How the Terminal Bar neither evolved nor died

Terminal_Bar_Chris_Strouth.jpg
Artwork by Chris Strouth

Makes No Sense At All captures the visions, ramblings, and memories of Chris Strouth, a Twin Cities-bred master of music, film, and everything else.

There is nothing cool about the Terminal Bar. It's dingy, it's dirty, it's where you can get a stiff drink at a reasonable price and up until about two years ago, you could do it at 9 in the morning. It's always 5 o'clock somewhere, and 9 a.m. counts if you're doing third shift work, which is why they were open before most of us were ever awake.

Here in Gimme Noise land we tend to talk about the cool, the hip, and the mustachioed. That's what music mags have always done; they give the news, anoint a few and cast off plenty of others. So it is sort of odd that we are talking about the Terminal Bar. Oh, its a music venue, and everyone from Martin Dosh to Tiny Tim has played there, but its so not cool. It's not even anti-cool, it's just a little bubble in the time space continuum that is a universe unto itself. The coolest thing about it is that is has endured.

"Where everybody knows your name / and they're always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see / our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows / your name."

Sure, those are the words from the Cheers theme, but it is a universal truth. It's one of the reasons that the show was so popular, the universality of it. Admit it: the first time you walked into a bar and they knew you and greeted you, didn't have to card you, or better yet, knew exactly what you wanted, it was borderline magical. It's a sign, a secret handshake with the universe that says "you belong."

It might not be a bar, it might be a sandwich shop, or a Halal meat market, or a comic book store, or a place of worship -- which for the last two is quite often the same. Humans want a sense of community, even if their primary reason is to pretend they want nothing to do with it. It's that bond strangers have, because they went to the same school or have a strange need to wear foam cheese on their heads and bitch about the Vikings.

Thats what the Terminal is to at least a small group of the Northeast community: a refuge from the rising tide of pet boutiques and $30 sandwiches. It's the last stand for the working-class bar in an increasingly polo collar market. Then around 9 p.m., most nights at least, it becomes one of the few places in the neighborhood where you can see a rock band.

Times change, and that neighborhood certainly has. For one thing, the Terminal Bar has lasted infinitely longer then the train terminal it was named for. That whole area as "the end of the line" as it were. Which makes its transition all the more ironic.

It's easy to give Northeast the "Brooklyn" tag. It's across the river from downtown, and Nordeast was originally a mostly working-class neighborhood, where the people that made the great engines of the city turn drank beer, went to church, and watched Ed Sullivan. Which explains the high number of churches and corner bars. Also, the more-reasonable rents eventually made it hipster bait. If you're reading this and you have an old-timey beard and are wearing a bowtie and suspenders over a pair of jeans that all but guarantee that you will never be able to procreate, then yeah, I am probably talking about you. The last fight I (almost) got in was with Canadian documentarian Alan Zewig who referred to me as "the quintessential American Hipster." My response was to pull over the car I was driving, and tell him that I was going to kick his ass. Thing is, I totally would have.

The hipster movement has taken a lot of the ol- time bars and made them if not posh, a comfortable mix of the old and new. For example, the 1029 Bar whose ceiling is literally covered in brassieres, and walls with shot up police car doors (rumored to have been done by Country kitchener Toby Keith). Yet there you can get the best lobster roll this side of Maine. Anyhow, the part of town where my mom didn't like me hanging out has become a foodie paradise that's written about in pull-out sections of newspapers.

The saying goes, evolve or die, and that seems to be the way of most of the bars in Nordeast. This is what makes the Terminal Bar weirdly special: It has done neither. The interior is much the same as I remember it from when I went in as a dare in college. I imagine it's much the same as it was in 1964, when the current owners, the Flemings, took over from the previous owner who happened to be the parents. They had owned it since 1935. Prior to that it was -- you guessed it -- a bar.



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8 comments
kb612
kb612

Flem is one of the coolest people I've met in Minneapolis. He even gave me and my brother tickets to a Timberwolves game that he couldn't make it to. An all around genuinely nice guy. Our band also had one of our favorite shows at this venue. Yes, it does have a dark and musty atmosphere but I think that's what gives this place character. It's cozy and the sound guys are great! Not to mention they have decent beer on tap for a reasonable price. It's everything a dive bar should be. I hope it stays around for years to come. 

Caleb from Gamblin' Dan & the Losing Hand

creativecakes
creativecakes

Tough to read about my parent's bar from another person's viewpoint.  They have put everything into their family and their business and have hearts of gold.  Yes, they should have retired by now and probably have let the Terminal "die"... but this bar, as well as all the patrons throughout the years, have been their way of life for half a century!  How many people today would hold the same job for 50 years, doing the same thing, at the same place of business every day.  And for my mom, even longer because this was her parent's establishment...her perseverance and strength amaze me! And to all of you who continue to stop in for a drink, thank you for your business!

blainegarrett
blainegarrett

Love this place. Flem's the man.
Oddly no mention of the ceiling collapse in recent years that almost closed down the place. I'm really glad it survived.

John Wolfsberger
John Wolfsberger

One of my favorites in and post-U life. "Makes no Sense at All"... Are we talking about a book, a film or what?

jfladager
jfladager

Flem is so generous and kind.  It's terrible to see him shuffle around with a walker trying  to collect a 5.00 cover for a musician while pouring a shot of Powers to some idiot hipster.  I was in the Big Wu and the bar was nothing but a special place run by special people.  Some of the greatest times of my life were in that stinky bar.  I love how Flem has a small plaque on top the bar to memorialize those grand ol' Tuesday nights.  I'm one local musician that would volunteer a a night a week there just to help out someone who's helped out so many by providing a starting point for dreams to come true.   This article is meh.  The Terminal is a treasure in a city full of fluff.  


klmn61
klmn61

@creativecakes Your dad is an awesome guy. Got to meet him a couple of months ago when my son's band played there. "Moms don't pay" he told me. The guys in the band loved him, too. We had a great time!

voxhumana
voxhumana

@jfladager  We as a community HAVE to help this bar!  If you think we could pack this place with people every night I would help you do it!  I met Flem for the first time tonight and people like him don't exist anymore!  I am compelled to write something about him and this bar and get it out to everyone.  People in this community WOULD support it just as much as he supports EVERY BAND that walks through that door.

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