The Tuesday before Thanksgiving, my friend Tom Willford shimmied on the dance floor in the back room of Nye’s Polonaise Room, as my brother Terry and his ace band St. Dominic’s Trio once again entertained the Tuesday night troops with their heart and soul-shaking rock & roll, and, as they have every Tuesday for going on six years, kissed, put to bed, and once-and-for-all tucked in the tired Minnesota trope that “nothing good ever happens after 10 o’clock.”
To the contrary, as the clock above the band and bathrooms neared midnight, Tom was rocking out to a guest appearance by Ike Reilly, the Libertyville, Illinois punk rocker who landed with most of his band at Nye’s after having just blown the roof off another Northeast Minneapolis institution, Grumpy’s, and who were ramping up to do similar damage to First Avenue the following night.
As Reilly-Walsh guided St. Dom’s through a mash-up of “Highway 61 Revisited/Walkin’ The Dog,” and as Ike’s howling blues harp mated with Tim Martin’s banshee trumpet solo to a rapt couple dozen that included Ike’s teenage son Kevin and several Tuesday regulars and out-of-towners, I made my way down the length of the bar to put my arm around Tom, who explained his obvious and supremely in-the-moment euphoria with, “You gotta enjoy it while you can, Jimmy, because you never know when it’s going to end.”
Happy Thanksgiving: Little did Tom or I know that as we spoke and danced, a deal had been struck to sell Nye’s, and, barring an unforeseen metro planning miracle, by this time next year the 65-year-old Minneapolis nightclub/love machine will be dust and/or condos. (I tried visiting it last night, but it was closed and cold and dark and when I peaked in the windows, hell if the napkins, menus, band posters and other ephemera didn’t already look like something out of a Ken Burns doc waiting to happen).
But before it goes the way of all great long lost bars, love letters like this one are bound to make the rounds, and for good reason: Every town should be so lucky to have a bar like Nye’s, a locally-owned nightclub and pioneer in the land of 10 million organic foodies and craft brewers that should be celebrated for seven decades of bringing people together via songs, stories, neon lights, and naugahyde booths. Snobs regularly call Nye’s a “dive bar,” but if you love the human aquarium and Minneapolis history, it’s hallowed ground — as holy as the plot that houses the church sitting behind it, Our Lady of Lourdes.
Anyone who’s spent any time at Nye’s can name meaningful nights there. Luckily, I celebrated birthdays and DeLaSalle High School reunions there, surrounded by friends and family, and fell in love with the joint on Wednesday nights with Molly Maher and Her Disbelievers and the Erik Koskinen Band, who, for almost a decade, turned the joint into a real-deal honky-tonk. I’ve also done my time at the piano bar, most recently Tuesday nights with big-hearted maestro John Eller, who generously fills the room with slurred standards and glammy pop-rock singalong magic.
I’ve commemorated the entire spectrum of the human experience there, including births, jobs, loves, deaths, divorces, and holidays, many of which have been deliciously augmented by homemade baked goods from Tuesday regulars Kim, Maggie, and Kayla. Dive bar? Maybe. But also a home away from home.
My brother broke the news to me about Nye’s rumored closing over Thanksgiving dinner. I told him I didn’t buy it, because a world without Nye’s is unbelievable and unthinkable and uncivilized and because I didn’t and don’t want to believe it, but c’est la vie and Tom’s right: Knowing everything we know about this thing called life, there’s no time like the present to celebrate the present.
Because someday soon, photos like the one accompanying this column — taken in the summer of 2008, of a bunch of big kids and found family hanging outside Nye’s on the banks of the Mississippi, the beer and band flowing and hope and hearts springing eternal — will be distant, delicious memories.
Jim Walsh lives and grew up in East Harriet. He can be reached at [email protected]