At 50 years, the family-owned Black Forest Inn is withstanding a lot more competition than the early days.
“There are easily 10 times the number of restaurants there used to be,” said Erica Christ, daughter of restaurant founder Erich and wife Joanne.
To keep afloat, Joanne said they have relied on creativity to “stay in touch with the heartbeat of the people.”
“But that’s the fun of it,” she said.
The creativity has generated a few surprise hits over the years, like David Hasselhoff Night. (Hasselhoff is much beloved in Germany.) The owners dreamed up the Night as a way to create an atypical Oktoberfest draw.
“We were totally willing for it to be a flop,” Joanne said. “Who cares that Germans are crazy about Hasselhoff?”
Apparently, lots of people. Groups of devoted Hasselhoff fans packed the restaurant to watch Baywatch reruns and hoot and holler.
Other surprise hits: Socks with Sandals Night — an acceptable fashion in Germany. Also Freudian Slip Night, where customers sprawled on a chaise lounge and counseled with the Doctor. And Fake German Accent Night, in which actors roamed the restaurant and chatted with guests. Staff thought the idea seemed thin at the time, but customers loved it and repeatedly called the actors back to their tables.
“We’ve never been an oom-pah-pah German shtick kind of place,” Erica said. “This is a neighborhood where we can really do something different. We have customers who will go along with it.”
For the restaurant’s 50th anniversary party, one new idea generated an invitation to the Twin Cities Paranormal Society. Some of the staff believe the restaurant is haunted. In the basement, they might see something out of the corners of their eyes, feel a presence, or hear stomping upstairs when they’re alone and the restaurant is locked. Talk of ghosts leads to mentions of former mob elements in the neighborhood; a purported basement bar; and Nellie Stevens, who once ran a café there and “fell” down the basement stairs, according to local legend. During the anniversary party, the Society led groups of people into the basement to investigate.
Other aspects of the restaurant’s history are more tangible — bullet holes are plain to see on a Richard Avedon photograph taken at the 1963 Daughters of the American Revolution convention. In 1986, a Black Forest bar patron stood up and fired three shots at the photo, walked out, and turned himself in to the police station.
“Though the bullet holes seriously damaged the resale value of the photo, they have added immeasurable value to the story of our restaurant,” states the website.
The restaurant’s story continues to evolve as new crowds discover the venue. It’s currently home to a “Birds and Beers” bird watching group, Knights Templar gatherings, and younger crowds barhopping on Nicollet.
“One couple came in and said, ‘Now this is a bar,'” Joanne said.
She said the nearby Children’s Theatre, Minneapolis College of Art and Design and Minneapolis Institute of Arts have had a tremendous impact on the restaurant. And they’ve landed great nearby retailers in Glam Doll Donuts and b. resale shop, she said.
“We’re really interwoven into the life of the city,” Joanne said. “This can’t be uprooted and placed somewhere else.”