The Uptown Bar, remembered by a regular
Photo by Steve Cohen
We recently received this submission via email and found Helm's piece to be a spot-on and heartfelt remembrance of the Uptown Bar, which closed its doors on Sunday, so we're posting it here unedited for our readers to enjoy.
Not Just Another Article about the Uptown
By Helm Matthews
When I told a friend that I was going to write a piece about the Uptown bar he smiled and said, "Get in line." I realize there have been many articles already written about this Minneapolis institution, but they all seem to have the same theme: memories. The writers wrote of memories of bands that have played there or memories of what happened downstairs or memories of a first date. And that is fine. I enjoyed reading them.
But another road down memory lane is not what you're about to read. I wanted to write about the living thing that was the Uptown. All great landmarks become great because they eventually come alive. They evolve into something bigger than the building. When a staffer there told me that the Uptown will probably move elsewhere I smirked a little. Inside I knew it wouldn't be the same place.
A new place won't have the smoke-stained walls. It won't have a bathroom more fit for CBGBs than a place that you would associate with Minnesota. There probably won't be a kitchen the size of a postage stamp, with exasperated cooks throwing up plates of greasy goodness. A new venue won't have a split layout where someone could take a break from the band and have a conversation around a circle bar. The colorful old neighborhood regulars might not gravitate to a new clean watering hole, eschewing it for another place that is old and familiar.
But there is one thing about a new place that gives me hope. It is the people. I'm not referring to the patrons, although that is one thing that made the Uptown what it was. No. I'm talking about the servers, bartenders, doormen and managers. They were the pulse of the place. If they come along with any new location then not only will the new incarnation of the Uptown survive but I feel it will thrive.
Sure, it was the bands that most often made me go to the place, but the staff was what made it more wonderful. I even enjoyed the cantankerous ones, for they colored the atmosphere with a punk vibe that made me feel at home (large Catholic family). With all the great bands that played the Uptown there was one undeniable fact, and that was the place was a great bar! And all great bars are defined by the people who pour your drink or place the plate of food in front of you or make sure you pay a cover or engineer a great sound.
The list of names is long: Maggie, Jason, Leah, Marv, Victoria, Ryan, Sarah, Martine, Anita. I know that I'm missing many names. Some had more of an impact on me than others. There was Jason, with his slicked-back blond hair and handlebar mustache. He was always good for conversation about poker and usually understood my obscure references, like the time I had to order a shot of Cuervo Gold because it was the only reposado behind the bar. I told him that as I drank it I would do my best impression of Jack Nicholson from Easy Rider. He immediately began flapping one arm like a chicken and with a Cheshire grin shouted, "Here's to the first of the day, fellas! To old D.H. Lawrence!" I laughed hard--impressed I was that he understood me. That's what makes a normal staff great.
Then there was Marv. It was fun watching this munchkin of a man working behind the bar, air-guitaring to a live band that was playing. Or Ron, the giant man with the long gray beard--his be-speckled bald head reminding me of a Bolshevik revolutionary.
But the one I will remember most is a redheaded waitress (surprise...surprise). She had strong facial features and sapphire blue eyes. She reminded me of what the St. Pauli girl might look like if she wore retro clothing. For a few years in the early nineties we would often catch each other's gaze. I knew there was a connection between us yet I never mustered the courage to ask her out. I never even got her name. For me she will always be the face of the Uptown.
So the final nail of what the Uptown neighborhood used to be has been driven into the coffin. No more will we hear the cry, "Meet me at the Uptown." The community has officially become an Edina.
But if this remarkable staff comes along with any new incarnation then maybe, just maybe, a new generation of patrons will recognized their collective distinctiveness and new memories will be created for a younger generation. Memories that some writer will chronicle 20 or 30 years from now. And that would be a good thing.
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