Local Current Blog

Longtime 400 Bar co-owner Tom Sullivan dies at 62

The 400 Bar in 2013. (Nate Ryan/MPR)

Tom Sullivan, who co-owned the legendary Minneapolis music venue the 400 Bar from 1996 until its closing in 2013, died on Tuesday at age 62. Sullivan “died peacefully in his sleep,” his brother Bill told the Star Tribune; the cause of death is not yet known.

Sullivan and his brother Bill, a former tour manager for the Replacements and Soul Asylum, bought the bar in 1996. The bar had been in operation, under various names and ownership over changing intervals, since the late 19th century.

The 400 Bar was an integral part of the nationally-known West Bank folk music scene in the 1960s and ’70s, and in the 1980s the bar started to see crossover with the alt-rock scene flowering in Uptown and downtown venues. Semisonic regularly played the venue in this era, and immortalized the 400 Bar in their signature hit “Closing Time,” which quoted one of the bar’s bouncers: “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.”

The Sullivans significantly renovated the venue, which remained a staple of the local music scene and became a magnet for up-and-coming touring acts like the White Stripes, Elliott Smith, Arcade Fire, Sufjan Stevens, Bright Eyes, Cat Power, and the Shins. The Sullivans used those hot headliners to help local acts build their audiences by pairing them on shared bills. Mason Jennings, Lifter Puller (featuring Craig Finn, later of the Hold Steady), Haley, and Caroline Smith were among the local artists who played key early shows at the 400 Bar.

After the bar closed, the Sullivans mounted an ambitious and ultimately unsuccessful effort to reopen the venue at the Mall of America. The brothers briefly ran a music museum in an adjacent space at the mall; Tom Sullivan said he’d long considered the mall as a potential place to acquaint thousands of tourists with Minnesota music they otherwise wouldn’t encounter.

Between the brothers, Tom Sullivan took responsibility for the 400 Bar’s routine operations. His relationships with artists weren’t always warm, but he kept things running and provided support at key moments.

“I remember we were on stage doing the sound check, we were all nervous,” Jennings told The Current’s Andrea Swensson in 2013, “and there was this guy mopping the floor, and he wasn’t talking to us and he was kind of grumbling, and he walks up to the front of the stage and he’s just like, ‘I asked my wife what a**hole was playing the club tonight, and she said, the a**hole whose CD you’ve been listening to the last week in your car.’ So that’s his first interaction. And then he goes ‘I’m Tom, I run this place.’”

A burial service will take place this coming Monday, Sept. 17 at 11 a.m. at the Washburn-McReavy chapel in Edina. “A celebration is to follow on Monday starting at 5 p.m. at Ballentine Uptown VFW, 2916 Lyndale Av. S, Minneapolis, with live music by the Gentlemen’s Anti-Temperance League and others, memorial donations in lieu of a cover charge,” reports the Star Tribune.