Broken wrists, surly bike cops, and a hard plastic penguin: Memories from Triple Rock staff and regulars

The Triple Rock Social Club

The Triple Rock Social Club Star Tribune

The Triple Rock’s 19-year run doesn’t come close to the longevity of local rock venues and haunts like First Ave, the Turf Club, or St. Paul’s heralded Spot Bar, which has existed since the late 1800s.

But for anyone who spent any amount of time there, the accumulated stories feel more like the tales of a lost civilization. It’s shocking, for example, how many people have a story involving poop at the Rock Rock Rock, given that no one actually wanted to use the bathroom.

I skipped the fecal anecdotes, but here’s a story of my own: In the Triple Rock’s first few weeks, it was not uncommon to show up in the early afternoon and stay there until close. I had already eaten two meals on one particular day and was about to order a third when owner Gretchen Funk charged out of the kitchen, all stained apron and doo rag, and shouted, “NO MORE FOOD! I WILL NOT BE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR HEART ATTACK!”

And thus, I became the first, and only, person to ever be cut off from food.

It was that sort of place. A place where you were free to make mistakes and know that people would call you on your shit, whether it was in the old bar or in the venue. I’m not sure if the Funks intended it when they decided to call it a “Social Club,” but for everyone who invested in the place, bands, staff, and customers, it was always more than a bar.

Here are some stories from those folks.

Local musician/doggo photographer Martha Weir: Back in 2004, I was in the first year of an MFA program in Milwaukee. I woke up one Tuesday morning and was supposed to TA for an Intro to Film course, plus go to this hoity-toity theory class I despised. Instead, I found myself loading my tiny Civic up with all my belongings and, in an almost out-of-body way, driving the five hours back to Minneapolis and straight to Triple Rock 241s. I never went back to that school. It’s one of the few things I’ve outright quit in my life and I don’t have an ounce of regret about it.

Local musician Jennifer Castro: As a person who has trouble seeing the band unless I'm up front, I will miss the sightlines at the Triple Rock. The way the stage is set up, there are plenty of positions that are right up front, plus the sides, plus the drink rail, plus the rail by the bathrooms -- there was hardly a show where it was impossible for me to position myself in a spot where I could see. I will miss stopping at the old bar for a drink on a Saturday afternoon during the lull between the brunch crowd and the show crowd. I will miss the graffiti-covered bathrooms with the flattering light, perfect for bathroom selfies. I will miss that amazingly quiet and empty time between load-in and when doors open, when the stage is all set up and lit and looks like a stock photo for ‘going live.’ There's not a lot I won't miss about the Triple Rock.

Local musician Manny Castro: When the Foxfire closed, the Triple Rock Social Club continued the long standing welcome mat MPLS offers to live acts of all genres, but especially punk and independent bands from literally all over the world. It will be sorely missed for all these reasons, but mostly because it has been our home away from home. Any night of the week or any weekend morning, it’s a place to sit down with other like-minded folks and have a drink and talk about the music. Best jukebox ever.

Local musician Ted Howard: The Triple Rock was more than a venue and more than a bar. It was a meeting place. It was where we all played our best and worst shows. It was where you got to share a stage and a beer with your idols. The Triple Rock was greater than the sum of its parts and music here will probably never be the same.

Seth Gile, Arms Aloft: We’ll find other places to do gigs, but as any band who’s done a little touring and has also played the Triple Rock will tell you, it won’t be the same. There just aren’t venues like the Triple Rock, anywhere. It’s a Mecca to bands and rappers and just kids who go to shows, around the world. It’s a highlight on every band’s schedule. Bands that get "too big" to play the Triple Rock just start doing two nights, you know? It was a special place where we all did a lot of shit we can be proud of and a lot of shit we should probably be ashamed of. RIP.

Adam Mehl, former Radio K DJ: I have a titanium wrist because of the Triple Rock. At a D4th of July, I was doing a dual stage dive with Phil Schwarz during an Off With Their Heads set. We both ran up and he was just a few feet ahead of jumping off the stage. The crowd apparently focused on him and all went to grab him. The crowd parted like the Red Sea for me and I came down arms first on the concrete.

Andy Gustaveson, sound engineer: Erik and Gretchen cornered me at First Ave one night. I think it was in 2000. They said they were going to build a live room. A brand new room attached to the Triple Rock to do shows in. I said something like “That’s awesome! Can’t wait to see shows there!” or something to that effect.

Then I remember exactly what Gretchen said: "We want to steal you from First Ave. We want you to come be our sound guy. Will you?"

I waited for three fucking years for that room to get finished.

When it finally got down to the last month of construction, that’s when G and Erik gave Dave Gardner and I the go ahead to start putting the audio system together. Dave had already at this point sourced a lot of the gear necessary to open a venue. He deserves a lot of props for designing that room, the stage, and even finding the crazy rubber mats that coated the stage. He put a lot of thought into the design of that room, and he nailed it. When Craig [Finn], Steve [Barone], Tad [Kubler], and Dan [Monick] showed up for soundcheck that first day, neither Dave nor myself had heard anything through that PA but CDs. So when Lifter Puller started playing, our jaws just hit the floor. All the work Dave had done had paid off. The room sounded amazing. I mean, I barely made any cuts to the EQ on the mains. We couldn’t believe it. It was heaven for live music.

Annie Sparrows, the Soviettes: I turned 21 a month after Triple Rock opened. And even though I already knew a lot of people from working at First Avenue, I met EEEEEEVERYone after that. All the punks and weirdos went there. All of ‘em. That patio was killer. Things changed a bit after they built the venue side, but they still supported all of our shitty bands. Ha, I'm totally that ‘back in the day’ butthole here, but if you wanted to have a good time, or something bad happened and you needed to find your friends, that was the spot. I feel like it's one of the last independent venues too... and it sucks to have fewer and fewer organizations holding the cards for who gets shows in our town.

Stef Alexander aka P.O.S, Doomtree: Triple Rock is a marker of a really great time for my life, my career, and this town. They treated touring bands really well and that’s something people talked about everywhere. I don’t personally believe a success has to last forever. Now it’s going to be on some new kids to do a new thing and force their memories on it.

Karl Hensel, drummer, Holding On Easily the best memory I have of the Triple Rock is the first (and possibly only) sold out headline show our little hardcore band, Holding On, played in 2003. Being able to say that we played a show that sold out at the Triple Rock was a huge mark of pride for all of us as we were never really the band that could headline shows in "real venues." The night had so many crazy and memorable moments, and while it was 14 years ago, I can remember so much of it like it was yesterday. Someone brought a hard plastic yard decoration penguin to the show with lyrics written on it as some form of a going away gift for our last show. In the general craziness of the show, I remember the penguin hitting my cymbals and realizing “Holy shit, that thing is not inflatable,” which would’ve made way more sense at a crowded punk show. Before I could do anything about it (I was sitting and drumming, after all), our singer Andy grabbed it and tossed it back into the audience. Sure enough, at some point in our set, someone was caught above the eye by an errant wing and had to leave our show and go to the hospital. All of this happened after our first song, which resulted in a wall of people falling over and removing the railing from stage left, which I think was was never replaced.

To Erik’s credit, he never mentioned the railing to anyone and didn’t deduct the money from us at the end of the night. And that violent, vulgar penguin sat atop the cooler in the venue bar for years after that night.

Jana Sackmeister, show regular: My favorite show memory is when Mike Weibe of Riverboat Gamblers climbed up the metal wall during his set, fell, and broke his wrist. Then Paddy Costello drove him to the ER.

Ollie Stench, former door guy: One night as I was working the door at the Triple Rock it was raining pretty hard outside. Three very young looking men wearing Minneapolis Bicycle Police rain ponchos came in. I stopped them and asked for ID. The first "cop" turned around and pointed to the generic "badge" screened on to the front of his poncho and said, “That’s all the ID we need.” I said that if they were there on official business I would need to see their actual badges, and if they were there for a drink then I would need to see their state-issued identification cards.

Argument ensued. They were yelling. I soon noticed that all eyes were on us, and that the customers in the bar were silent, taking in the scene that was unfolding before them. I said that if I let them in without checking their IDs that I personally would be fined $1,000 per officer, and that the small wage the bar was paying me wasn’t worth the risk. The first cop started threatening to close us down, to get the mayor involved, to have our license revoked, etc. By now everyone in the bar was riveted to the interaction between myself and these three police officers.

My manager came down and asked for the story. He looked at the cops and said, "I totally get where you guys are coming from, but if I usurp my bouncer’s authority then there is no reason to have a bouncer in the first place." Ed politely asked them to show me their IDs as I had originally asked. The first cop shot daggers at me with his eyes and said to his friends, "Fuck this place, let’s get out of here!" As they were leaving one of them turned to Ed and said, "You just got your bar shut down. You’ll be hearing from us!" When they were gone Ed very quietly told me that if that ever happened again to just let them in and he then went back upstairs.

When the door shut behind him the entire bar stood up, started clapping and cheering because I had "stood up to the man" -- and won.

Dena Masley Baron, show regular: I once narc’d on a couple having sex in the women’s bathroom. Jon Ness, one of the staff, flicked the lights off and on and said something to the effect of "Stop fucking, guys!" They came out to the whole room cheering for them. I’d like to apologize for tattling, but c’mon. It’s just not polite to dominate a stall like that.

Jon Ness, former staff: That was the same night Roger Miret from Agnostic Front picked a fight behind the bar in the old room.

Katie Tester, show regular: My favorite Triple Rock story is when I got kicked out and the bouncer graciously escorted me around the entire bar while I completed a long Minnesotan goodbye to each and every friend. That's just the kind of place it was.

Read our full look back on the Triple Rock's history, including a discussion with owners Gretchen and Erik Funk, here.