Retail building to replace Uptown Bar

Plans to demolish the iconic Uptown Bar & Café at 3018 Hennepin Ave. and replace it with a three-story retail building were unanimously approved Aug. 24 by the Minneapolis Planning Commission.

The decision followed a public hearing that drew no comment except from the bar’s band booker, Brian McDonough, who said he just wanted to find out what was going on. He and Ron Upton, a grey-bearded bouncer who has worked the bar’s front door for 14 years, were the only representatives of the establishment at the meeting and seemed bewildered by the swift outcome.

“I didn’t realize how far along it had gotten,” Upton said after the meeting. “I thought we were still, you know, there was a fight there.”

City planner Becca Farrar, who presented the development plans, said the city received several letters from community members concerned about the bar’s demolition. Locally famous for its live music, massive breakfasts and Bloody Marys, the Uptown Bar & Café is a familiar place to many.  

“Probably most of us have been there at some point in time, for either brunch or to see a show, so I think there’s some general sentiment that we’re all sad to see this go,” Farrar said.

But the building is not designated as a historic landmark and it’s not within a historical district, which makes it open to demolition, Farrar said.  Still, the Heritage Preservation Commission will review the site, as is standard practice, she said.

Local neighborhood groups did not submit recommendations about the development, according to the city’s staff report on the project. Anders Imboden, who chairs the East Calhoun Community Organization’s (ECCO) zoning committee, said Herman presented plans to the group, but it opted not to take a position.

“Our conversation was pretty much along the lines of, well, we don’t want to support this because the Uptown Bar is such an institution,” Imboden said. “But from what we gather, if the owner wants to sell the land there’s not much we can really say about that from a zoning perspective.”

The new, two-floor development will stand 40 feet tall and total 9,660 square feet. The Planning Commission approved a variance allowing a reduction in off-street parking spaces from seven to zero and another allowing more than the maximum of 8,000 square feet for retail sales and services.  

No tenant has been announced for the new space, but deal broker Jeffrey Herman, president of retail brokerage and development company Urban Anthology, said he hoped to make an announcement this month.

Herman submitted the development plans on behalf of Toonen Enterprises, which owns the property. It’s the company of Frank Toonen, an elderly man whose son ran the Uptown Bar for decades before he died last summer. Toonen decided to sell the property to raise money that he plans to leave his wife and his son’s widow, Herman said.

The broker said he’s supportive of the business and is helping search for a new location. A couple possibilities have been found, but he wouldn’t disclose the locations.  

“Moving a landmark music institution is not easy,” Herman said.

Restaurant managers declined to comment on the situation.  

Construction of the new development is scheduled to begin before winter.

Herman was behind the deals that brought Victoria’s Secret, American Apparel and The North Face to the corner of Hennepin Avenue and Lake Street. He also brokered a deal with Columbia Sportswear, which is building a new store next to the Uptown Bar.

Reach Jake Weyer at 436-4367 or jweyer@mnpubs.com.