A trip down memory lane at the CC Club

By Michelle Bruch Credit: CC Club's Moe Emard.

The CC Club might have been around since Prohibition, but departing co-owner Moe Emard is the one who welcomed the punk rockers inside.

Before he arrived in 1985, the tap beer system was dismantled and the club was striving to be a classy cocktail lounge. Day business was good, but the place was dead at night. A few punk rockers occasionally came into a corner of the bar — Emard described their style as “grungy,” with spiked hair — but the other customers hassled them until they left.

“That shouldn’t have been allowed to happen,” Emard said. “I said, ‘I own the place now, and I’ll tell who comes in and who doesn’t come in.’ … Well that spread like wildfire. Within three weeks, we were rocking and rolling.”

The CC Club went on to become a regular haunt for bands like TheReplacements and Soul Asylum, who stopped by after they finished playing.

Moe, his wife Sharon, and business partner Linda Rauen are preparing to retire from the bar business on March 1, turning over the keys and the coveted parking lot to the French Meadow Bakery & Cafe next door.

The new owners say they won’t tamper with the neighborhood icon, but at least a few changes are on the way. French Meadow Founder Lynn Gordon is collaborating with Sharon on a new menu. Potential additions include a veggie burger, a new pretzel to complement the CC Club queso dip, hummus with pita, fresh veggies, and ice cream sandwiches with homemade cookies. Sharon minimized the changes, however.

“This has always been a burger and fry place,” she said. “If people want to eat French Meadow food, they have to go to French Meadow.”

The CC Club owners have spent the past month training in Gordon’s son, who will serve as the new General Manager.

“It’s been a long run. It’s sad to be leaving, but it’s time,” Moe said. “It’s all I’ve done my whole life.”

Moe started bartending in the Navy, serving shots of whiskey at an officer’s club.

He later worked for a wholesale plumbing and heating outfit in St. Paul, and worked for a painting company in Northeast Minneapolis. But he never had a problem finding bar jobs. He worked at venues including the Radisson Hotel, Thunderbird, and Duff’s.

“I was just good. I was fast, and I had personality, and I tended the business. When I worked someplace I worked like it was my place,” he said.

At the Normandy Hotel, Moe said he worked the dayshift and could have used a shot glass for a tip jar.

“All these businessmen in the daytime, they thought that by giving you a dime tip they were really tipping you big. And they were all multimillionaires,” he said. “Everybody tips today. … The young generation are more aware of what’s going on.”

When Moe entered his 30s, he felt it was time to run his own place.

He and a regular at Duff’s took six weeks off of work and flew to Miami, where they found a small private club to buy.

“We got it for almost nothing,” he said.

He joined with partners to open a second bar in Minneapolis called Goofy’s, which operated where the Target Center is today.

“We didn’t have any idea what we were going to name it,” he said.

They commissioned an artist to create a logo, they put up a huge sign, and they lit the building so it could be seen from blocks away.

“It was like overnight we started doing business,” he said.

Years later, Moe had sold the bars and was looking for a new venture. He heard a tip from a sales rep that the owner of the CC Club was looking to sell. In earlier years, the “CC Tap” had been famous in the five-state area, booking the best bands in town.

“We got in on the ground floor,” Moe said. “[The owner] never even listed. If he had listed, there would have been a bidding war, because everyone would have wanted it.”

In the beginning, Sharon wasn’t wild about the idea. When he brought Sharon to see the place, she was horrified by the tiny bathroom stalls — she noted that women wore panty hose in those days, after all.

“I told Moe there was no way we could buy that bar,” she said. ” Nobody was putting any money in the till. … The bathrooms were horrible. But he did anyway. Depleted our savings account.”

CC Club might look like a time capsule, but Moe said the business has changed over time. Parking is always a complaint today, and it wasn’t a problem in the early days. And the jukebox has gone digital. With 3,000-plus songs and local bands adding their own tunes, the machine income has almost doubled, he said.

“It’s basically the same kind of people, although they’re dressed a little differently, and their drinking habits are different,” Moe said. “They’re more into draft beers today, because they’ve got them available. That’s why we have 22 different beers on tap. And that is nothing compared to other bars. Some bars have 40, 50, 60, 100 beers on tap, which is totally crazy.”

Asked for favorite CC Club memories, Moe told of a waitress dumping stolen beer pitchers onto the sidewalk, and told of ceiling chunks falling onto lunch tables. He said the ceiling would occasionally leak or even fall apart, due to tenants upstairs who left toilets running or allowed bathtubs to overflow. One day, a group of guys moved from table to table to avoid the ceiling drips, and finally parked at the bar.

“They said, ‘We’re not leaving. We’re waiting for another part of the ceiling to fall down,'” Moe said, laughing. “These guys stayed until closing time.”

Many of the staff at the CC Club have worked there more than a decade, with several racking up 20-plus years on the job. One bartender started at the club seven years before Moe arrived.

The new owner, Gordon, said she wanted to keep the sale a secret until she met with the staff.

“They were the first ones to know,” she said. “They love it, and just want to protect it.”

The CC Club owns French Meadow’s parking lot, and the retiring owners gave French Meadow the first chance to buy the bar. Gordon said the sale comes at a busy time — French Meadow is opening a new bar and patio on Lyndale, and it’s building a new Grand Avenue location in St. Paul. But she couldn’t risk losing their parking lot lease.

“We really need it, we’re not in a position to play around with not having it,” Gordon said. “I’ve got my hands full. But the universe has different plans for us. You roll up your sleeves and you go for it.”

Moe expects to travel a bit more during retirement. He and Sharon once kept a place in Florida, and in the past they visited Hawaii for a month at a time. He also expects to spend time in the kitchen. Sharon loves to cook — Moe said she corrects Martha Stewart’s cooking on television — and Moe serves as her apprentice whenever needed.

Longtime customer Tim Dray said he once lived a block away from the CC Club, and enjoyed walking over in the middle of winter without a coat. He said customers are hoping the club will remain as it is today.

“This is where everybody made their most famous pool shot,” Dray said. “People hear about this place before they ever come here. There aren’t many places like that.”