Music blared and smoke billowed throughout Westrum’s Tavern in Kingfield Feb. 28.
Old friends laughed and hugged, sipped drinks and shared memories.
“It’s been great to get to know everyone here,” said Westrum’s regular Jason Granholm. “The day crowd has been great. It’s sad. Now I don’t know where I’m going to go.”
At midnight, tavern owner Judy Westrum locked up her 60-year-old family business for the last time. The 4415 Nicollet Ave. S. tavern had been under fire from the city following numerous license violations including serving liquor beyond permitted hours, allowing smoking indoors and failing to meet the city’s required food-to-liquor ratio. The bar had also become a frequent stop for police, who said it was a late-night hangout for gang members.
After a conference with city licensing staff last November, Westrum decided to sell her bar, which she purchased from her parents 20 years ago. She agreed to a settlement with the city to give up her liquor license by the first of this month and, as part of the agreement, she cannot apply for another liquor license for five years. The City Council approved the settlement in February.
Westrum, who said she always wanted Westrum’s to be a classy little tavern, said she chose to retire her bar before it slid further downhill.
“It’s such a good business,” she said. “I just wasn’t working it to my full potential. I didn’t want to destroy it.”
Westrum said she will probably sell the building and business together and has already heard from several interested parties.
The Kingfield Neighborhood Association and many area residents, including City Council member Elizabeth Glidden (8th Ward), said they would like to see the space continue as a neighborhood tavern. “We have our eye out for buyers who will run it in a responsible manner,” Glidden said.
But Westrum’s die-hards are going to miss their bar.
Bob Damberger, a Westrum’s customer for 15 years, said he lives four blocks away from the bar, which he and many other patrons walked to and from. Now area residents will be driving somewhere to get a beer, which he said is a safety issue.
“This city has to look at the fact that people are still going to go have their cocktails,” Damberger said. “This is a neighborhood tavern that should have never, ever closed. Ever.”
Damberger, who many call “Bob Westrum” because he remodeled much of the bar and has keys to the building, guzzled drinks with friends during the tavern’s last hours. He said he knows the bar hasn’t been run perfectly.
“Judy could have run the business a little better, yes, but for this place to be closed is sinful,” he said.
Much of the problems at Westrum’s came from the establishment’s late-night clientele, said Lt. Marie Przynski of the Minneapolis Police Department’s 5th Precinct. Police frequented the bar in response to nuisance complaints such as loud noise and more serious crimes including prostitution and drug dealing.
Several individuals arrested at Westrum’s were members of the Bloods gang, she said.
Westrum’s cook, server and bartender Diane Terres said the crowd did change late at night.
“I tended to scoot out by 10 because from 10 to 2 was a problem, she said.
But she knew the name, drink and astrological sign of every daytime and early evening customer, she said.
Mary Cullen, a junior and senior high teacher of at-risk students and former Westrum’s server, said it’s difficult for employees to police the bar.
“And I’m a teacher; I have hawk eyes,” she said. “I hear and see everything.”
Cullen, 48, worked at Westrum’s until last August, but she had been going to the bar for 40 years. When she was 8 years old, she used to order burgers at the tavern with her parents, she said. She also remembers attending holiday parties at Westrum’s.
Beverly Horachek, a Westrum’s customer who used to run Casey’s Bar and Grill on Nicollet Avenue, said she thought the city could have tried harder to save Westrum’s.
“It’s very unfortunate that bars get blamed for all the bad news in the neighborhood,” she said. “I think the City Council could do a better job of helping the neighborhood work with bars rather than shutting them down.”
Horachek lit a cigarette. Granholm, sitting nearby, did the same. Frank Sinatra crooned through the speakers, and patrons enjoyed their last drinks at a neighborhood institution.
For information about purchasing Westrum’s, call 612-823-9199.
Reach Jake Weyer at 436-4367 or [email protected].