After spending a decade bartending at You Otter Stop Inn in Northeast Minneapolis, Ryan Fuchs suddenly found himself with time on his hands. A lot of time. While many of his past patrons dreamed of the day when they could sing sweaty karaoke again, Fuchs — a lifelong Lego enthusiast — decided to recreate the Otter in virtual miniature bricks.
One thing led to another, and after months of work recreating Minneapolis landmarks like the CC Club, the Spring Street Tavern, and the late great Lee’s Liquor Lounge, on Wednesday Fuchs watched the internet go gaga over his creations. His pandemic pastime ended up reminding Minnesotans that when it’s not literal, “going viral” can actually be a good thing.
“It’s really kind of taken off,” he said in a voice of wonder over the phone last night. “I was trending on Twitter, and I don’t even have a Twitter account.”
The sudden interest was sparked when Nate Dungan shared Fuchs’s work on Facebook. One of Fuchs’s models depicts Dungan’s band Trailer Trash rocking Lee’s in its glory days, and fans immediately recognized the modelmaker’s attention to detail.
“In the Otter,” said Fuchs, using a common abbreviation for Lego’s miniature figures, “everybody in there I created in minifigs I could give you a name for.” He’s even sought to evoke a particular era, circa the first decade of the 2000s.
Fuchs, who invented the online name “Slye Fox” to protect his privacy back when bars were open and that was a concern, uses a program called Studio to build his models. While he says he’d love to see his models take physical form, he simply enjoys the problem-solving.
“For me the fun is in the building of it,” he said. “That’s what I get the enjoyment out of.” He said that he always has to start with a venue’s door, since “Lego only has one size door.” That dictates the dimensions of the rest of the model.
Those inclined to play Where’s Waldo can check out the high-resolution images on Fuchs’s Flickr account and look for the modelmaker and his wife in every model — as well as Homer Simpson, who also makes a celebrity cameo in each venue, presumably having swapped his usual Duff for a cold Grain Belt Premium.
Fuchs has also recreated that beer brand’s Nicollet Island sign, as well as the Hennepin Avenue Bridge leading to the sign and other metro-area structures including the Washburn Park Water Tower (the dome was the tricky part, he said), the IDS Tower (with Crystal Court), Mickey’s Diner, and the Flameburger diner.
He said he uses Google Earth as well as archival interior photos to create his virtual models, which are a way of living his “dream job” as a Lego designer. He’s connected online with the international community that shares his hobby: “I’m well-versed in the Adult Fans of Lego,” he said. “Or as it’s called, AFOL.”
If made manifest in the real world, Fuchs said, his CC Club model would be about three feet wide by four feet long (including the smoking patio), and about 18 inches high. It would be entirely possible, he said, to order the actual bricks to build the model, but it wouldn’t be cheap: he estimates $5,000 to $6,000.
That’s a lot of money for a furloughed bartender, even one who has a new nine-to-five day job (as Fuchs does). His models have drawn such fascination, though, that he said they might actually be on the way to becoming a reality. (He makes a point to praise the work of Jeff Esler, who recently created an IRL Lego Nye’s Polonaise among other models.)
After he got off the phone with me, Fuchs said, he had a call scheduled with the owner of the CC Club to discuss what it might take to actualize that model in tactile form. He said that while he’s previously posted a number of virtual models to online Lego enthusiast forums, he didn’t post his bar models there “because they’re too big.”
He figured “nobody’s ever going to build this…or so I thought!”