The CC Club: An oral history
The CC Club has long been a drinkers' haven in south Minneapolis, a dim intersection of different scenes and people from across the city. Few establishments in the Twin Cities have seen more glasses emptied, cigarettes smoked, or strangers find each other.
Along with generations of neighborhood residents, Tommy Stinson of the Replacements wasted entire days drinking there, as did Soul Asylum's Dave Pirner. New York Times columnist David Carr spent late nights and early mornings there back when he was a reporter for the now-defunct Twin Cities Reader. Before he married Roseanne, actor Tom Arnold lived across the street while trying to break into comedy, and hosted parties after bar close.
But the neighborhood is changing. In a part of the city once defined by its independence, expensive condos crowd the streets and corporate chains have pushed out local businesses. Earlier this year, the owners of neighboring restaurant French Meadow bought the CC, and will officially take ownership on May 1. The new managers say they plan to keep the bar the same, but some CC regulars are skeptical — perhaps because the French Meadow is an organic bistro, and the CC is a seedy dive bar. Or maybe it just seems inevitable that a place like the CC Club can't last forever.
Some interviews have been condensed and edited.
In 1884, the first structure was built on the lot that's now the CC Club: a barn. It was converted into a garage by the early 20th century. Prohibition ended in December of 1933, and by the next year, the building re-opened as a bar. Not long after, Clarence E. Campbell bought the place and named it the CC Tap.
Moe Emard, current co-owner of the bar: I knew a lot about the bar before I bought it. I was coming in here when I was 24 [in 1957]. It was a beer joint, the most well-known beer joint in the five-state area. Any kid from North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin would come into town, first place they knew about when they were in high school was the CC Tap. And of course they had bands.
Curt Almstead a.k.a. Curtiss A, musician: It was the CC Tap when I started playing there in '74, and there was no liquor, just 3.2 beer. The band that played there was called Thumbs Up. I did not name it; it was not named after the Fonz or anything like that. We played every night but Sunday, from 8 till 1, five hours a night, in the back on the left, where I think there might be pinball machines or pool tables now. We played there for a year, and during that year the record store across the street was called Oar Folkjokeopus.
Peter Jesperson, manager at Oar Folk and co-founder of Twin/Tone Records: In January of '73 it changed from North Country Music to Oar Folkjokeopus. I started working there in April of 1973. My first encounters with the CC were — they used to have a deep fryer right there in the front behind the bar, so I used to run across the street there to get a sandwich to bring back to the record store to eat. I remember standing at the bar waiting for my food to go, and there was a band playing in the back. I think there are pinball machines or pool tables back there now, I'm not sure, but in the back as you walked into the back left corner was a little stage there, and there was a band playing called Thumbs Up. That was Curt Almstead, Curtiss A, and his crew. I was knocked out. I fell head-over-heels in love with that band almost instantly.
Almstead: Record store guys are a little hipper than thou, so if he were to come over and see us doing Lynyrd Skynyrd or whatever, I don't think he would have been as enthralled. But he came over and he heard us doing a song by the Cryan' Shames, which was a Chicago '60s act, a one-hit wonder, and it was called "I Wanna Meet You." It was a song about seeing a Playboy Bunny. [Sings] "I first saw you in a magazine, I wanna... mmmeeet ya."
Jesperson: After I heard Curt and Thumbs Up, I ended up becoming a big fan, and my main reason for wanting to start a record label was to make records with Curt.
Almstead: Peter became interested in recording me. I was told that one of the reasons he started Twin/Tone was so he could record me. But I just remember looking out at the crowd and seeing that every table was a different band. Some of the guys from the Commandos, some of the guys from the different bands in town and their girlfriends. It was a party every night.
Jesperson: I moved into the neighborhood, into a building on the corner of 26th and Garfield, directly behind the record store there, and that became kind of a famous den of iniquity for a lot of rock 'n' roll people. Curt lived there for a while, and many, many other people, and I lived there for a long time, and, anyway, then it was the neighborhood. And the CC was the place to go have a drink, or have a lunch or a dinner. It became sort of the lobby of the Hotel 26th and Lyndale. We hung out there all the time.
Almstead: Since we were there every night, all the other bands in town who weren't doing anything would show up. The Commandos, Skogie and the Flaming Pachucos, Prodigy, which became the Flamin' Ohs. And soon after, the Suburbs started coming over.
Hugo Klaers, drummer for the Suburbs: Oar Folk is what brought most everyone out there. Peter Jesperson was at that store and the head of Twin/Tone, and we were on Twin/Tone, and we would just go hang out at Oar Folk for an afternoon and read all the rock magazines and listen to new records and then either go practice or you go to the CC. It would probably start with like two people crossing the street, and then when Oar Folk closed, there'd be a little bit of a rush.
Jesperson: A lot of times we'd close up Oar Folk at 10 o'clock and we'd all walk across the street for a drink. Even at the time people joked about it, but that corner was like the Haight-Ashbury of Minneapolis. The record store became kind of the nucleus of the scene and musicians, and a lot of people actually moved into the neighborhood to be close to the record store and the CC. It was really the center of the burgeoning Minneapolis rock scene.
In 1974, David Prass bought the bar from Ray and Maxine Abel, re-christened it the CC Club, and transferred a full liquor license from his father's old bar, the Golden Horse. Prass died in 2010, but is survived by his wife, Suzanne, and four children, including daughter Alexis Seiler.
Suzanne Prass: He bought the bar in August of '74, I remember. It was a neighborhood bar, so he didn't make a lot of changes, other than transferring the liquor license. He did put new red leather seats on the booths and the grill was right in the bar when he bought it. David did put in the kitchen. At one point he had some kids from the school of architecture come in and possibly draw up a way to make it modern and, you know, put windows in the front. But then he thought, "You know, that's not what this bar is."
Alexis Seiler: When we started listening to the Suburbs, my dad used to tell us that they were [at his bar], and I'd say, "Dad, no they're not, you're not that cool." So one morning I woke up and came down to breakfast and this [holds up a copy of the record Dream Hog, signed by all five original members of the band] was sitting on the table.
Klaers: What does that say, "Your dad's Number 1 customer?" Wow. That's funny. I remember signing this for her.
In 1977, Jesperson and two other Oar Folk regulars decided to start a record label. They signed the Suburbs as their first band.
Jesperson: We probably named the label there. I'm sure the name Twin/Tone was decided at the CC. In the early days, before we had a proper office, we used to have Tuesday meetings at the CC. The two gentlemen who were partners in the label with me — Paul Stark and Charley Hallman — we used to meet there every Tuesday and map out what we were going to do for the next week, and planning out releases and whatnot.
On his walk home from work one day in 1978, Paul Westerberg overheard three musicians practicing. He joined the group — Tommy Stinson, Bob Stinson, and Chris Mars — as singer, and after briefly calling themselves Dogbreath and the Impediments, the band settled on the Replacements. In May 1980, they handed Jesperson their four-song demo tape, and signed to Twin/Tone not long after.
Tommy Stinson, bassist for the Replacements: I [spent] about a quarter of my life probably in that bar. It wouldn't be so uncommon to go there in midafternoon and end up walking out at closing. I hung out there because that's where everybody kind of gravitated from the time that we hooked up with Peter and stuff. I think we did all our business there.
Jesperson: In the fall of 1981, we released the first Replacements record, and the Suburbs double album Credit in Heaven, and an album by a group called the Pistons. Those three records all came out about the same time, and I remember having a big release party at the CC where we brought in turntables. I think I still have a flyer for it, "CC Club Record Release Party."
Stinson: We knew everyone, and people pretty much left us alone, for the most part. Except for the once-in-a-while oddball that just wasn't privy to the manners of the CC Club. You just let people do their thing and you don't bother them if you see Soul Asylum or us or any of the other bands.
Dave Pirner, lead singer of Soul Asylum: If you were in a band and you're hanging out at the CC Club and something happens with your band, and you get noticed, it's just sort of not a big deal because it just happened to the table next to you. I started hanging out there right around 1983, when I was 18, because at the time 18 was the drinking age. I'm sure I'd driven by it a million times with my parents or whatever and wondered what was going on in there or what the deal was. I was always at the hardware store with my dad across the street, or I was always at Small Engine City right next door because I mowed lawns as a job, and I was always at Oar Folk. That hub, that neighborhood, was always like the coolest place in town.
Paul Metsa, musician and author of Blue Guitar Highway: It was kind of like this exotic mixture between rock 'n' roll, comedians, entertainers, and then just hipsters that worked in the neighborhood. A lot of writers and artists hung out there. And what I loved about it, it was very working-class, and still is. Everybody was equal in that place.
Bob Stinson said something, and I'm going to paraphrase, he said, "All the great bands in Minneapolis live between Franklin and Lake and Lyndale and Hennepin." In a way, that area was four-cornered by these bars. There was Mortimer's and Lyle's on the north end, and then there was the CC. And then up to the Uptown. And those were kind of the four corners.
David Carr, New York Times columnist and Night of the Gun author: Restaurant people, dope dealers, music people, neighborhood kids. I mean, the people that on another night you would see as rock gods would drink there, and drink there happily.
It was a really great place to get hammered. And you were neither judged by the staff nor the patrons for enjoying an adult beverage. You could enjoy as many of them as you wanted, and if they happened to have some effects on you — the only thing you couldn't do is be an asshole.
Almstead: Tom Arnold used to live across the street, and that's a whole other story, and comedians and cocaine. Party party party. I know they would just go over to the CC and then go back to their house. Gosh, I met Richard Lewis there, not to mention Roseanne.
Carr: Tom Arnold lived across from the CC. And there were some rather festive parties, I can recall afterward, including the first time Roseanne was in town. I think the finishing party was the CC to Tom's house, and for reasons that are lost to the mist of time, a pizza was nailed to the wall. Not sure why. You'd think usually a pizza in the presence of Tom Arnold would not be safe. This one ended up nailed to the wall.
Tom Arnold, actor and comedian: This is a typical thing: Sam Kinison came and did shows with us, so everybody ends up at 2 or 3 at my place. And it's crazy. And then you run out of beer or whatever at a certain point, and you're just counting the minutes till the CC opens so you can at least go in there and fucking figure out what's going on, what the next move is, and at least get some alcohol going. So that's what happened, because anytime comics came to town they ended up at our place. And that was just so easy. You know, so much better than going to a liquor store. Go in there and order four drinks at once, which is what I always did. Which they kind of — they eventually wouldn't allow that to happen.
Maggie Macpherson, stage manager at First Avenue and booker at the Uptown: Tom Arnold used to get on the microphone at the end of the night and invite people over to his house after hours.
Metsa: It was kind of a triple threat, in terms of, it was a great place to start the evening, great place to end the evening, and a great place to get what we called a "day cap." Going to end the night first thing in the morning.
Carr: We had missed that part at 4 in the morning when you go to sleep, and we had broken through to a new day. And I can't remember who mentioned it, but it was off to breakfast of champions at the CC. And I don't know, it's not really polite to walk through a neighborhood in broad daylight and pop into a bar, but once you're in there, it was always an appropriate time to have a cocktail. And it was I think 8:30 in the morning, and I can remember we walked up to the bar, and we had probably not slept or washed in either a day or several. And we came walking up to the bar, and there was a mom and a little kid at the bar. He either looked at me or [my friend] and said, "That's a bad man, mommy."
Metsa: It seemed to be a fairly easy place to do drugs, if you were so inclined. But it was never really a drug bar.
Carr: The bathroom at the CC Club was a very busy place. I'll just say that and leave it at that. There was a guy, he's kind of a weirdo, Kenny, that was frequently there. You know what, I don't wanna be the guy who goes into that, because I've already said plenty about my relationship with all that shit.
Arnold: That was one place you could get drug dealers to actually come, that they felt kind of safe to come there. And you watch, if you're in there and you've been up a day or two, you watch to see who's going to the bathroom so you can go in there and horn in on him. Because we really had no money. Any money we had we spent partying. And so I had like six managers at the time. I called them my managers, but they were actually drug dealers. But I told them they were my managers.
Metsa: What a lot of people don't realize is, cocaine for all intents and purposes was legal. It was like a currency. So if we spent a few nights up till the daylight, we weren't the only people in town doing that. You'd run into kindred shattered souls at the same time.
Arnold: When it's fucking 20 below and you gotta get a drink, it was like a magical place, because you literally wouldn't even have to put on gloves to get over there, or a hat. You just put on your stinking sport coat from the night before and stumble in and you could survive, because anywhere else you have to get in a car and risk other people's lives. It was a lifesaver, that place.
Carr: People were about their business when it came to alcohol there. The people who served you, the people who drank it. You just didn't want to act like a knucklehead. It would be bad place to get 86ed from, because then you'd never see your friends. You know, I bet ya Tom Arnold got 86ed there. I bet ya he got 86ed plenty.
Arnold: You know, I was 86ed from there a couple times for periods of time. It was a nice, quiet, fun place, and then you get a bunch of loud assholes like me and the guys I knew in there, and they'll eventually throw you out. And that's what happened. And it was extremely sad because I could see the place from my bedroom window, and I knew my friends were there and I wasn't allowed in. I'd try to manipulate any way I could to get back in. And eventually they would, if I would be quiet and no fighting. You know, no obvious drug use. They were against that.
David Prass grew tired of 3 a.m. nights running the bar. On February 14, 1985, Lester J. Emard — Moe — bought the CC Club with a partner, Matt Chamernick.
Sharon Emard, Moe's wife and the CC kitchen manager: We got it on Valentine's Day. I did not want it. I knew about the CC Club all my life, and one Friday night, I came in, and the waitress — who was a sweetheart — her wig was sitting all crooked and she got these big earrings on and I think she was drinking, and I kept going, "We cannot buy this bar. We cannot buy this bar." But then we ended up going down to the Red Dragon and drinking one of those planter punches — you know what I'm talking about, it comes in a big coconut man or something, they only allow two per person or two for three people or something. And so then Moe bought it. But I knew that he would. He wasn't doing what he loved, and he loved having his own bar.
Moe Emard: When we first came in the bar wasn't doing anything. It seemed like some of the punk rockers weren't coming in because they felt like they weren't welcome. And then when I come in, I just more or less welcomed them back in. I would stand at the front door and tell these guys walking in, "I'm the new owner here, you're welcome here, we want your business, tell any of your friends." And I said to the other guys, "Scare any of these guys away and I'll throw your ass out. These are going to be the new customers, and if you can't get along with them, tough." Within three weeks the place was packed.
Sharon: Moe worked here every night.
Moe: From there we started doing lots of promotions, build the business back up. I just opened the business back up again to what it was before. We've still got quite a few customers coming in here who were coming in when we bought it.
Bobby Bell, day bartender since 1978: They didn't really do anything, no major advertising, they might have just put an "Under New Ownership" sign out front. They had an old keg cooler that David had shut down in '75 and just went to bottle beer. Moe asked me if it worked and I said, "I don't know," so he flipped the switch. It just turned right on. We've been serving tap beer since.
Jesperson: I remember when Matt and Moe bought the place and I remember them actually saying to somebody that they were going to turn it into a sports bar, and everybody looked around and just went, "Well, that won't happen. What, do you think all of these people are suddenly going to stop coming here and you're going to have a whole new clientele?" I mean, this is the place people have been going for 1,000 years.
Moe: I tried to associate myself with all the young people, you know, even though I was old enough to be their father, so I think I came across, so they felt like I became friends with them. They came in and they'd all talk to me.
Pirner: Eventually Moe ended up sleeping at my place one night, and that just made me think, wow, how your life becomes like somebody that you can be in that position, where the bartender's going to give you a ride home and then you're going to offer him a place to sleep, because that's just how much everybody knows and trusts each other.
Jesperson: I think eventually Matt and Moe just kind of gave in to the thing, and they even eventually kind of embraced it to the point of making those T-shirts that said, "Achin' to Be at the CC," or whatever it is. Little Replacements references.
Stinson: We spent countless hours in there talking, doing business, drinking, and just general tomfoolery over there. You know, just general goofing off. Wasting time, precious time, and brain cells. We kind of lived there through the '80s. It was the place to go and meet and do the crap we were into.
Bell: Paul [Westerberg] did a lot of his interviews during the day in here. I remember he did one with Rolling Stone, back there by the pool tables. He asked if I wanted to get in some pictures with him, but I said no.
Jesperson: I remember when [Rolling Stone journalist] David Fricke first came to Minneapolis to interview Westerberg. I think I picked him up at the airport actually, and brought him to the CC. So you think about that, a journalist who's now one of the senior editors at Rolling Stone magazine and writes the liner notes for half of the records released these days that are like archival pieces, he was hanging out there.
David Fricke, Rolling Stone senior editor: Paul obviously felt comfortable there. He was funny and thoughtful, warm and open with the right edge of confrontation. I remember that the ham and cheese sandwich I had was good and that Paul and I enjoyed a few Stroh's beers as we talked. He also kept putting quarters in the jukebox, which got us talking about his favorite records. In the piece, I noted that he punched up Elton John's "Rocket Man," Black Sabbath's "Iron Man," and Cher's "Gypsys Tramps and Thieves." The last one got us into a minor argument — he loved the song. I hated it.
The Replacements released the album Tim in October 1985, which included the song "Here Comes a Regular," widely thought to refer to the CC Club.
Stinson: I wouldn't know [if the song's about the CC], but it wouldn't be surprising. We spent countless hours and time hanging out there. When I hear the song, of course, sure, easily [I think of the bar].
Jesperson: I always picture that place when I hear that song. I think that if you ask Paul [Westerberg] he'd probably say that it's written about — I don't know if he'd cop to it or not — but yeah, I think it was. There were a lot of us who were regulars there, and to some degree that was a good thing, and to some degree it was like, Jesus, we're all at a certain point when we needed to cut back on our drinking. So it's a little of each. There's a positive and a negative to it in some ways.
G.R. Anderson Jr., Twin Cities journalist: I mean, it sounds like it was written in that place. Who knows what a song is about, but it sure sounds like the CC Club to me, the CC Club that I know. And the place always got awfully quiet when you played it on the jukebox.
In 1990, the Replacements released what would be their final album. Before the subsequent tour, original drummer Chris Mars left the band, and the remaining members turned to the CC to find a new one.
Pirner: My favorite story is the Replacements sitting around without a drummer and saying they were going to hire the next drummer who walks through the door.
Stinson: It happened like that, and it was kind of a funny fluke. We hired Steve Foley at the CC. He happened to walk in the door right as we were thinking, "Oh we need a drummer." Then he walked in the door and we said, "Oh, there you are. You're the drummer." And it turned out that he was pretty good too, so that helps.
Anderson: The generation I was part of at the CC was just kind of on the tail end of the Replacements thing. We were real Gen-Xers, and we were just a little bit younger than some of those guys. And it kind of felt like a club. Like they were seniors in high school and we were freshman.
In the early '90s, the Uptown landscape began to change. Some of the early corporate chains moved in, beginning the gentrification of the neighborhood.
Anderson: I remember just this, I wouldn't call it nihilism, but there was a lot of just defeatism that kind of permeated through. And this sort of inevitability of "The Man" — whoever he or she was — winning. That's really what the gentrification started to mean to me. It's like: It's not ours. Uptown isn't ours. It belongs to the highest bidder.
On February 18, 1995, Anderson was one of the last people to see former Replacements guitarist Bob Stinson alive. They ran into each other at the CC during a snowstorm, and over a few beers, Anderson convinced Stinson to play with his band, Rex Daisy, at the Fine Line that night. Anderson and his band's guitarist left the bar to pick up their lead singer from the airport, promising to swing back to Uptown to pick up Stinson on the way to the show.
Anderson: And we just made this deal: "Bob, we gotta play this gig tonight at the Fine Line, you know, come and play with us." When we left Bob, he said, "Don't be late. Don't be late." He really didn't want us to be late. And, of course, we were, because it was the airport and it was snowing and we were trying to get ready to go to the gig. My recollection is that we were like 15 minutes later than we said we'd pick him up. I got out, and I knocked on the door. It had a door at the bottom of the back of the building and it was open, so I went up to what I thought was his apartment, and I knocked on the door. And nothing happened. I got just this really creepy feeling. Like I was so creeped out, I don't think I even knocked again. So that following Sunday, which might have been the very next day, actually, Peter Jesperson had his radio show. He said Bob had died. And Steve — who I was with, Steve Price — called me. And I think we cried on the phone.
I think Bob's death was — you think of him so tied to south Minneapolis, and southwest Minneapolis. I think Bob dying in Uptown at that time isn't even metaphorical. I think it was a legitimate casualty of what was going on with the scene. It was sort of indicative of what was happening to this sort of idealized place that was never really ideal anyway.
In late 2012, whispers began circulating that the high-end organic restaurant next to the CC Club, the French Meadow, was in talks to buy the bar. In January 2013, the rumors proved true: The Emards and their partner announced that they had sold the CC.
Moe: We just got tired.
Sharon: Moe's going to be 80 July 6.
Moe: There's always something. And then every time something comes up, every week, it's always a phone call. If something bad happened that ruins the whole weekend. "We sold out of this," or so on. It just got — in the last couple of years — I wanted to sell a couple years ago, but they didn't want it. Then my partner, she didn't want to sell, and so I said, "Then you buy us out, because I don't want to be here anymore. I'm going to stop coming. I'm just tired." And then my wife started getting tired and she didn't want to do it either. Finally, last summer, both of them said, "That's it."
Lynn Gordon, president of the French Meadow Bakery and Cafe and new owner of the CC Club: When the news came out, there was incredible feedback. They have very loyal customers, and I got hate mail like, "She's going to put wheatgrass in the beer!" I think because French Meadow, perhaps one could think it's the antithesis of the CC Club, so initially everyone took a double take. But we're very excited to honor the establishment as it is, and we recognize that it has a culture and a flavor and people love it. It would be a bit arrogant of me to think that I could improve it. Hopefully we can do it justice.
Pirner: I don't know what kids do these days, but I'm always saying to people, "Well, I'm sure kids coming up in music in Minneapolis and everywhere else have the same sort of situation that I had." Only over time have I started to think, maybe there was something incredibly special about it, and maybe every town doesn't have a musical community like I had growing up, but it's hard for me to imagine.
Stinson: It's just a dingy old working-man's bar, they're littered all over the country, like where the blue-collar guy goes to unwind and talk about his woes. But all of us, we kind of came from that. We all come from that sort of life, a bunch of crap working stiffs trying to get by.
Metsa: Kind of the beauty of the CC is, on certain levels, it really hasn't changed in terms of visually and the vibe since I started going there in '78. The beauty of the CC , and any great bar, is you walk in and you're a little bit suspended in time.
Moe: I don't have the right words for it, it's just something about the place. It doesn't matter what era it is, it's the kind of place that young people like coming to. It's always been a place you could find somebody, somebody you were looking for or someone you knew. It's always been, "I'll meet you at the CC Club."
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