“My grandfather was a bartender in the 1940s,” Tony Zaccardi says, “and my uncle owned a bar when I was growing up. My mom worked there. It’s in my blood.”
Zaccardi, who’s been a veteran of countless local bands over the past quarter century, might still be best known as the dreadlocked, bespectacled drink-slinger behind the bar at Grumpy’s Northeast for more years than are worth counting. But now—once all the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed—you’re going to have to get used to Tony Zaccardi, the new owner of Palmer’s Bar.
“I’ve wanted an opportunity like this forever. And until two months ago, I never imagined it happening,” says Zaccardi. “It’s going to be a transition for me, certainly, but I can bring my smiling face to the West Bank!”
Palmer’s has been an institution at 500 Cedar Ave. for decades, a unique outpost for drinkers who’ve etched a piece of themselves in the well-worn grooves of the bar stools. Its origins date back to 1906, when it was a beer hall owned by the Minneapolis Brewing Company (later Grain Belt), and has been known as Palmer’s for over half a century. As its website brags, the working-class waystation and mainstay of generations of West Bank counter-culture has survived “prohibition, bootlegging, two World Wars, the ’50s, the smoking ban, disco, Jesse & two Bush presidencies, [and] the mullet.”
It’s been the gateway to a brothel upstairs in the 1930s and the set of several scenes for the Charles Bukowski biopic Factotum in the 2000s. In between, it’s been the meeting place for many a Minneapolis eccentric and the drinking place for even more. This rich a history might feel like a lot for a new owner to take on, but Zaccardi remains undaunted by legacy.
“The history to me is the people of Palmer’s,” he says. “As [current owner] Lisa Hammer said, it’s the rich, poor, gay, straight, the black and the white. There are few places more diverse and rich in culture than Palmer’s. I wouldn't want it any other way. I wouldn’t be taking this leap of faith for just any bar. As a musician, I love the chance to run a music venue, but for me it will be about learning the culture and history, and the tales of that building. It is a storied institution, and I can’t wait to learn more.”
The deal isn’t 100 percent final yet, but Zaccardi feels confident that things will fall into place soon, even tweeting a photo of himself and Hammer with the hashtag #holyshit. Moving forward, he isn’t planning on changing much, taking a “don’t fix what isn’t broken” attitude. “I plan on accepting credit cards. Aside from that, I hope to play around with the tap beer list here and there,” he says, adding, “I look forward to helping bring more music to Palmer’s. The music lineup is already quite diverse, so aside from having input into certain shows, I do not anticipate much change there.”
Okay, credit cards, more music, and maybe some more tap beers. But what about the stuff that really makes Palmer’s what it is? It’s staying. “The 86’d wall, the ‘wall of death,’ the diversity, the community, Thanksgiving--I hope to carry on as many of Lisa and Keith’s [Berg, the former owner and Hammer’s spouse, who passed away in 2015] traditions as possible. I want to learn as much as I can.”
This is going to be a big change from his years behind the bar at Grumpy’s, but Zaccardi seems positively giddy at the chance to embrace an entirely new cast of customer/characters. “I think the culture and diversity will be a great eye-opener for me. Being able to walk in and have coffee with Spider John Koerner on a daily basis is really all you need to know!”