Uptown VFW adding barstools and bands

Credit: Uptown VFW Post 246 Commander Gary Miller (l), Senior Vice Commander Dominic Anspach and Gary Abrahamson at the original bar, which remains open and unchanged throughout the Lyndale Avenue renovation. Photo by Michelle Bruch

Fresh off an appearance on “Best Bars in America,” the Uptown VFW is under renovation to build a new live music room and another bar that opens to the street. But they promise not to touch the original karaoke bar — a crucial stipulation from regulars.

Floor-to-ceiling glass and an outdoor patio will front Lyndale, with lots of TVs playing sports and a full kitchen that opens for breakfast on weekends.

The live music area (which served as the VFW’s bingo hall years ago) would accommodate 400-500 people, with a stage featuring everything from “country to The Current.”

The building investment uses proceeds from parking lot air rights sold to the neighboring apartment development. As a nonprofit with charitable gaming, the VFW uses its profits to care for veterans.

“When people come in here and have fun, they’re actually supporting veterans,” said Post 246 Commander Gary Miller. “We’re much more than just a bar.”

The Post funds hockey and baseball leagues, high school sports uniforms, holiday gifts for families who have lost a soldier, get-aways for those suffering from post-traumatic stress, and a Michigan residence where families can stay for free.

Muralist Scott LoBaido painted the VFW’s flag mural on Lyndale in a single day. The mural honors Marine Cpl. Mark Litynski, a Minnesotan who lost both legs and an arm in an explosion in Afghanistan.

Miller said the VFW provides a vital support system.

“We’re losing 23 a day to suicide,” he said. “It’s one of the reasons why I retired after 22 years in the military. This is my calling.”

Strong support networks aren’t always enough, he said, because family members don’t understand what veterans have been through.

“You just can’t turn it off that quickly,” he said.

With more than 500 members, the Uptown VFW is among the top 5 in the country for the number of members working in current conflicts. With VFW members dwindling across the country, Miller often finds himself fielding the question “What’s your secret?” at state and national conventions.

“We’re thriving, where everybody else is trying to keep the lights on,” said Dominic Anspach, senior vice commander.

Miller said he recognizes that younger members aren’t interested in sitting around and sharing war stories.

“We have members from 21 to 94,” he said. “It’s everything from Bingo to DJs. There is something going on every night of the week. … They feel like they’re back home in small town Wisconsin, even though they’re in Uptown.”

“Most of the time it’s just a place to hang out and feel that brotherhood again,” Anspach said.

The renovation is expected to wrap up in late November or early December.