Local Current Blog

Nick and Eddie ends four-year run as haven for Minneapolis music weirdos

Credit: Ben Clark

On Saturday afternoon, a lengthy list of bands will congregate to perform in the alley behind Nick and Eddie for the bar, restaurant, and music venue’s final show. On Sunday morning, staff will serve brunch for the last time. And on Monday, that same staff will pack the restaurant’s namesake-bearing dishes into boxes and vacate the premises, effectively ending an era of uncertain, experimental, and ultimately unforgettable experiences in the small Loring Park bar.

As a resident of the neighborhood, I’ve been a regular at Nick and Eddie since before it started hosting music on a regular basis — which I bring up not only to disclose my bias toward the space and its value to its surrounding community but to illustrate that I’ve watched it evolve through several different, equally challenging periods as a business since its opening in 2008.

When I first set foot in the space, it was an upscale restaurant; the drinks and food were excellent, and the price modest compared to the quality. Beautiful, jarring artwork adorned the walls and the wait staff were trained to pamper its clientele. The restaurant was clearly competing with the neighboring Cafe Lurcat, and during the dinner hour, it was succeeding — but after dark, the bar would empty out into the night. The management sensed a greater possibility, and also a grave danger. In 2009, the place nearly shuttered. I remember sitting in a nearly empty bar comforting one of the bartenders as he scraped the bottom of the barrel for enough liquor to piece together a cocktail. With the shelves bare, he created a series of drinks based around the last bottle of absinthe. I was certain the bar would be closed soon after, but somehow it rallied, slowly refilled its liquor stock, and stayed alive.

Shortly after that grim period, manager Doug Anderson — a true character if there ever was one, eternally nostalgic for his days spent deep in the influential New York punk scene but also always seeking out the best and weirdest talent in the Twin Cities — started hosting bands in the back of the restaurant’s cavernous, awkwardly shaped room. A stage was constructed and constantly shifted to different areas of the room as Anderson figured out what would best complement the dismal acoustics, and by the February of 2010 he had recruited Ryan Olson to host a weekly residency at the restaurant and use the space to experiment with his improvisational noise collective, Marijuana Deathsquads.

Marijuana Deathsquads with Brad Cook (Megafaun); photo by Ben Clark

The thrill of the Marijuana Deathsquads residency was immediately apparent. By their second gig, it became clear that the performances would not be limited to the band’s five core members (Olson, vocalists Isaac Gale and Stef Alexander, and drummers Ben Ivascu and Freddy Votel). Mark McGee, then known as the mind behind To Kill a Petty Bourgeois and now as half of Father You See Queen, was an early and constant addition to the group, as were solo artists Albert and Jason Power, who performs under the name Slapping Purses. At one show, Ryan Olson decided to disband the whole project and instead set up eight drum kits, recruiting players like Shawn Walker of Gay Witch Abortion and Lori Barbero of Babes in Toyland (who worked as a waitress at the bar) to fill the space with a polyrhythmic cacophony.

Word caught on and Wednesday nights at Nick and Eddie became the place to be, and, sometimes surreally, the place to spot Minnesotans of varying degrees of celebrity. Josh Hartnett, Justin Vernon, Sean Tillmann, and Nick Swardson were all regulars, along with omnipresent artist Scott Seekins, whose studio was located above the bar; it became such a scene, in every sense of the word, that there was a running joke/insult among the regulars that it had become impossible to describe the experience without dropping a laundry list of names. It was all very un-Minnesotan, in other words, as more and more people came to mingle, gawk, and take in 20-minute bursts of loud, rapturous music by the snowballing band.

Of course, the most exciting moments were when those macro- and micro-celebrities would get up on stage. It was the first time Olson’s talent as a curator and arranger of personalities was on display in a public forum, and it came as no surprise later that year that Olson had produced an ambitious yet somehow seamless collection of songs he had recorded with approximately 25 of his closest friends. That record, Relayted, was first played publicly at Nick and Eddie, and Olson began referring to the bar as the “Gayngs clubhouse” and using it as a gathering place for his ever-increasing list of bandmates and all of their peripheral projects. The consistency of the Wednesday night residency and the excitement building around the Gayngs and Marijuana Deathsquads projects was contagious, and myriad friendships were forged over those late-night cocktails and eardrum-blasting sessions. And the parties were incredible. Forget work hard, play hard; those nights at Nick and Eddie were the culmination of a group of musicians, artists, actors, and writings working hard and playing hard simultaneously. The momentum built to a breaking point, and it felt like the whole bar was about to pick up and move to New York at any minute, if such a thing was possible.

P.O.S. playing a “secret” show at N+E in 2010; photo by Ben Clark

All the while, the restaurant rode a roller coaster of victories and defeats. The more popular the evening gigs became, the more graffitied and filthy the restaurant grew; as the bookers started adding more live music and dance nights to its schedule, it became tougher to recover from the wear and tear of having their restaurant moonlight as a nightclub. Sometimes the bar would be fully stocked, while on other days the beer selection was down to just PBR. Staff became increasingly agitated and disengaged. At a rowdy New Year’s Eve dance night called Bomp!, an angry patron kicked in a front window and the glass pane remains spidered to this day, left unrepaired. And the final nail in the coffin for foodies came when masterful chef Derek Moran left last year to go work at the Dakota Jazz Club.

Marijuana Deathsquads played a year of Wednesday night gigs and then moved on to L.A., New York, and Austin, opting to play other clubs like the Entry and Turf Club when they returned home. Mark McGee started up his own Wednesday residency at the club and spawned the group H.U.N.X., which is now Votel. Bartender Brent Westrum began flexing his booking muscles and utilizing the bar’s gorgeous and distinctive back-alley space for a series of outdoor shows, a warehouse was opened across the alley for a series of Nick and Eddie-curated shows, and Minneapolis Lennonophile Curtiss A started up a Thursday night residency, initiating an older generation of music fans to the unique space. But despite these small successes, none of the bookings have been profitable enough to keep the rest of the struggling business afloat.

After this weekend’s closing show and brunch, it’s been reported that Cafe Maude owner Kevin Sheehy will move into the space, though a lease has not yet been signed, meaning that the room may host music in one form or another in the future. And this summer, there will be a new life for Nick and Eddie, though manager Doug Anderson is waiting until the loose ends are tied up at the current location to discuss it on the record. Anderson will definitely be involved (update: though not as an owner, only as an employee), along with a few of the bar’s other longtime staff members, and they will begin revealing those details next week.

In a way, I have been waiting for Nick and Eddie to close since the day I first set foot in it. But now that the moment has finally come, it feels too soon.

Nick and Eddie’s last show, “Fin,” will feature performances by The Desert Vest, Humanda, Dial-Up, Option Two, Demographics, The Idle Hands, The Cavalier Crooks, and Thug Mansion All-Starz on Saturday, March 31, starting at 2pm.

The bar has added one last show for Sunday night, April 1. Here are set times:

1:20 – 2 a.m. DJ Lady Heat 1:30 a.m.
1:10 – 1:15 Tomahawk Tassels (one song)
12: 35 – 1:00 The Seawhores
12:05 – 12: 25 Birthday Suits 
11:35 -11:55 Jacob Grun
11:00 – 11:25 *** Super Secret Special guest band *** 
10:25 – 10:55 Nato Coles and The Blue Diamond Band
10–10:20 Reverse Rapture (Kristina Lund solo)
9:20 – 9:45 Pink Mink (last band outside)
8:45 – 9:10 Baby Boys
8:10 – 8:35 The Magnolias
7:35 – 8:00 Machine 22
7:00 – 7:25 Zoo Animal
6:30 – 6:50 Jon Nielson of Fortified Five
5:45 – 6:15 Grant Cutler 
++DJ’s Lady Heat (Christy Hunt and Danielle Morris), DJ CGull, DJ’s Nato Coles and Sara Pette, DJ Tony Zaccardi and DJ Mark McGee.

Photo by Ben Clark