Local Current Blog

First look: West Bank institution the Viking Bar prepares to re-open this week

Photos by Nate Ryan/MPR

“We’ve wanted to get involved in a bar like this for 20 years now,” says Patrick Johnston, one of a team of new owners who are set to re-open the legendary Viking Bar this week.

“We wanted a place with character, and history — not a dive, but a place with a vibe,” adds partner Aaron Britt.

The place with the vibe is the historic Viking Bar, which is housed in an early 1900s brick building off the intersection of Cedar and Riverside, and was a favorite watering hole and performance space for influential West Bank musicians like Koerner, Ray and Glover, Willie Murphy, and Cornbread Harris.

Together with Britt’s wife Amy, the new ownership has been carefully restoring and updating the bar and venue to its original glory, rescuing it from 10 years of inactivity and a potential sale to a particular sandwich franchise that had its eye on the space. The Britt and Johnston families previously worked together in Los Angeles, and the seed for opening a bar in the Twin Cities was first planted when Amy got a job at the Walker Art Center and relocated to Minneapolis. About a year ago they started dipping their toes into the real estate market, and teamed up with Rebekah Cook, Mike Smith, and James Brown of Forage Modern Workshop (who also just helped to restore the retro Hi-Lo Diner on East Lake Street) to look for the right opportunity.

With the liquor license having long ago expired, the team had their work cut out for them: In order to re-open the Viking as a bar and obtain new licenses, they had to completely remodel the bathrooms and entrance, and add a compact commercial kitchen to an unfinished basement that had previously only been used to store kegs and old barstools. While they were at it, they decked out the stage with new sound and lighting equipment, expanded the back bar’s storage, added flat-screen TVs above the bar, and removed a drop ceiling to expose the turn-of-the-century building’s original tin tiles.

To help add to the vibe of the space, they kept the booths exactly the same and even added a new gold banana booth purchased out of auction from the now defunct Nye’s.

“We are the caretakers of this history,” said Amy Britt, leafing gingerly through a stack of old posters, matchbooks, and drink tokens that she discovered in the space.

The Viking Bar reopens this Wednesday, May 25, at 10 a.m. The owners say they have called on Jackson Buck, Jesse Brodd, and Chris Mozena to curate a mix of performers with history on the West Bank and emerging acts that play everything from funk and soul to folk, R&B, and rock music. Find the first bookings listed below.

Drew Peterson
Siama Matuzungidi

Freewheelin’ First Friday
Rena Haus
Steve Kaul & Brass Kings

Legends Series
Willie Murphy

Sunday Residency – June
Curtiss A & The Dark Clik

Jesse’s Joyrides
Circle of Heat

Cornbread Harris

KFAI live remote of Sugar Shop
DJ Larry Englund
The April Fools

Mississippi Driftwood

Sunday Residency – June
Curtiss A & The Dark Clik