'I got bit once': A CC Club server reflects on her 30-year career

Kim Laurent-Lusk: “I’m the host of the party at every table.”

Kim Laurent-Lusk: “I’m the host of the party at every table.” Lucy Hawthorne

“I actually got bit by a woman once.”

Kim Laurent-Lusk sits in a booth at the CC Club, drinking a Kona brown ale and reminiscing about her 30 years as a server at the Lyndale Avenue institution. Among the occasional but inevitable confrontations with customers, this one stood out.

“She was a younger woman. She’d had too much to drink, she was probably on drugs. I tried to get her to leave, and in that process she bit my arm. Like, clamped down. Finally I got her contained and down on the floor; one of the other servers came over, and I said, ‘Just get her out of here.’ I went up the bar, and I was shaking. I said, ‘Can I have the rail vodka?’ I just put that vodka right on the bite to disinfect it. Then, I went back to work.”

Slinging booze at the CC Club is not for the faint of heart — but it’s not for the small of heart, either. There have been “way more good people than bad,” says Laurent-Lusk. “There have been so many marriages out of this bar, it would blow your mind. I came here on my wedding night! My wedding was down at the VFW, and there was a parade all the way down from the VFW to the CC Club, me walking in my wedding dress.”

To celebrate Laurent-Lusk’s three decades of service, the bar is throwing an anniversary party on Sunday, April 30, with free appetizers and “all kinds of drink specials” starting at 6 p.m. It has to start that early, she says, “because there’ll be old-schoolers who’ll want to come in early, and then there’ll be the friends of mine and industry people who will come in late.”

First, though, Laurent-Lusk is taking a few weeks off for a hip replacement — her second. The work has taken a physical toll, but Laurent-Lusk loves it too much to stop. Now 56, she walks her territory with a relaxed but purposeful gait. Her short red hair can be seen bobbing among the venue’s gen-X stalwarts and a new generation of young patrons seeking an oasis of authenticity in the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood.

“Places are just becoming so cafeteria-looking,” Laurent-Lusk said. “Lights are too bright. When people want to go to a bar, they just want to go to a bar. They want it to be dark, they want it to be comfortable, they want there to be music, they want friendly interaction. There’s not a lot of places set up like that any more.”

The CC Club has been attracting neighborhood newcomers since long before they were living in buildings with names like Lime, Blue, and Elan. “Everybody that came here back in the day,” remembers Laurent-Lusk, “came from the suburbs! It’s the same thing that’s happening [today]. They want a place that’s not so generic. They want a place that’s their community.”

Laurent-Lusk herself was a kid from the suburbs: Bloomington, to be exact. She moved to Uptown in 1979, and inevitably found herself hanging out at the CC Club. In 1987, a job opened up and she made the move to the CC from Williams — a venue then serving as both a restaurant and a comedy club, where she rubbed elbows with the likes of Tom Arnold and Lizz Winstead.

The drink preferences there, Laurent-Lusk remembers, were a little different. When CC Club co-owner Matt Chamernick asked if she had experience serving liquor, she said, “If you think that serving White Russians is cocktailing, then I’ve got experience.”

The ’80s-era CC Club has since become legendary as a hangout for local musicians, but Laurent-Lusk says that as a young woman, she was more inclined to go to dance nights and national shows in First Ave’s Mainroom than to hang out at the Entry and catch local bands. “I never understood [that] there was such an active local music scene, until they became my friends.”

She’s served Paul Westerberg — whose Replacements song “Here Comes a Regular” is generally assumed to have been inspired by the CC — a few times, and said he was “amazing, always very polite.” The list goes on: “Gear Daddies. Run Westy Run. Soul Asylum. The Clams. Swingin’ Teens. Babes in Toyland. Too many bands to name.”

Over the years, though, the buzz faded and the crowds dwindled. Before the French Meadow bought the CC Club in 2013, Laurent-Lusk remembers, the empty booths “got pretty scary.” Laurent-Lusk credits French Meadow owner Lynn Gordon with making some much-needed upgrades while not changing the bar’s essential character.

“She got letters and emails from all over the country,” says Laurent-Lusk, “saying, don’t change it. She said, ‘Okay, we’re going to leave it just the way it is,’ and that must have been a struggle for her, because financially, we were in a bad spot. We needed a lot of repairs. It cost them a fortune, but they had faith that it would turn around.”

Now the bar is bumping again, and Laurent-Lusk has been pleased to see the clientele diversify. “It’s still predominantly white, but not as much as it used to be,” she said. “I think that comes from the hip-hop scene, and I’m really happy about that. Hip-hop is a really big part of this bar now.”

The CC Club is known today for its smoker-friendly patio, but before the 2007 smoking ban, the whole bar used to be that way, Laurent-Lusk remembered. “Three ashtrays on every table. One night we decided that we would count all the empty packs that people left. It was 150, and that doesn’t count all the cigarette packs that walked out of here.”

The bar’s received plenty of local and national media coverage over the years, and there’s a steady stream of tourists who make their way to the storied watering hole — but as celebrity sightings go, the CC hasn’t had anything as big as Lady Gaga’s 2010 visit to the Turf Club. Laurent-Lusk says she’s impressed enough whenever rapper Sean Daley walks in. “He has a lot of charisma! I go to every Atmosphere show I can.”

Serving hasn’t been the only career for Laurent-Lusk in the past 30 years. “I never intended to stay,” she said. “I’ve always been working on other things. I managed a band [Pennyroyal], I’ve been a flight attendant, I’ve booked shows.”

Beyond the economic incentives to stay, says Laurent-Lusk, “it just feels good” to be a CC Club server. “It’s hard work, but if I left, I think I’d really miss it.”

While efficiency in taking and delivering orders is still the bottom line, Laurent-Lusk says to be successful as a CC Club server, you have to understand where you are. When you’re rattling off the pitcher specials beneath the bar’s iconic brown shingles, you’re part of something bigger.

“I like to be part of the experience,” she said. “I like to make friends. I care about people. I enjoy them — for the most part. I’m the host of the party at every table, and that’s how I’ve always looked at being in the bar industry.”

Initially, Laurent-Lusk dismissed her co-workers’ suggestions that the bar should celebrate her anniversary of employment — she thought they should wait until she retires, someday.

“They said, ‘Well, where are you going?’ I said, ‘I don’t know. How long do you want me to stay, until I’m, like, 60?’ They’re like, ‘Yeah, why not?’ So then that put it in my head: I guess I’m not going for a while, so we might as well have an anniversary party.”

CC Club
2600 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis