Local Current Blog

Palmer’s Bar owner Tony Zaccardi’s message to the world about Minneapolis: ‘The community is so strong’

As the world turned its eyes to Minneapolis this week, it found Tony Zaccardi. A member of Romantica and a longtime bartender at Grumpy’s NE, Zaccardi bought Palmer’s Bar in 2018. The bar, a hub of the legendary West Bank music scene, became the site of live broadcasts across the country and beyond as Zaccardi granted interview requests to CNN (complete with a Hamm’s Bear cameo), CNBC, and other outlets.

I was glad he granted our request as well! We spoke on Wednesday, and featured a portion of the interview in The Current Music News; below is our full conversation, touching on his experiences in recent days and his reflections on the Minneapolis community.

Tony, thanks for taking time to talk with us. You are in the West Bank in Minneapolis, in Palmer’s Bar. How are you doing?

You know, it’s been closed for over three months know. I realized it’s been that long, now, and I don’t even know what it’s going to be like to have customers around again. It was a very stressful time, especially right away, with the closures. I’m trying to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and then this all happened, and it’s been scary. This building is a building, but every night that I’ve been leaving here the last few nights, I’m like, “Is this the last time I’m ever going to be in here?” I’m grabbing things off the walls. Every time I left, I’d grab another something, and take down the signs, posters, and artifacts. Overall, I’m doing pretty darn good.

Good. You’ve been coming to the bar every day and checking in with the neighborhood? 

Every single day, often many times per day. There’s a group locally, folks with the Hard Times Cafe and KFAI, they’ve been doing overnight watches. Some of the Somali youth were doing overnight watches, as well, just like, “What’s this red car doing? What is that bag over there? What is that package? Someone’s on top of the parking garage. What are they doing?” I have not been here at night. I wanted to. I’ve been so well intentioned, like, I’m gonna come down and sit on my roof and stand my ground, but once we started talking heavy artillery and Molotov cocktails, I was like, “Eh, I’ll just go home.” But I’ve been providing them with nourishing snacks, fire extinguishers, things like that. I’m trying to do my part that way.

As we come through the weekend, part of what’s happening for you has been a lot of national attention, as people are looking at Minneapolis and everything going on here. You’ve been on national TV news programs. 

I just painted on the boards “black-owned business,” at the time, thinking as long as you’re marked, it’s cool. Then I realized, it wasn’t. The people I need to worry about are the white supremacists, and white nationalists, and I was like, “Oh. Did I just paint a big, giant bullseye on Palmer’s Bar? Should I paint [over] it? No, of course not.”

Newsweek London called me, and that’s kind of how this all got rolling. I figured, since I was in Newsweek, I’m already a target. There’s a mosque on the other side of the wall from my bar. The towers, the community, and the neighborhood…it’s all black-owned. It’s all of us.

When talking to people from outside of the Twin Cities about what’s going on in your community, what do you think is a message or information to share that has felt really meaningful to let people know about?

Easy to answer that. We all know it because we live here, but the community is so strong in this town. One of the schools right over by the third precinct asked for 80 bags of food and ended up getting thousands of bags of food. They’ve been sharing with North [Minneapolis] and other parts of Minneapolis. Seeing some of the craziest hardcore, punk rock friends of mine or Har Mar [Superstar], who’s doing a lot right now, say “Hey man, I’ve got a truck, and I’ve got some buckets and garbage bags. How can I help anybody?” Seeing our community come back together it’s just… People down on Lake Street sweeping and picking up garbage, just showing that we’re an awesome group of people and we’re fighting through it together.

Those of us who live here know about your neighborhood. They know about the West Bank and that community, and how diverse it is, how big the Somali-American community is there, and also about the history of police policing in that community. How is all of this hitting you, being in that community with your neighborhood’s history with the police?

I am very much not an anti-police person, whatsoever. They do a job that I would never want to do in a million years. There is definitely a percentage of people that are still very, very, very anti-police. They don’t even want to see them, especially during this. All I can do is be who I am about it. I’ve called the police for things, and have had pretty good luck, but at the same time, I was stopped and frisked outside of Bobby & Steve’s about 20 years ago while carrying a pizza. They said I matched the [description of] a burglary suspect, so I was like, “Would you like to look in my car, then, maybe?” I did have a couple interactions on that level. I think that everyone knows that there are bad actors in the police department, and it’s not every police officer. I hope that people know that, I guess. Especially the one right at the top: Bob.

What are your thoughts about what the music industry could and should be doing to increase representation and equality for black artists in the music industry?

I just glanced over the Blackout Tuesday thing, so I don’t know much about that. Truthfully, if you look at current popular music, if you look at the Billboard Hot 100, people that look like me are pretty well represented, at least on that level. There’s not a lot of black rock and roll musicians. On that level, I love encouraging kids that are young, like, “Hey, you could be a rapper, or you could do this, or you could learn guitar.” Seeing folks like Gary Clark Jr., and having folks like that as a role model for black youth, would be wonderful. Getting guitars into inner city schools, as well, and pianos. Look at Prince, he can play anything. Aside from that, I’m not really sure. I feel like there’s plenty of color in the music industry, maybe just not in certain scenes.

What is your focus right now, looking at the next few days and weeks?

For me, not to be selfish, I’m really working on trying to get [Palmer’s] ready to go in a couple weeks. I’ve been planning on waiting anyway, because I just want to see what the climate is. Are people going to be excited to go out? Are they going to be pissed that I’m open? I think people have been pretty respectful about the fact that I’ve been waiting. I want to be cautious. I want to make sure we’re doing best practices. Do I have to clean the bathroom every time someone walks in to use the bathroom? Do I do reservations? Things like that. I’m getting our patio put together. I’m fortunate to have a large patio, here, so I can seat 50 people, no problem. I’ve got space to social distance. Aside from that, it’s trying to figure out ways I can help, while being busy, and how I can be of assistance and help our community, even if it’s just sharing something on Facebook to somebody, and trying to be as sincere about it as I can.

There’s a sense of optimism too, and that’s a good thing to focus on, especially in the daylight hours. Let’s help these small businesses that have been destroyed. Let’s help the reopen, and help them thrive when they do.

Is there anything people can do if they’re looking to help the West Bank?

If something does happen, the easiest place to go is the West Bank Business Association. We’ve got a pretty active website, and it’s updated pretty frequently. There will definitely be information about anything specific to the West Bank, there.

And you’re on the cover of a coloring book!

Absolutely! I can’t believe how well that came out. My friend Sarah [Davis], that drew it, she kind of had Pat [Dwyer] and I shaking hands. Kind of a Minnie and Paul…the Minnesota Twins, a nod to that. I said, well, look at our wrists! It kind of looks like the Replacements album cover. She said, oh, crap, that’s right! So I sent it to her and she turned that…that’s on the back cover, is a handshake. Pat and I are both huge Replacements fans.

That did very well. It raised two grand for my staff and two grand for the staff at Grumpy’s NE as well, directly to their GoFundMe. It was great for them to be able to do that.

Interview transcribed by Sylvia Jennings