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BJ's, last Minneapolis strip club outside downtown, might lose 'adult entertainment' license

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To hear Brian Bjurstrom tell it, the city of Minneapolis has been after his father's bar for the past decade and a half.

Jerry Bjurstrom opened his establishment, BJ's Liquor Lounge, in the Near North neighborhood that bridges north Minneapolis to Northeast in 1980. BJ's was a neighborhood bar like any other, with one added feature: topless dancers

When it opened, the city had not yet passed its strict adult entertainment zoning laws, which now confine such activities to a few parcels of land downtown. If you've ever wondered why all the strip clubs seem so clustered together, that's why: The city gives them no choice.

The two exceptions were 22nd Avenue Station (commonly known as the "Deuce Deuce") and BJ's, which stayed open through a combination of grandfathering and grit. 22nd Avenue Station closed on its own (and the building has since been converted to the acclaimed Hai Hai restaurant), but BJ's kept up the fight. 

In February, two days after Minneapolis played host to the Super Bowl, Jerry Bjurstrom died. His son Brian Bjurstrom, who inherited the business, says the city of Minneapolis seized upon his father's death to make its move and try forcing BJ's out of the adult entertainment business.

This afternoon, a City Council subcommittee will review "business license operating conditions" for the friendly neighborhood topless bar. A document signed by a city licensing manager, and by Brian Bjurstrom, indicates BJ's will cease offering "adult entertainment," and will stop having "nudity at their establishment," starting on January 1, 2020.

Though at first reluctant to talk about the agreement on the record, Bjurstrom also doesn't want valued workers at the bar to get the wrong impression.

"Loyalty to my employees is right at the top of the list," he says, "and I don't want them to think I'm selling out, closing up shop, and saying, 'Too bad for you guys.' It's not like that."

Bjurstrom esitmates about half the staff at BJ's have been there for approaching 20 years if not more -- "we've had very little turnover" -- and he doesn't want them worried about the future of BJ's. He sees the agreement as a way to "get the city to leave us alone" for a time, and says he's in talks with an attorney to explore his options.

His preferred option is to keep running BJ's as a topless bar, right in that same location on West Broadway, as his dad did for almost four decades.

"Hopefully we're not going anywhere," Bjurstrom says. "The city's going to make up their mind. We want the year and a half [before January 1, 2020] to put that away. This gives us another 12 months to deal with things."

Bjurstrom says his father fought hard to keep the bar open, at one point filing a lawsuit against the city. He didn't indicate if he might consider the same measure to keep BJ's in operation as the last strip club outside downtown. He says he would not be attending the council subcommittee's afternoon hearing, and expected to get an update from his attorney on Wednesday. 

"BJ's intention is that it isn't leaving," Bjurstrom says. "I see this as another hurdle in the eventual destination."