Local Current Blog

400 Bar’s move to Mall of America begins with the Beatles

Photos by Jay Gabler/MPR

Mall of America‘s fourth floor is temporarily home to the bass drum Ringo Starr played on The Ed Sullivan Show and John Lennon’s first pair of yellow-tinted spectacles, but the most eye-popping exhibit for many Minnesota music fans will be the sign painted on the wall across from Cantina #1: a giant blue-and-white 400 Bar logo, the most tangible evidence yet that one of the most unexpected venue transformations in Twin Cities music history is actually happening.

To co-owner Tom Sullivan, though, the West Bank institution’s reopening at the giant indoor shopping center is anything but unexpected. In fact, he told me, he started considering a move to the mall seven and a half years ago, when he realized that many local residents weren’t being exposed to live music by new artists because the potential attendees weren’t making it to the urban venues where those artists typically perform. The former Planet Hollywood space was vacant at the time, Sullivan noted, and he and his brother Bill started thinking about moving their fabled bar to Bloomington. “The biggest tourist attraction in the world was ten miles from my house,” he said, “and I hadn’t even considered that!”

The new 400 Bar will be, appropriately, super-sized in comparison to its former home. (The new space won’t be called “the 400 Bar,” but will have a new name that plays on that round number marking both its former address on Cedar Ave. S. and its new address on E. Broadway Ave.) There will be a music venue with a capacity of approximately 1,000; there will be an adjoining restaurant; and there will be the Midwest Music Museum.

The latter of the three, which will host touring music exhibits starting with Ladies and Gentlemen…the Beatles!, is the first to open; the exhibit is on display to the public starting today and running through September 7. The restaurant’s opening date has yet to be announced, but the music venue’s first show has been booked: Denny Laine on August 1, the day before Laine’s Wings bandmate Paul McCartney plays Target Field.

The Bloomington connections run deeper: 49 years ago, McCartney played the Minnesota Twins’ then-home, Metropolitan Stadium, with the Beatles. Met Stadium’s former location is now occupied by—that’s right—Mall of America. That Met Stadium gig was the Beatles’ only Minnesota show, and a large gallery at the opening of the current installation of Ladies and Gentlemen is devoted to Bob Bonis’s photographs of the Fab Four playing a vast-looking stage in their natty matching suits; they still bowed formally at the end of every song.

The rest of Ladies and Gentlemen—curated by the Grammy Museum and Fab Four Exhibits, the touring show made its first stop earlier this year at the New York Public Library—contains a number of authentic rarities (for example, Ringo’s Abbey Road cover shoot jacket) displayed in vitrines alongside interactive components (I did a poor job of playing wooden-box-bass in a skiffle band) and videos in which, for example, Ringo talks about how cool it was to meet Dean Martin. The installation of a “Beatles fan’s bedroom” is a nice touch; you can imagine yourself lying on that bed and trying to decide whether you liked the cute one, the funny one, the quiet one, or the drummer. At $7 for adult admission, the Beatles show is a bargain in comparison to touring shows like the $16.99 Star Trek exhibit now also at the mall.

The venue’s owners aren’t yet sharing many specific details about the new space, but Steve Weiss—a booker who worked with the Sullivans at the old 400 Bar and is back to help out at the new space—told me that plans are for “more of the same”: promising young bands who might go on to achieve greatness, like 400 Bar alumni Arcade Fire, Conor Oberst, and Devendra Banhart. “That was a good show,” remembered Weiss regarding the Banhart gig. “We had 60 people—we actually made money.”

As I was leaving the museum, I witnessed the arrival of Ray Crump—the Twins’ former equipment manager, now an elderly man riding a power scooter, who was snapped with the Beatles in the Met Stadium locker room in a photograph displayed prominently at the exhibit entrance. Crump read the plaque about himself and lingered for a few minutes, telling stories about that remarkable day in 1965. 49 years from now, what stories will we be telling about the summer of ’14 at Target Field—and the new 400? I don’t know, but it seems a safe bet that there will be some good ones.

Ray Crump

Beatles in Minnesota

Beatles Instruments

Beatles Ringo

400 Bar sign copy