Big V’s is closing this week (and immediately reopening under a new name and ownership), after four decades as a University Avenue landmark. We asked some local musicians and fans to share their Big V’s stories.
Mark Larson (The Fattenin’ Frogs, the Federales)
My best memory from Big V’s was at the first show of the Fattenin’ Frogs, which was in 2009, I believe. There was a “drunkest man in the world” man there, who was one of those types that probably spoke to every person in the bar at one point. He’d try counting in our songs for us, which threw us off a couple times, since it was at the same time I was doing that. He’d try shaking our hands while [we were] playing the song. At one point, I had to hold my drumsticks in the air to show him that my hands were not available. I did shake his hand after the song though. He wore a backwards black hat with white block lettering, that simply said, “F–K YOU,” with a sheriff’s badge partially covering the words.
My favorite part was when we were in the middle of our set, and the guy just decided to crawl up and lay down on stage while we were playing a song. I don’t remember how long he stayed there, but we just kept playing the song like nothing happened. He laid there peacefully for a while, then got up and left. I think I was saving my laughter for later, because when it was brought up after the show, I laughed so hard I cried.
Some of my main memories are spending my 21st birthday on a Thursday night for a Superhopper show. A few years later we played there on New Year’s with Superhopper, Mike Gunther, and an instrumental surf rock band. Gunther showed old after-school specials on a [projector] and I think everyone in my band had our own bottle of champagne on stage. There was definitely a lot of bouncing between V’s and the Turf on nights like that, too.
I’ve been frequenting Big V’s ever since I moved to the Hamline Midway neighborhood more than a year and a half ago. Big V and his wife are such incredibly welcom[ing] and warm human beings. They would often be there slinging drinks with a smile and just as often there drinking right next to you reminiscing on days past. Although their retirement is much deserved, they will be sorely missed.
Jimmy Osterholt (Small Cities, Jillian Rae, Lydia Liza)
My first “real” show was at Big V’s.
Small Cities formed in 2006 — my first “real” band (excluding crappy cover bands in my hometown). We had probably 35 minutes of music written, and we were finally feeling confident enough to book a show. We knew someone who knew someone who gave us the contact info for the booker at Big V’s and booked our debut show around the holidays, probably Decemberish, 2007.
I was instantly intimidated when I walked into Big V’s for the first time, toting my Ibanez Soundgear five-string and SWR combo amp. The place is a dump. Like a church basement that’s just been reopened after being shuttered for the past 25 years. In observance of the holidays, there were Christmas lights strung up behind the stage, of course, in the shape of a pentagram. The sound guy hated us on sight, but being obligated, begrudgingly gave us two drink tickets each. I went to the bar to redeem what would become the first of thousands of drinks-as-payment and ordered a beer from a burly bearded dude wearing a black t-shirt with white block text that read: “F–K YOU YOU F–KING F–K.” Happy Holidays.
Amazingly, the show went great. Friends came out and clapped and cheered, and Forest Lewis howled “Indie rock!” — a howl that would become a staple at our shows (always and only howled by Forest). By the time we left, the intimidation had vanished, and I realized that this place felt familiar. This wasn’t just some gritty city dive bar, it was a friendly neighborhood dive bar just like dozens of friendly neighborhood dive bars in my hometown, populated with good-natured dirtbags just like the good-natured dirtbags I grew up with. I felt at home.
Gabriel Douglas (the 4onthefloor)
My favorite shows there always included Dance Band and/or MC/VL. The way both bands commandeered an entire dive bar into a thriving dance floor was my motivation to want to be a stellar performer in these Twin Cities.
Jake Quam (the 4onthefloor, Viva Knieval)
After moving to Midway in 2009, I was elated to find a bar that not only had games and music, but Slim Jims behind the bar. It was lust at first sight.