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Ryan's Pub officially closing forever: A staffer reflects on the dive's final days

Chris Alto (guitar) and Andrew Turbes (fiddle) play for an enthusiastic, if small, crowd during the last St. Patrick's Day at Ryan's.

Chris Alto (guitar) and Andrew Turbes (fiddle) play for an enthusiastic, if small, crowd during the last St. Patrick's Day at Ryan's. Jared Goyette

After weeks of rumors, the end of Ryan's Pub was finally confirmed via a Facebook post announcing that Tuesday would be the "final last call."

Andrew McMahon of Belfast, owner of the neighborhood Irish/American bar, buried the lead in his understated Irish style, announcing the closure in the small print of a graphic for a “Happy Hour Hullaballo.”

The news was hardly surprising following the announcement earlier this month that the building housing Ryan's Pub -- as well as Market Bar-B-Que, Salsa a la Salsa, Asian Taste, and Upper Cuts Barbershop -- will be demolished to make way for a new six-story, 239-unit apartment complex. But while those other tenants at the corner of East 14th Street and Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis may return once construction is complete, and Market BBQ found a new home in Northeast, it seems to be curtains for Ryan's Pub, which has been known by that name since at least 2011. Previously, the address was home to Three Monkey’s, a sports bar, and before that, Bali, an Indonesian restaurant.

The staff at Ryan’s wasn't caught off guard, either -- and I can tell you that, because I was one of them. I've been working as a part-time line cook and dishwasher at Ryan's since last fall. Unlike most of my comrades, I wasn't necessarily good at my job, but I was a regular before I was an employee. And, over the last two years, I've come to appreciate more than just its gigantic chicken tenders and heartburn-inducingly large portions of loaded nachos. Ryan's, along with its neighbors, had a niche as a racially diverse, working-class space in a part of the city that’s quickly gentrifying.

At Ryan's, you’d find entirely different groups of people: a mix of convention attendees from out of town and folks from nearby public housing, as well as residents from the the older apartment buildings on Lasalle Avenue and Oak Grove Street, part of the area’s dwindling stock of "naturally occurring affordable housing" units (or buildings were the market rate is still affordable without any subsidy).

Ryan's was a real neighborhood hub, one that reflected its community in ways an ever-shrinking number of bars do. The dark, down-to-earth dive was almost a foil to the stainless-steel-and-soaring-ceilings taprooms that continue springing up around North America's third most expensive city.

"Ryan's was a place that anyone from any walk of life could go and feel welcome,” regular Taylor Kephart, 35, told me after leaving Monday night. "Whether you had five dollars or 5,000 in your pocket, you were welcome to sit down have a drink and chat with the cats around you. It was an unpretentious and warm environment, which I think this city is lacking."

Kephart and his girlfriend, Jessica Weinheimer, also 35, would often grab a seat at the bar after work. For Weinheimer, Ryan's was like Cheers, in that the core of regulars all typically walked to the bar and knew each other well.

"You never needed to care what you were wearing or what people would think of you," she says. "We all knew each other's stories. Like when someone's grandma died or when someone was having a bad day. We all were there for each other. Which made us a family."

While the city is losing a neighborhood hangout in Ryan's, a trend that’s likely to continue, the truth is the bar was struggling before the news came that its building would be demolished. Since December, Ryan's has been included on the list of establishments that owe back liquor sales tax, meaning that no wholesaler or brewery could deliver new product to the bar.

In practice, many of the employees came to realize this when we started running out of tap beers. All the kegs were kicked after the Super Bowl, which, for a time at least, provided a handy excuse. "Ah man, the Super Bowl, it totally whipped us out!" I told more than one frustrated table a few days after the game while I was working a server shift. That line started to wear thin after about a week, but the staff stretched it as far as we could. In the end, the remaining beer selection, scrawled in chalk by a pillar near the bar and on a wall, was reduced to Miller Light, Mich Golden, Bud, Bud Light, PBR, and MGD. That's a sad list. We ran out of Heineken (and didn't even have Hamm’s).

The workers knew the end was coming then, well before the news of demolition or Monday's Facebook post. St. Paddy’s Day had a bittersweet feel to it, even as a fiddler and a guitarist stopped by to play a song or two.

 

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Still, the neighborhood will lose a gathering spot, and some of my colleagues, like Sharn, a talented cook whose "Soul Food Sundays" specials helped make me a customer in the first place, will lose their jobs.

And customers like Kephart will have to find a new bar. Tellingly, It's not the the first time he's had to do that -- he was previously a regular at Uptown Bar, which closed in 2009.

"Ryan’s filled that void for me and the people I enjoy putting a cocktail back with," he says. "Now we are losing Ryan’s, a place where people met in the good times and bad, but no matter what, someone always had you. Bartenders, patrons, friends, always."

Update: A previous version of this story stated that McMahon is from Dublin. He's from Belfast!