Tuesday, July 07, 2009

They Took The Bar...The Whole F'n Bar!!

Al's Bar, a veritable landmark on the suburban side of the St. Louis Park-Minneapolis border for the past 83 years, has a date with the wrecking ball. The city of St. Louis Park has decided that the Minneapolis metropolitan area would be better served by yet another new urbanist mixed-use utopia. By this, of course, I mean a couple hundred over-priced and empty condos situated above 10,000 square feet or so of empty retail and office space.

Oh sure, maybe a brand new Champps will fling open its doors on the corner of Excelsior and France when The Ellipse has its ribbon cutting ceremony in 2010. But then, a few years later when that novelty has worn off, an Applebee's will take its place followed by a TGIFriday's and a Chili's and so on down the chain. All perfectly fine establishments in their own right, but I can guaran-damn-tee you that none of them will still be on that corner in 2092 and none of them will be as steeped in history as Al's Bar is.

Consider that Al's opened while our nation was still in the throes of Prohibition when, according to the St. Louis Park historical society:

...Al J. Lovass and Mary Vlavianous obtained a license to sell soft drinks and operate a restaurant. Others remember it as a grocery store or a confectionary. Whatever was going on upstairs, bootlegger Al and his wife supplied their customers with more than pop in their basement "party room"/speakeasy that featured a large fieldstone fireplace. Al's friendship with the Sheriff ensured that he and his card playing, drinking customers were safe from prosecution.

The drinking moved upstairs after The Scourge was repealed in 1933. A liquor store was added, the bar was expanded and the property changed hands a few times in the ensuing years but Al's Bar remained a popular neighborhood watering hole:

Al's ("home of the giant double") was an especially popular place when there was an election in Minneapolis and the Minneapolis bars were closed, since Al's was the first bar across the city line.

Al's never closed because of inclement weather. During the Armistice Day Blizzard of 1940, people walked on top of cars to find refuge at Al's, where they partied for 3-4 days.
My own history of drinking at Al's began 23 years ago as a newly legal 19 year old who was bored with guzzling beer with my buddies in my room. When we decided to try the mysterious little corner bar we had all heard so much about we had no idea it would become the touchstone of our bar drinking lives.

I've spent an obscene number of Monday nights at Al's. What started as a gathering of friends to watch Monday Night Football became an event that if anyone were to be absent from, for good reason or not, he would be roundly chastised by the group the following week. I can even say, somewhat embarrassingly, that missing a Monday night would sometimes elicit in me feelings of guilt for letting the other guys down. The number of regulars has dwindled quite a bit over the years but the tradition has survived.

Last night was the last Al's Bar Monday I'll ever attend. As we were reminiscing around our little square table strewn with oversalted popcorn, discarded peanut shells and pools of Summit beer, a buddy reminded me of that first night 23 years ago. When we sat down at that table for the very first time we noticed a large banner tacked to the wall telling us that Al's would be closing for good in a few months. It's almost a quarter century later and, despite that banner and a handful of other false alarms, the building still stands. Come next Thursday night, I won't be able to say that.

The Elder Adds: I was wondering what it was going to take to awaken Atomizer from his posting slumber. I should have known that it would have to be something as momentous as the shuttering of his favorite watering hole.

It does seem like a curious time for yet another condo/retail/office combo to be going up in St. Louis Park as the market--particularly in that part of the city--seems more than saturated. Although I was not an Al's regular like Atomizer, I have darkened its door on several occasion over the years. As one of the last "neighborhood" bars still standing in the Western 'burbs, news of its demise, although not unexpected, is most unwelcome.

By the way, bidding is now open for all drinking establishments who would like to become the new host for Atomizer's Monday night crew. You're not likely going to find more consistent business and loyal customers.

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