The death of the Belmore/New Skyway Lounge

Doug_Anderson_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.

Last week the Twin Cities lost a club, the Belmore/New Skyway Lounge. It was the most recent entry from Minneapolis iconoclast and character Doug Anderson. Chances are pretty good that you didn't know it closed; chances are even better you didn't know it was open in the first place. The Belmore stood alone in the downtown club scene. It wasn't fancy; it had the stripped-down sensibilities that made it feel more like a New York neighborhood bar -- not the slickness that tends to dot the downtown landscape. No perfectly untucked shirts over jeans that cost more than a 40-hour week of minimum wage at this establishment.

The Belmore had a definitive curative style, and one that I may add was not for everyone. It was noisy and chaotic with an ear toward the guitar heroes of generations past: definitive for post-punk, guitar-noise rock. It was a temple for bands that loved Television, which makes sense given Richard Lloyd's residency there. It was home to cult acts from Curtiss A to Hugh Cromwell, and a lot of music that doesn't rate much more than a mention on the Current, but is the stuff of crate diggers' deepest fantasy baseball team.


The voice behind the viewpoint belonged to ex-New Yorker Anderson, the runner of previous establishments -- most importantly Nick and Eddie -- and pioneered the recipe that seems to be working like a charm for the Icehouse. Left-of-the-dial music meets high-end but not too high-falutin' cuisine. Sprinkle liberally with reasonably priced cocktails and serve. That's not to say that one inspired the other, but it's nice to see that formula keep in motion. The Belmore, like Doug, wasn't about polish. It had a feeling of "take it or leave it" and only on its own terms.

Doug is the kind of guy who everyone has a strong opinion of -- for better or worse. Hero or villain, threat or menace. He is a big personality and a man of big opinions. In an alternate universe he would have beat Hilly Kristal to CBGB's punch, or a Knitting Factory that didn't eventually become a sonic snoozefest. Anderson has always struck me as a man out of time and place, a character in search of a story.

There was a time when cities were filled with characters and eccentrics. Cities breed them like pigeons and trendy restaurants. Characters are the ones who build cities; they create the restaurant that looks like a giant hat, or the hotel that has goldfish to rent to guests. They are the people you might not know but you always recognize. A character built the Longhorn, and First Avenue too.

Then there are guys like Augie Ratner, who was chronicled in one of the best books on Minneapolis history that doesn't involve grain: Augie's Secrets by Neal Karlen. (Augie was a gangster, scoundrel, loved and hated often at the same time*.) Characters aren't easy, and they shouldn't be.

The Belmore was a downtown bar not regulated to the douchebag crowd. (No offense meant to the D-bag crowd -- actually all offense to the D-bag crowd.) Downtown used to be the heart of the city, really any city, Its where the ideas and trends start and work their way out to the outer rings of urbanity. As a whole, downtown Minneapolis has as much edge as a dinner at Applebee's. Its strip joints and pop bars make it seem as if the strip of First Avenue below Washington is some sort of spring break destination for people in their late 20s.

Downtown Minneapolis had a good legacy of great clubs, from the Longhorn and Goofy's Upper Deck, to of course the gold star of American nightclubs: First Avenue. Once upon a time First Ave was the alternative. It's now the standard bearer, given that it is now responsible for the booking of most of the major rock shows downtown. That's not a bad thing; it's great, it's wonderful, but it makes one sometimes want an alternative. Or rather an alternative to the alternative. When everyone wears black, black is no longer black.

The death of the Belmore was nothing all that interesting. A neighborhood not progressing the way it expected, a hotel development not developing, not to mention a brutal winter that kept most of downtown confined to the executive habitrails affectionately known as skyways. But the surprising factors, according to Anderson: "It didn't really occur to me that people would be afraid of downtown Minneapolis."

"People going to a rock show next to a police station," he continues. "People were so worried about the cops; the police weren't interested in them. It's a fantasy that rock kids have that somehow they're dangerous and warrant the attention of the authorities. They don't fucking care."

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25 comments
Mustachio
Mustachio

Very late to comment but I just have to add: one time at Nick and Eddie, a very wobbly and incoherent Richard Lloyd was playing a show and my girlfriend said "what drugs do you think he's on?" Although she said it too quietly for me to hear it, Richard's girlfriend did (apparently she was eavesdropping? weird lady), and went to get Doug.


Doug then dragged my girlfriend to the other side of the bar and violently, repeatedly shook her until I separated them. Then, Doug physically pushed us out of the bar and followed me down the block as I walked away. He then grabbed me, said (yelled) that I had to look into his eyes, and proceeded to call me many different names and said I would never "become anything." I admit that I laughed at the absurdity of it all, but it was very strange, and very unpleasant, and almost certainly punishable by law.


This is the wonderful Doug Anderson that writers like this one love to wax poetic about. I don't claim to know Doug, but from the above actions and from the other things I've heard about him, he's a really, really awful person. The reason he is constantly failing is because he only cares about making a few people happy - the people who will reinforce Doug's fantasy of himself as such a cool and unique person who lives in the wrong place and time. It's pathetic that people indulge his delusions, but apparently the writer of this article is among that group. So goodbye Belmore New Skyway Lounge, it's a real shame I didn't have the chance to get assaulted by the owner there.

thom32
thom32

The thing I find more depresseing than the death of Downtown Cool is the death of the Copy Editor. There is no way this piece was edited by a living, breathing copy editor. It is sloppier than the Replacements on SNL!

eriksteinberg
eriksteinberg

"The Belmore had a definitive curative style" Unfortunately, that style was complete incompetence at running a restaurant. Please don't conflate "downtown edge" with "utter incompetence."  And don't blame d-bags and suburbs for the Belmore being incompetent at running a restaurant.

jonnyzygomatic
jonnyzygomatic

I have called Doug my friend for 35 years. I love that he is always cooking up ideas in his head, always has. Loved what he did with Bakery on Grand, Au Rebours, Nick and Eddie and the Belmore. Unfortunately, it's not common to hit gold on even one venture, let alone several. The dining and nightclub industry is a bitch. Sometimes you have plenty of resources to get your vision out there, and other times, you have a shoestring budget. All the while, the owner of said establishment has a vision they want to get across.That is the nature of owning your own business, and a dynamic many critics don't have the experience of understanding. I am sad when an idea doesn't hit, but am looking forward to what he may throw at us next. I am grateful there are those like Doug, who are willing to do it their own way, and with a reasonable amount of fuck off in the formula. Cheers Doug, and thanks.  

SarahK
SarahK

Doug Anderson may have big ideas, but what he doesn't have is any clue how to run a business. Maybe if he handed the management off to someone who actually knew what they were doing, he would have stood a chance. As it is, the place was too coo to even have a website - in 2014.

SarahK
SarahK

Doug Anderson may have big ideas, but unfortunately he has no idea how to run a business. If he would have handed off the management to someone who actually knew what they were doing, and bothered to promote the place, maybe he would have had a shot. As it is, they were "too cool" to even bother with having a website - in 2014. What did he expect.

rockmeelsewhere
rockmeelsewhere

So Doug either lives downtown and has no clue about what it's actually like, or he lives anywhere else, which is apparently a suburb? What does that even mean?

"As a whole, downtown Minneapolis has as much edge as a dinner at Applebee's."
"People don't like downtown because it's difficult."
Which is it, guys?

I'm in the local music industry and it was a rare thing to even hear of a show happening there. You don't promote anything, and no one comes? Tell your story!  Sell it to us "suburbanites" just across the river in NE, who bike, not drive.  Doug sounds like such a stuck up self-absorbed prick that it's no wonder this place failed. Also, what the hell is The "New" Skyway Lounge anyway, and why two names for one place? Total stupidity.

And for me the real nail in the coffin was the sound. It was not only a terrible room for music, but the sound mix was horrible as well, at least on the two times I went. Taking all this in, I can see why people either never came or never returned.

johnacarlson
johnacarlson

Unremarkable place, inside and out,

No outdoor signing of any note, little to no promotions for the few national acts booked to play there, the inside was not acoustically suitable as a live music venue and no backstage area for the acts, short of a tucked away couch just off stage. 

General public confusion over the name as well (New Skyway vs.Skyway Theater...)

A victim of being too "insider" of a place, maybe

tawardrope
tawardrope

Very nice essay. I think you nail the state of the city perfectly. I'm not sure if Belmore was the bellwether for the future, but it sure is symptomatic of many other things happening. I think a big part of the problem is people who are taking ownership of the city that really have no experience with what made it interesting in the first place. This accidental cabal of mediocrity includes developers, politicians and cultural authorities. 


Though, to be honest, City Pages re-publishing "local" stories by LA Weekly doesn't help things, either.

jevanmusic
jevanmusic

I love reading articles about the arts written by artists. If this was written by a critic it would read much differently. There is much to be critical about but this article gets to the heart of the matter. Whatever you want to say about Doug Anderson, he is a man with heart. That is something I personally would like to see more of in this town.

ReloadMinneapolis
ReloadMinneapolis

Doug is a great guy and helped us host some amazing shows at the Belmore. The staff was amazing and friendly (and definitely not douche bag bar staff typical of downtown). We really thought we had found a home at the Belmore and are sad to see it go. Good luck in future endeavors, Doug!

nsperrazza
nsperrazza

My wife and I were a huge N&E fans.  I live in the north loop and there isnt a place that fits my sweet spot the way N&E did.  Date night, brunch with the kids, beer and a bite with friends. 

I never made it to the Belmore. I probably would have, but I kept forgetting that it existed.  I read up on food blogs, mags, media, etc and rarely if ever heard mention of the place. 

Maybe the biggest problem was timing. I think what Doug says about DT is accurate.  1st Ave in general has a hard time keeping places in business - even for the party crowd. 

That said, the conditions Doug believes led to Belmore's demise could very well be gone in a few years.  The Block-E thing will (hopefully) be a game-changer for DT.   That, and more housing / people living DT.  A 350 unit condo is going up in the vacant lot at Wash/Hennepin.  That is across the street to the former Belmore space.

badbrain
badbrain

never really knew of anything interesting happening there. i work across the street and bike everywhere.  don't need parking.  don't fear cops.  don't like the douchey places downtown.  really liked nick and eddie.


south minneapolis, a suburb...  hmm, the hexagon has interesting and free music pretty much all the time, as does cause.  sad this place has come and gone, but the owner didn't seem to care enough to promote the place.

JiggyJam
JiggyJam

In the end, a bar, a restaurant, a club needs butts in the seats. People that will spend their money for a perceived value.You can blame the parking, or the weather, or crime in downtown Minneapolis. But that doesn't seem to deter people from frequenting other downtown establishments.


kezaezy
kezaezy

I don't often take the time to say this (or think it, for that matter) but great article. Well written with something to teach. I still miss Nick and Eddie and, even though I didn't get to Belmore/NSW enough (and now feel horribly guilty) I already miss the idea of it.

Don't give up, Doug. Your tribe has been scattered to the winds. Something will happen -- maybe Lou Reed will deliver a message in the form of a boozy dream -- and it will reassemble. Wait for it.

Tommy Leavitt
Tommy Leavitt

I think you meant relegated to the d-bag crowd not regulated to. When condescending toward others nightlife decisions you shouldn't make such glaring errors. Not that I'm a fan of the downtown scene, just saying...

Cole Young
Cole Young

They need to bring the Rock back

Nicholas Rupar
Nicholas Rupar

naw, I hate downtown, that was one of the few spots I would stop at.

Dave Eckblad
Dave Eckblad

An owner defeated. "People not liking downtown" makes no sense.

kezaezy
kezaezy

Total number of Walmart customers per week: 100,000,000. That's America for ya.

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