After 62 years, Minneapolis bar Lee’s Liquor Lounge will close in May
Lee’s Liquor Lounge, in the shadow of the Twins Stadium. Elizabeth Flores – Star Tribune
Well, not until May 14. That’s the closing date for the homey Minneapolis blue-collar corner bar-turned-hipster hangout that has been presenting eclectic live music for the past 25 years.
The 300-capacity wood-paneled, neon-signed saloon in the shadow of Target Field is losing its 84-space unpaved parking lot to construction of the light-rail for the Southwest corridor.
“It’s hard to build when they keep nailing you in the ankles,” said James Rhines, Lee’s general manager for the past four years.
Rhines said the essential parking lot — which Lee’s has had use of via a handshake deal between its previous longtime owner Louie Sirian and the Minneapolis City Council — is going to be used to house equipment as the light-rail is being built.
Lee’s owner Craig Kruckeberg, who bought the bar in 2015, couldn’t be reached for comment. Rhines said his boss hasn’t decided what to do with the property. However, the decision to close the bar at 101 Glenwood Av. N. came last Friday.
Fittingly, Texas twanger Dale Watson, who immortalized the place in his 1998 ditty “Louie’s Lee’s Liquor Lounge,” will be the final act, playing on May 12 and 14.
Rhines said business was “up and down but OK.”
Meanwhile, he is trying to make sure that bands he’d booked for Lee’s later this spring will be able to move their gigs elsewhere in the Twin Cities. Calls have been made to the Hook & Ladder, Uptown VFW and the Aster, among other venues.
Since he began booking Lee’s, Rhines has tried to fill a void left by the 2013 closing of St. Paul’s Station 4, a home to young metal and punk bands. He also has continued the eclectic tradition of Lee’s, with local and regional Americana, blues and country acts plus free swing-dance lessons once a week.
A 62-year-old neighborhood bar that catered to workers at several manufacturing plants in north Minneapolis, Lee’s turned into Minneapolis’ off-the-beaten path honky-tonk in the mid-’90s, thanks to booker Nate Dungan.
Not only did his band, the entertainingly twangy Trailer Trash, become mainstays at Lee’s, but he also booked a wide range of music, from original rock bands like the Dust Bunnies to Janie Miller’s Patsy Cline show as well as such nationally known heroes as Wanda Jackson, Billy Joe Shaver and Tiny Tim.
“This is a bar like no other,” said Dungan, who has performed in his share of them and will play at Lee’s on Saturday with Trailer Trash. “It was one of the last old real saloons. It was a bona fide working man’s drinking bar by day. And it became a hipster bar by night.”
But owner Sirian refused to modernize it. For years, he didn’t take credit cards, serve coffee or have an ATM machine.
Under Kruckeberg, some upgrades happened, but parking has remained a challenge.
Jackson Buck, who books the Hook & Ladder in south Minneapolis, was surprised by the imminent closing.
“I’m kind of in shock,” he said. “I thought the guy [Kruckeberg] would stick it out.”
Dungan, though, sees change as inevitable.
He recalls what Minneapolis guitar hero Slim Dunlap once told him: “When a bar closes, the scene vanishes without a trace.”