Local Current Blog

First Avenue ranked among largest LGBT-owned businesses in the Twin Cities

A performer on First Avenue's float in the 2016 Twin Cities Pride Parade. (Caroline Yang for MPR News)

The Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal recently published a list of the largest LGBTQ+ businesses in the area, and three of the top five are prominent entertainment venues. In order to qualify for this list, “businesses must be headquartered in the Twin Cities 24-county metro area and be majority owned by a person who identifies themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or queer.”

First Avenue comes in at third overall. The nightclub was an endeavor that owner Dayna Frank (who now oversees 317 employees) took over from her father Byron Frank. Her wife Ember and their family together are what originally spurred Frank’s decision to proudly state First Avenue’s stance on same-sex marriage, Frank said in a 2013 interview. Frank had purchased a billboard in downtown Minneapolis that read “Don’t limit the freedom to marry. First Avenue supports same-sex marriage and equality for all people.” The club currently sells Pride merchandise to benefit RECLAIM.

Topping the Business Journal list is MSP Real Estate owned by Milo Pinkerton; second place is the Bartmann Group, owned by Kim Bartmann. Restaurants in the Bartmann Group — including the Bryant-Lake Bowl, Barbette, and the Red Stag Supperclub — are known for hosting live music and sponsoring annual block parties.

Following First Avenue in fourth place is LUSH, a restaurant, nightclub, and drag lounge all in one. It is owned by Ken Darling and has 80 employees. Darling purchased LUSH in 2015 after its original owner Kelly Phillips was shot and killed by a former business partner and lover. In the wake of this tragedy, Darling decided to change up LUSH’s dynamic, giving it a fresh start. Along with drag nights, drinks, food and plenty of dancing, the club now also offers a rentable event space.

Coming in fifth is The Saloon nightclub. John Moore and James Anderson own 50% each, and The Saloon has 65 employees. The two owners have been friends since college, and The Saloon has become one of the most popular gay bars in the cities.

The Current and Minnesota Public Radio will join the community in celebrating Twin Cities Pride this weekend — watch for us in Sunday’s parade! We’re also co-presenting Shannon Blowtorch’s annual Grown and Sexy Pride dance party at First Avenue on Saturday night.