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Everything seemed in perfect order Wednesday night at Icehouse in Minneapolis. The tables, bar tops and standing-room-only areas were filled with patrons savoring food and drinks as they listened attentively to a cult-loved Twin Cities musician who'd been playing there for years, twangy songwriter Erik Koskinen.

Toward the end of the show, though, one of Koskinen's lyrics sounded extra haunting: "It's the end of the innocent / the end of the line."

Talking with patrons at the bar after the gig, Icehouse owner Brian Liebeck said he remains hopeful a lawsuit threatening to evict him over unpaid rent is not the end of the line for his supper club-style music venue. The club is going ahead with its busy roster of shows this weekend.

"We hope to work something out," said Liebeck, who claims he was blindsided by the lawsuit filed Monday by his landlords in Hennepin County District Court.

"We read about it in the news with everyone else."

Icehouse is near the corner of Nicollet Avenue and 26th Street. The addition of the supper club/music venue in 2012 helped bolster the area's trendy name, Eat Street. Icehouse owes more than $85,000 in unpaid rent, according to the lawsuit filed by Northpond Partners. A hearing is scheduled May 7.

A real estate developer based in Chicago, Northpond bought the multi-tenant historic building known as Icehouse Plaza for $7.7 million in 2017 with a local partner, Paster Properties. Two years later, Northpond also bought the Uptown neighborhood's anchoring mall, Calhoun Square, which it renamed and redeveloped into the struggling Seven Points.

Liebeck did not camouflage the struggles in his own business. In 2021, Icehouse received $637,357 from the U.S. Congress' Shuttered Venue Operator Grant program (aka SVOG, aka Save Our Stages). That helped make up for lost revenue during the COVID-19 shutdown, but it did not cover more recent challenges.

"The last two years have been very tough on the local music scene," Liebeck said. "Pandemic support money ran out, and the club community has taken awhile to rebuild, both in terms of event bookings and getting big crowd turnout."

He also cited "rising labor costs and a big monthly rent increase that started several months ago."

Turn Turn Turn performs in 2020 outside Icehouse, one of the first venues in town to give local musicians a place to safely play gigs amid COVID-19 restrictions.
Turn Turn Turn performs in 2020 outside Icehouse, one of the first venues in town to give local musicians a place to safely play gigs amid COVID-19 restrictions.

Jeff Wheeler

Still, Liebeck brought in new partners and remained confident enough about Icehouse's longevity last year to add a new L-Acoustics sound system and renovate its balcony and bar areas. He also said he had "a positive working relationship" with the property owners and had been trying to negotiate new lease terms and even a possible buyout up until very recently.

"Just a few weeks ago, we made a proposal to try to figure out a long-term solution, including offering a significant upfront cash payment, but they never replied," he said. As of Thursday, he was still trying to set up a meeting with them.

A representative for Northpond Partners said the company has already given Liebeck ample time to resolve these issues and would still be open to a solution, but a satisfactory settlement has not yet been presented. Requests for further comment were declined.

Icehouse patrons and a wide cross section of the Twin Cities music community swiftly responded to the evection threat this week by voicing and pledging support for the club and eatery.

"It's just a great venue where musicians can get their fingers wet, and audiences can enjoy themselves comfortably," said Jack Torrey, co-leader of the Cactus Blossoms, who showed up to Wednesday's concert. "It'd be a shame to lose it."

Mike Michel, guitarist for the Orange Goodness, called Icehouse "a lightning rod for many" and said Liebeck "championed underground music in every genre.

"He gave musicians and people a home."

Watching from a table on the floor in front of the stage, Caitlin Abrams and Carl Anfinson of St. Paul said they go to Icehouse a few times a year to see Minnesota musicians perform.

"Concerts have gotten so expensive — with all the ticket fees and everything else — it's nice to come here to see some of the great local bands at an affordable price," Anfinson said.

Among the celebrated Twin Cities artists scheduled to perform at Icehouse in the coming days are neo-soul star PaviElle on Friday night, 97-year-old piano groover Cornbread Harris for Saturday brunch, acoustic guitar master Phil Heywood for Sunday brunch and an all-star cast in the Monday night jazz/improv series with Suburbs guitarist Jeremy Ylvisaker. For now, all shows are going on as planned, and new concerts are being booked at the venue.

"The outpouring of support by our supporters and the regular bands that perform here has been really heartwarming," Liebeck said, underlining his determination to stay open.

"We love this neighborhood and we are devoted to supporting local artists by given them a hip, safe space to perform."