Local Current Blog

The Viking Bar closes amid ownership dispute

The Viking Bar in 2016 (Photo by Nate Ryan/MPR)

Less than two years after a major remodel and reopening, the historic Viking Bar in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood has closed and its building has been put up for sale.

Built in 1905 and opened as the Viking in 1959, the bar became a hotspot for West Bank blues and folk musicians during the scene’s explosion in the 1960s-’70s, hosting popular acts like Bill Hinckley and Judy Larson, “Spider” John Koerner and Willie Murphy, who ultimately played what would be the bar’s first closing night on July 31, 2006. By that time the bar had been owned by the same family for 47 years.

With the simple words “Gone Fishin'” placed onto the marquee, the Viking sat empty and untouched for nearly a decade. Then in early 2016 a new era was announced: the building had been purchased, extensive renovations were underway, and the new-old Viking Bar would be available to musicians and West Bank visitors once again.

The bar reopened on May 25, 2016 to much fanfare. Willie Murphy was announced as one of the first performers to play the reopened space, as were other local legends like Cornbread Harris and Curtiss A. The new owners, Patrick L. Johnston and husband-and-wife duo Amy and Aaron Britt, had partnered with Forage Modern Workshop to completely overhaul the bar, updating the bathrooms and adding a commercial kitchen, as well as new stage lighting and PAs, while retaining the character of the turn-of-the-century building. Johnston’s son, Patrick G. Johnston, became the day-to-day manager, and three different bookers were tapped to fill out the performance schedule, pulling from all corners of the eclectic West Bank scene.

But the new partnership appears to have faded quickly.

When reached for comment about the status of the bar today, the bar’s current management simply said, “It will play out in court.” Reached separately, Amy Britt said that, “Aaron and I are no longer involved with the Viking Bar, other than legally. Aaron’s last day there was November 18, 2016 and neither of us has been in since.” The Britts are minority owners of the bar, while Patrick L. Johnston is the majority owner.

Management also indicated that the bar may be sold soon — in a real estate listing posted December 27, the two-story building is being offered at $1,084,000. A flyer advertising the property states that the building is “100% occupied by three tenants,” including the Viking Bar, Glitch (which rents the second floor), and Clear Channel, which provides billboard income on the roof.

If the bar remains closed, the last concert hosted during this iteration of the Viking will have been the Car Hearts, Dry Ice and the Confused Brothers Band, who all performed on Saturday night, January 6. No additional concerts are currently listed on the bar’s website.

“It’s hard to see so many of the places where we had such good audiences close — Harriet Brewing, Wild Tymes, Whiskey Junction, The Nicollet, and now The Viking,” says AJ Scheiber of Wilkinson James, who performed regularly at the reopened Viking. “It is getting tougher and tougher to find congenial performance venues around town — so much talent vying for fewer and fewer platforms.”

  • Darwin Holmstrom

    It’s sad that our band’s (The Car Hearts) first show there will turn out to be our last. It was a great venue.

  • Jeff Miletich

    Sad to see this. I was only there a couple times since they re-opened & the staff were always friendly & efficient.

  • RichardOwens

    Was this the Triangle Bar in 1960s?

    • buckyreal

      The Triangle Bar was across the street, 1822 Riverside

  • Zach Pasdoe

    First the Triple Rock, now the Viking! What is going on in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood? This is another blow to the local music scene; one that so many locals like to talk up. There won’t be much of a scene left if all these establishments keep closing. The Viking was one of my favorite spots and hopefully someone who knows how to operate a business will buy it and have a successful run.

  • Fischbein Geoffrey

    how dare you forget triple rock :( and it was Reverie you remember not the nicollet

    • Fischbein Geoffrey

      and the 400

  • kbj

    The problem is the place is just too small. Not enough money in just a few “regulars” hanging around these days.I went there numerous times last year and you knew this was coming. Hopefully Triple Rock can be re worked into a viable venue. Whiskey Junction as well.

  • caubhoy

    Wow! That is so sad. It is a legend and it was not marketed properly. Hollywood and local stars went there . With the legions of bikers and Pool sharks, you needed balls to walk through those doors. Lady Balls ? A lot of strong women entered that den and claimed their space. Purple People Eaters. Supreme court justices, ( just one) Local TV legends all frequented the Viking. The best bartender and the most challenging bartender was black. (Remember George) Never a racist bar. It was a place for everyone. Bikers, Blacks, Hippies. The Nelson boys were way ahead of their time. If all of these diverse people can get along while drinking why can’t you kids?