Remembering Ron Upton, Uptown's beloved, iconic doorman

Submitted photo

Submitted photo

 “Ladies and gentleman, it's ten minutes to two. The bartenders are done serving and the bar will close in ten minutes. Please finish 'em up, and have a good evening. Gooooood night!”

Ron Upton was an Uptown icon.

A huge, nearly constant presence on the Uptown Minneapolis music and bar scene, Upton worked as the doorman/host for the Uptown Bar until it closed in 2009, and later at Cause Spirits, Mortimer’s, and more.

The large, bespectacled man with his distinct long white beard appeared intimidating to some. Beneath the surface was a gentle big-hearted man, with a quiet sense of humor, and soulful eyes that expressed volumes. Known for his protective and indefatiguable spirit, his signature bar close call on the PA system, and for his hugs, Ron was devoted to work, friends, and family.

Ron “died quietly in a place that he loved” this past weekend, according to his nephew Stephen Lauderude. He had turned 58 in December. He is survived by his daughter, Molly Thomas, and will be missed by innumerable people, many of whom agreed to share their favorite memories of Ron with City Pages.

Molly Thomas (Ron’s daughter [pictured with Ron, above]): I’m really learning through this unfortunate event, how incredible he was. He touched so many people’s lives that I didn’t even know about. It’s really awesome to hear stories and learn more about him. He had the best smile and beautiful eyes I’ve ever seen.

I only got to be with him at family gatherings; I was with my mom mostly. Every single time I would go out there, he wouldn’t want to let me go. He’d give me hugs and tell me how much he loved me. He’d show me his photos he carried around with him, and tell me how proud he was of me. He was very good at listening. His heart was the biggest, most pure heart, just full of love.

He was a very quiet, gentle man. He didn’t look like it! He looked like he could squish your head with his eyes. He had the biggest heart of gold I’ve ever seen. He was very devoted and committed to his family -- his Uptown family and his blood family. 

His work was his life. I know from people that he always said, “In order to get me out of Uptown, you’re going to have to take me out on a stretcher.” He died doing what he loved to do. He was with people that he loved. I’ve never felt more love from my dad than I do now, through everyone who’s touched him.

Ryan Rud (The Rockford Mules): One night a fellow band member and myself went to The Uptown. I didn't have any cash on me but really wanted to get inside to see a certain band. Ron was working the door and I noticed he happened to be wearing my band’s T-shirt at the time. I thought to myself, “He's wearing my T-shirt he has to let me in, right?” 

I was wrong. With a smile on his face he calmly told me I wouldn't be getting in without the cover charge. Although a bit humbling, I respected his decision. But what I respected even more was the fact that, as much as he liked my band, he wasn't going to do me any favors. 

A few years later he became a staple at Cause and even ended up in one of our videos. He was one of those guys that just made you feel better because of his presence . . . because you knew things were going to be handled the right way. 

Ron was just as much a part of this city's music scene as the musicians. He epitomized everything that is good about Minneapolis and its music. For me personally I can count on one hand the guys and girls around this town that I'll remember. Ron is one of them. I'm not a huge believer in the pearly gates or the concept of heaven. But I have to think if those things do exist, he's the one checking IDs at the door.

Mary Packard Tveitbakk (Bartender/Server Uptown Bar, 1997-2008): Ron was the first person you'd see when you walked in and the last one you'd see on the way out. His legendary white beard and kind eyes, coupled with a stern-uncle demeanor kept (most) everyone in line. There was something just a little less harsh about being kicked out at 2 a.m. by Ron. He was genuinely proud of his role he played at the Uptown, and he wanted everyone to make it home safe so he could see them again.

Stephen Lauderude (Ron’s nephew):  Never had a bad word to say about anybody. Even the ones who would have had a bad word to say about him, he’d have a good word to say about them. He never burdened anybody with any of his woes. He was technically a bouncer, but really he was more of a guide. If somebody was having a bit too much fun he wouldn’t crack their skull, he’d let them know, “It’s time to go.”

I got to know him really well before my mom and dad’s remarriage, sitting around at my brother’s bachelor pad, having drinks and playing cards, smoking joints with my uncle (laughs). He was always there. He’d listen and gave his fatherly guidance the best he could.

Josh Anderson (Uptown bar door guy [pictured with Ron, below]):  He stood up for the kids that got picked on. Even as a kid. In my mind he was 20 feet tall and a thousand pounds. He was just a mammoth of a man. He stood up for the people. You don’t see that a lot of that, even today. You don’t see a lot of people standing up for the little man.

One night the bartenders tipped me out in all change, I had $80 in quarters, nickels and dimes on me. I’m walking out the door and it sounds like jingle bells. We always went out the back door. I was going through the alleyway and there were kids there right on the edge. I was just 21, I was at the bar for maybe a week. I thought, “Oh crap. All right, I’m going to get through this.” They’re like, “Hey! You got a cigarette?” I gave them a cigarette.

I’m standing there tough as nails, all like, “All right, you guys want one? You want one?” and they all backed off. I don’t know why, but I felt like, “Someone’s coming up behind me!”  I thought “What the heck?” I turned around and there was Ron walking down the alley, huffing and puffing. (Laughs.) I said, “Damn it, Ron! I thought I had this!” They scattered like chickens. Whatever that man asked from that day on, I was like, “Yep! No problem, Ron!”

He walked the waitresses out. He always made sure everybody was comfortable. Doing the door with him, when I first started -- I am 5’11, and I was 140 pounds -- I was scared. He taught you it didn’t have to be physical. It didn’t have to be walking up to somebody yelling “You’re out of here, and I’m throwing you out of here!” He had this way of like “All right. You’re done.” If they had something to say, he’d say "Come on, do you think the bartenders are going to give you more? You’re not welcome here." He made it so you thought, “God, I really should go home.”

In his whole life -- he graduated high school in 1977 -- he hardly ever left Minnesota, maybe went to Iowa and maybe Wisconsin. Other than that, his biggest dream was to get a motorcycle and take off. Hearing that he didn’t get that chance punched me pretty hard.

He showed up sick, he showed hurting. He had a presence about him, other than being, this 10 foot 1,000 pound man. You knew you were safe. When Ron was in the neighborhood, it was good. 

Brian McDonough (Former Uptown Bar, Cause booker, currently booker Day Block Brewing): I worked with Ron at the Uptown and at Cause. I’ve been booking shows in town for 11 or 12 years now. He was there five nights a week. He was always there, always on time. He was super friendly and knew the neighborhood, and knew everybody who was a regular. He was really good at his job, and liked hanging out with people. 

There was one time at the Uptown where Silky I and decided we were going to start calling him “Rom,” for no reason, just to see if he’d notice. (Laughs.) He let us get away with it for about two months straight and the one time Jason Haire tried to call him Rom once, and he’s like “The name’s Ron! Not Rom!” He let me get away with it!

The last Halloween at the Uptown -- it closed the next night, on November 1 -- Larry Romanowicz was dressed up as a cow. A lot of people were coming in to the Uptown who had never really been there, or it wasn’t their bar. It started to be the bro-ey Uptown crowd that gets kicked out of bars (Laughs). There was a guy that Ron decided had to go, but because Larry was dressed like a cow, he made Larry kick him out because he thought it would be funny to watch the guy get kicked out by a guy dressed as a cow. (Laughs).

When the Uptown closed Ron shaved his beard for the first time, I think, in 20 years. Tom Berg of Zebulon Pike cut his beard off the Halloween night Ron and Larry kicked the guy out. Ron got on stage and Tom Berg of Zebulon Pike cut his beard off.

He is going to be missed. He was a staple of the Uptown. I don’t think he went north of Franklin, or south of 32nd Street, and he stayed between Lyndale and Hennepin.

Before I’d worked at the Uptown, I’d just turned 21 and my band, Heroes and Liars, was playing the Uptown Bar. Some of my brother’s friends had come out to watch us play and got a little out of hand. Ron had one of the guys in a headlock and was hauling him out, and this guy was pulling on his beard and like “I’ll fucking fight you Colonel Sanders!” Ron just threw the guy out and started laughing at him afterwards. He never got overly upset with anybody if he had to throw somebody out. If the guy was a drunk douchebag, still, at the end instead of beating him up, like he had the right to, with the guy pulling on his beard, he’d laugh and go, “Well, that guy’s going to regret his decisions.” 

Nick Eldorado (LIKEHELL front man): He was a gentleman…a true class act who would always walk our dad to his car after our shows.

Tony Oliveri (LIKEHELL drummer): His glare could penetrate across the bar. Luckily, I never got “the look.” But when it was time to go it was time to go. He had control of the bar. He was like a dad watching the kids in the minivan. Letting the kids be kids, but not doing something ridiculous. You didn’t see fights there, or rarely did. He always had it under control.

He looked like a badass, but he was really nice. You’d have nice conversations with him and he’d open his wallet and show pictures of his daughter, his family -- not what you’d expect from a bouncer. He was wearing LIKEHELL shirts when we played. I’d look up from drumming and sometimes I’d see him peeking around the corner and bopping his head.

Steve Barone, (Lifter Puller, The Hawaii Show): Ron was pretty quiet until the 2 a.m. yell to get out. He was just a gentle giant most of the time.

Jeff Chapin (Uptown Bar and Cause regular, The Hawaii Show): I was always impressed with his knowledge of subjects I found interesting. Not to mention how much he saved me from getting into trouble at that old bar where they now sell smart phones. After that place went away, I carried on my conversations with Ron at the Cause bar. I finagled a way to get ownership to let me stay past close because I enjoyed our talks so much.

The funny thing is that we only hung out maybe 10 times outside him being at work. I wish he were still here. Rest in peace Uncle Ron. The avuncular Defender of Uptown. Kinda like a super hero.

Tracy Sitterly (Uptown Bar server): One thing I really respected about Ron was his work ethic. Several shifts a week he worked doubles, at Rainbow Foods during the day and all night at the door at the Uptown. He never complained. I would see him occasionally at the grocery store and I noticed how nice and chill he was with people.

Sometimes when you see people out of context, you understand who they really are as human beings. It's like the good gets amplified somehow, or at least it did with Ron. 

Scott Hurlbut (Uptown Bar manager): So Ron was everyone’s big fun uncle. He's the first thing you'd see when visiting your local dive and probably the last. If you'd run into some trouble or "accidentally" had one too many, Ron was there to take your take care of you, whether you agreed with him or not.

George Drago (Uptown Bar bar back 2003 – 2009). Ron was a big teddy bear, wouldn't hurt a fly, hard working. Seemed like he always had two jobs. I used to challenge him to a cage match every night but to make it fair I would get a weapon. He always declined but usually squeezed my neck just to let me know what's up. Never accepted a ride. Maybe once. Always had our backs. 

Ken Hippler (KFAI Good 'N Country DJ): Ron and I were childhood friends who attended Cedar Elementary School in Eagan and then Metcalf Junior High School and Burnsville Senior High School. We were class of 1977. I hung out with him primarily during the grade school and junior high school years. He was a great friend, humble and loyal. If I happened to be at their house visiting around supper, his mom often had me stay over to join them and would pay a courtesy call to my mom to let her know.

We would meet up with friends to ride bike on trails through the Rahn woods (now occupied by Rahn Elementary School, Cub Foods and a strip mall). We played ball and flew kites. There was also a corn field on the east side of Rahn where we would build corn stalk forts -- until the farmer chased us out, anyway. It was a wonderful simple time. The only play we knew was outside getting exercise and using our imagination. The only electronic gadget we owned was just small transistor radios.

Ron and his family were simple, humble, hard working and selfless. Ron was loyal, and if you were fortunate enough to have him for a friend, he never betrayed you for self gain.

Kari Beth (Uptown Bar and Cause regular): Ron was like an uncle to me. I met him when I started going to the Uptown Bar, when I moved here in the summer of 2006. I could see him like, it was a long night dealing with some jerks, and then it would be my turn. He was like, “Oh!” Knowing I cheered him up always made me feel good. Wherever he worked, I followed him around. He’d tell me about his daughter and whatever he was up to. He worked all the time. I’d ask him if he ever slept.

When I heard he passed I was so sad. I wish I could give him one more hug. He used to give me the best giant hugs, whenever he saw me. He always had a huge hug for me. We were just always buddies. I don’t go out that often anymore.

I could go somewhere by myself, knowing if it was when Ron was working the door, I had someone to talk to at night. You didn’t have to go, “Who else will be there tonight?” It would be like, “Well, I’ll always have Ron to chat with.”

I used to wear wigs a lot when I went out. The first few times I went to the Uptown Bar in a wig, he’d try to card me. I’d say, “Ron, it’s me!” He’d curse at me, “Ah jeez! You can’t do that. I can’t recognize you!” It got to be every time I’d go there, and he’d pull my hair and go, “Is this real? Or is this just a wig?” He’d give me shit for my costume choices.

Heather Mikelson: He lived with my husband and I. We were good friends. He was just a really good guy all around, protective and like a father figure to us. He suffered from insomnia, as I did, and there were plenty of nights where he and I stayed up all night watching movies. He would drink rum and diet Coke.

He also worked at Rainbow Foods, for a really long time as well. I think he worked over nights there, which is part of why he’d stay up all night after he quit working at Rainbow. He worked there many years.  I never saw him out of line, ever. He was scary looking when you’d first meet him, but then he was like a big teddy bear. He was always more concerned about everybody else than he was his own health. He was a really good caretaker.

He loved animals. I told Chad I didn’t want a wedding ring, I wanted a puppy. When we went to New York we got Ruby, she weighed less than two pounds. Ron’s hand was bigger than she was, He would just walk around with her like a coffee mug! (Laughs). He loved her and our chihuahua so much. They were his best little buddies. He talked about his daughter Molly so much, he was so proud of her. That’s why he started his Facebook account. I helped him start it so he could be in contact with Molly. He really loved her.

I tried so hard to get him to move with us to California when the time came, but he didn't want to be that far from everyone here. I continued from afar to stay in close contact with Ron. As years passed, we would see each other when I went out and we would always start right where we left off.

Katie Larson (“disgruntled proletariat healthcare slave”): In 2009, I moved in to the house after Heather and her husband had moved out. I lived upstairs and Ron lived in the basement. If you got to know Ron, he basically treated you like family. The first night I met him, his housemates and I and him had spaghetti together to get to know each other before I moved in.

When I left he said he wanted me to text him to let him know I got home okay. I thought, “Oh, wow!” Because not everybody does that. The years he and I shared a house, he was a hard working guy, lovely guy, so proud of his daughter. It was “My Molly this, my Molly that . . . “ She was graduating high school around then and he showed pictures of her, and teared up.

Ron had a few different jobs after the Uptown Bar closed. One of the jobs was at the Bulldog in Uptown. The day before Thanksgiving 2009, I’m at the Bulldog. I end up staying randomly talking to people and Ron’s there. Bar close comes around, and I don’t work there so I can’t stay there. Our house was right across from Lyndale and one alley back. Ron said, “One minute, I’ll be right back guys.” He walked me across to the corner of Lyndale and says, “Okay, now can you make your way across the street to the house?” He asks if I have my purse and keys and stuff. I said, “I’m good!” He watches me cross the street, standing there until I made it to my backyard to make sure I got there okay. 

I get across to the back porch to go up the steps to the back door, and tripped over my feet and fell. I woke up at 7 or 8 in the morning and had this horrible searing pain in my left foot. It was swollen and very purple. Ron took me to the ER on Thanksgiving. I had to wear a boot. I had the boot on so I couldn’t move around very well. I was living in a house big enough to have people over, so I decided to have my Dad’s family over for Thanksgiving.Ron saved Thanksgiving for my Dad’s side of the family. 

So my father brought over a turkey and some ingredients and my grandmother’s gigantic, heavy turkey roaster. I get up and start cooking at 3 or 4 in the morning and Ron is getting home from the bar. He’s sitting up with his Bacardi and diet. I go to plug the roaster in and it’s heavy and now got a 23 pound bird in it. Then I plug in the turkey roaster and POP! the electricity goes out throughout the house. We turn off all the electricity we could think of.

Ron had a bad back and a really bad shoulder. The U of M used his films as a case study for doctors. We hoisted this thing around and tried every outlet in the house. The fuses kept blowing. We load the roaster into the trunk of my Cutlass and we drive the turkey to my Mom’s apartment in Plymouth. Ron was so tired and had helped me for a couple hours.

He’s like, “Do you need help with anything?” I said, “No, you’ve done enough, go to bed.” That’s the kind of guy he was. He would do anything for anyone. He didn’t have a lot of money or possessions. What he did have he would share with you.

Paige Guggemos (Uptown Bar regular): Ron's been letting me in and kicking me out of places since well before I was 21. My favorite Ron memory happened after one of those well-deserved pre-21 kick outs at the Uptown Bar. That night I dreamt that Minneapolis was one large arcade. That arcade had one of those fortune-telling machines that spits out fortunes for a quarter or pull of the handle.

The catch this time, was that Ron was the real live person inside of the machine. Ron was Zoltan with the crystal ball. I told Ron this story once, years later outside of Cause, and he wasn't that into it. Still, it's something I'll never forget, and it will forever be the way I picture him.

Nicole Jean Rode (singer/frontwoman, Rapedoor): Every time I saw Ron outside of working, even if he would be on the other side of the store, or street, and I hadn’t seen him, he would always come up to me and ask me how I was, and ask me what the band had been doing. And he would actually want to hear about it! A beautiful person and a sweet soul.

Hannah von der Hoff (singer/songwriter): I had to start from square one socially in MInneapolis, so when Nick & Eddie slid out of the picture, it was good to have another home and daily hang [at Cause] to venture solo, and trust running into a friendly face. His greeting and conversation as gatekeeper would ease you into a night where navigating cliquey waters was at times intimidating. And perhaps he was the one soul who would actually engage with you. May we make people feel welcome and neighborly in his memory.

Rob Matrious (musician, Cause regular): Last week I ran into and spoke with Ron for the first time since Cause days. It was about 10 a.m. and he was sweeping the butts outside Mortimer's. I asked how he was doing and he said, "Well, been here early, done at noon, then I’ll probably stay and have my shift drinks." It was all he said pretty much. The gentle giant was easy to please. Didn't know it would be the last time I would ever see him.

Nikki Schultz (Sauce/Cause coworker, musician and barkeep around town): Brother Ron Upton, it just felt good to be around you. You made sure everyone passing your door knew the business. Even though you gave more hugs than tough talks, the block felt safer with you on it. I'm glad I got to share the peace and quiet that followed after many raucous nights of music and revelry at Sauce/Cause with you. Thank you for your service. Uptown has lost its gatekeeper. Hold each other tight, okay?

Donny Doane (Uptown Bar server, former writer for the Pulse):  I started going to shows at the Uptown in 1985 shortly after turning 19. Killdozer, Scratch Acid, Victims Family to name but a few. Ron was a constant looming presence. As reliable as the tide or the rising sun. Not really taken for granted, but expected. Many years later we became coworkers.

I had a habit of becoming entangled in protracted goodbyes at closing time. I mean I had to say goodbye to everyone, because you never know, right? Well, extracting me from the bar might have seemed a stubborn challenge, but Ron figured it out quickly and effectively. He simply got on the PA, and said, "(Donny) your ride's waiting for you at the front door." It was as if the garrulous yet mute ether had been pierced by the commanding voice of a guardian angel. On my way out, he'd be there at the door. His door. "Time to go home. Get some rest. I'll see you next time," he'd say. I just wish there had been one more next time.

Michelle Kohner: The majority of nights, he would post up at the door, maybe with a puzzle from the paper, his stash of earplugs, his camera, and tons of stories. He looked like he had just hopped off a Harley, cigarette in one hand, a fist of fury in the other, and a badass attitude. But once you talked to him, he was a total softie, and wasn't afraid to show it. Ron loved people. He would talk about his daughter, Molly. He’d show pictures. And he loved to talk! He was a sensitive man; he often used humility and humor to express himself. He took shit from people, and always replied with humor, usually gently putting them in their place. 

He endured many hardships. Health issues, among other things, held him down financially. He worked two jobs to make ends meet, he had bad knees, he had a soda addiction and squandered the little extra money he had on used DVDs from Cheapo. He was a lone wolf, separated from his pack, making one wonder how long he had been surviving like this. 

I would often drive Ron home after work during the winter, he just barely fitting in the front seat. He was always so grateful, and he had the biggest heart. There were times, after he’d climb out of my little compact car, I would drive home wondering how I could make Ron's life better. 

It was a sad day when the Uptown Bar closed. It was a family, for years. I don't think many of us fully recovered from the loss we felt when they took it down. It broke up the family. We lost contact and suddenly it's seven years later. 

I saw Ron recently, walking by the bar where I worked. I ran outside yelling his name. He turned around and I saw a different man. I saw an old man who was hunched over as he walked, underweight and looking tired. That was the last time I spoke with Ron. I still don't think Ron ever found his big break.

It makes me sad. I choose to remember the jolly Ron, the guy who loved his job at the Uptown Bar, who always made sure you were safe. He loved people and people loved him. 

Ron’s Memorial Concert is Saturday, February 26, 4 p.m .- 2 a.m. at James Ballentine “Uptown” VFW – Post 246. Bands performing include: LIKEHELL, Self-Evident, Buildings, Hardcore Crayons, Countach, The Stress of Her Regard (Ex-Idle Hands), John Swardson, and more TBA.

There will also be a raffle of items from local businesses and artists. Proceeds raised will help his family pay for a proper funeral for Ron Upton. The organizers wish to thank the businesses contributing to the memorial.