipment and gear littered around, half wrecked, when I moved in," he tells City Pages) into a combination workshop/studio/living space, with a hot plate, microwave, and refrigerator in the utility room that doubled as a bathroom.

Density Bomb started hosting the occasional show/party there, featuring heavy '90s local acts like Hammerhead and Ouija Radio. After a few successful parties, local punks Felix Havoc and Kaos Jack, veterans of the recently shuttered West Bank warehouse venue Studio of the Stars, approached Scott about using the space for a punk show. Brown agreed: “[We] put all of our band gear and everything I owned into my bedroom, locked it up, and let them do whatever they wanted.”

The arrangement worked so well that they did it several more times. “Felix and Jack were great punk rock businessmen — prompt, up-front, honest, they cleaned up the place afterward, and ran a tight ship, kept everyone inside and didn't let people get out of line,” Brown says. 

Tired of living in a hole in the ground on what could charitably be called one of south Minneapolis's most dangerous corners, Brown got out in the winter of '95-96, shortly after Shadoan got rid of his studio upstairs. Havoc and Brown took the space over and turned it into a full-time venue. The Bomb Shelter (an apparent reference to Density Bomb's time there) was born.

“It was in foreclosure and I dealt with someone from the bank, not even a real landlord,” Havoc tells us. “At the time, Bloomington and Lake was a pretty marginal area — you could get away with a lot there you couldn't get away with Uptown.”

And this new epicenter of the Minneapolis underground got away with a lot. Volunteer-run shows started happening several nights a week, featuring local and national bands who either weren't interested in, or couldn't get, shows in venues like the Uptown Bar and First Avenue.

“We did mostly crust and punk shows, but also pop-punk, straight edge, doom, whatever people would hit me up with,” Havoc says. “Bands of the day like State of Fear, Civil Disobedience, Murderers, Code 13 and the like. We were also open to co operating with local hardcore bands like Disembodied and Harvest and the more pop punk scene like Dillinger Four, Salteens and the Strike, I let anyone from the scene use the space.”

National and international underground acts including Man Is The Bastard, His Hero Is Gone, Drop Dead, and the Pist played there as well. With show admission entirely in the $4-$5 range and almost the entire door take going directly to the bands, the one core mission was: Don't let someone else control your scene; do it yourself.

But running a venue has its downsides. You spend more time making sure the show's running smoothly than watching the bands, and you have to deal with a lot of bullshit. During his time, Havoc had to contend with his fair share, but one story sticks out.

“One morning I got a phone call at like 7 a.m. that the door was open. I raced over there and the door had been smashed in. I had installed a really heavy duty metal door and I was shocked anyone could have busted it down. I crept downstairs expecting all the gear to be gone, but instead there were just holes smashed in the wall. I asked around, and it turns out some dude left the show and came back hours later super fucked up on who knows what. He somehow thought the party was still going hard downstairs and used a dumpster as a battering ram to smash the door down. When he got downstairs and found it dark and deserted, he thought the party must be going, on the other side of the wall, so he smashed it again and again, only to reveal the concrete foundation behind. I am still amazed the place didn't get totally cleaned out that night.”

It was hot, it was smelly, and it was doing more shows a week than many legal venues in town. That's rough, even for the most DIY die-hards.

“I was getting burned out doing as many as five shows a week, [so I] scrubbed it down, fixed the drywall, painted it, and turned it back over to the bank,” Havoc remembers. A new group of people took over doing shows, but they weren't as skilled at maintaining the space and keeping it off the radar. “Within a few weeks, it was trashed again," Havoc says. "Most people never knew a different crowd was running it. It lasted another six months or so before the riot.”

A riot in July 1997 put the stridently independent, isolationist punk scene into the mainstream press. The Star Tribune reported "as many as 150 people threw rocks and bottles at dozens of officers responding to the scene," with police stating they “were literally fighting for their lives" only a few hundred feet from where a Minneapolis police officer had been killed a few years before.

However, Havoc and those in attendance at the time saw it differently. “The cops went nuts,” he says. “It was pandemonium.”

Shortly after the riot, witnesses told City Pages the incident started when police, after chasing a suspect into the unventilated venue through its only door, began macing the crowd. Suffocating, people rushed outside. A police officer suffered a broken arm, which drew reinforcements and retribution.

According to witnesses, people fleeing the show were beaten with clubs and flashlights. “There was a girl standing next to me, and she didn't say a thing, but a cop punched her in the face,” one attendee, who had his camera seized after taking photos of the chaos, reported. When the dust settled, 13 people were arrested, and the Bomb Shelter was, for all intents and purposes, no more.

Memorable shows and cameos:

Many local and national names, familiar to some, completely unknown to others. If you want to see what the Bomb Shelter was all about, you can watch a video of Felix's favorite show, Japanese hardcore legends Gauze, here:

Cause of death:

The riot and related police issues were what finally ended the Bomb Shelter's run. But, like many unlicensed DIY/anarchist venues hiding under your nose, the Bomb Shelter was living on borrowed time from the second it started.

Testimonial:

Scott Brown: “I feel sort of honored to have been a small part of it — the venue being named after my band and its brief but storied place in Minneapolis music at the time.”

Felix Havoc: “I still go to house shows and warehouse shows fairly regularly, its great to see people are still trying to create their own DIY scene outside the entertainment industry. No matter how hard the police and squares try to stamp it out the punks still find a way.”