Cause Spirits & Soundbar: In memoriam

Categories: Farewell
Black Diet's Jonathan Tolliver at Cause

Jonathan Tolliver is the lead singer for Twin Cities rock 'n' soul band Black Diet. When he heard the Lyn-Lake club Cause Spirits & Soundbar was closing later this month, he was inspired to write this farewell essay.

Cause has always been a very cliquey place. Walking into the bar side on any given night is an exercise in trying not to get stuck hovering next to a large group of friends who've commandeered the bar, or next to a couple having a post-date drink. I blame the layout. Those two-seater high tops right in front of the bar make it impossible to drink and hover. If you're there alone, and there are no seats at the bar, you're left in the lurch, thirsty and adrift.

It makes sense, then, that folks bunch up. A couple of large groups dominate the side of the bar closest to the entrance. Slightly older regulars dodge the malaise and sit closer to the kitchen, making small talk and drinking slowly. If you didn't come in with a group, or early enough to grab a spot at the end of the bar, your best bet is to hit the venue side. There is typically no cover. If there is a cover, it's tiny and probably worth it. Unlimited standing room, much easier to get a drink, Pacman, an ATM. The benefits are endless.

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Cause Spirits & Soundbar is closing

I've never managed a bar. I've never even worked at a bar. I know, however, that two things that determine the lifespan of a bar are location and layout. Cause couldn't be in a better location. Two major bus lines, condos all around, a neighborhood comprised of well-heeled professionals and artists with bad spending habits.

That layout, though. That's a more nuanced issue. A bar can take on many personalities. The way Cause is laid out makes it clear what the vibe is; the in crowd, the regulars own the bar side. New folks, those here to see their friend's band, those unable to ingratiate themselves into the self contained ecosystem that is the bar side should make their way over to the venue side, because the camaraderie found on the bar side can feel like an act of aggression, an assault of closeness. That said, I can't believe it's over.

When I moved to Minneapolis a little over three years ago, I was an absolute mess. I was a drunk, mean, and deeply lonely person. I didn't want to leave Chicago, but I knew I had to. Having deep fear of abandonment triggered by my father's untimely death and my mother's mental disability, which left her hospitalized for large portions of my childhood, I was a walking raw nerve.

Cause was my first institution. Located about a block away from my apartment, it's an easy target for my affection. Live music every night, a rowdy, creative crowd. It stands in stark contrast to the bars that traffic in a very acknowledged and obvious cool. I'm reminded here of the Streets song "Fit But You Know It." The assuredness, the confidence that preoccupies other bars in the neighborhood is nowhere to be found at Cause. It doesn't know what the hell it is, or what it wants to be. Other bars have concepts. Cause, however, relies on the magnetism of its staff, on friends coming to visit them at work, hoping for a cheap drink, a shoulder to cry on.

A bar that relies on friendship to balance its books is going to struggle, especially at the onset. It takes years to develop regulars. Folks have to feel safe in that space. Factor in turnover, heavy competition in the area, and the rumored turmoil that marked the midpoint of Cause's five-year lifespan, and you've got a recipe for uncertainty.

All that factored in, this bar was thriving. Note that all of this is anecdotal, largely based on informal conversations with folks close to the bar's finances, and on my own experience, but it was rare for me to walk in after a certain hour and not see a full bar, a well attended performance going on in the other room, and a cabal of smokers outside, socializing before an ill-advised "one more drink."

After the aforementioned turmoil, something changed. The staff, having always been some of the best in the city, moved with an impressive fervor, effortlessly mixing affability with efficient service and keen memory. Many times I'd have to walk out entirely, because I knew that wait times at other bars would be far shorter, the crowd less voracious.

I always came back, though. My institution. Over the course of three years, if you worked there or found yourself there with any regularity, you watched me grow up. You watched me break up, find love, get fired. You watched me slowly put my therapist's words into action, slowing down my alcohol intake to manageable levels, thus saving you a lot of strife and vomit avoidance. You watched me play, many times very poorly, with a number of bands. You didn't laugh at me, you didn't talk shit. You smiled when I walked in, called out to me, bought me rounds. Even with those goddamn tables, I found my way in.

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