With the crowd still milling about looking for the coat check (there isn't one yet) and restrooms (two sets, one per floor), Justin Jones took to the mic Saturday night at the Green Room and assured patrons that they had found what they were looking for.
"You came to the right place," the announcer said, introducing the first band on the first official night at Minneapolis' first major new music venue of the 2020s.
"We're bringing live music back to Uptown."
Remember Uptown, music fans?
Once a live music hub and haven for unforgettably blurry nights, the area near the corner of Hennepin Avenue and Lake Street suffered declining nightlife even before the COVID-19 pandemic and chaos following George Floyd's murder.
First came the closing of the Uptown Bar & Grill in 2009, where Nirvana and Oasis played their first Minnesota gigs. The blues-themed Famous Dave's in Calhoun Square was finally shuttered in 2019. Many popular Uptown restaurants and bars closed, too, most recently the nearly 50-year-old William's Uptown Pub & Peanut Bar.
The Green Room could mark the beginning of a turnaround — especially with an even more ambitious music venue in development just a block away in the old Uptown Theater space. That one is being redeveloped by the same team behind the Armory's resoundingly successful rebirth as a concert hall.
Consider the Green Room the warmup act for the new Uptown Theater.
Housed in the former Pourhouse and Coup d'Etat location across Lagoon Avenue from Lagoon Cinema, the new venue can hold around 350 people on its main dance floor, surrounding bar area, large balcony and adjacent lounge.
The chic-but-not-stuffy club's young proprietor and do-it-all leader, Tanner Montague — a musician himself, and graduate of St. Paul's McNally Smith College of Music — hopes to host music at least four nights a week there, with local acts as its primary focus.
"This isn't just about bringing Uptown what it needs; it's also about fulfilling my dream for a music venue," said Montague, 27, who also books events at St. Paul's Keg & Case Market.
On Saturday, the Green Room trumpeted its arrival on the scene by hosting some of the buzziest young newcomers in the scene — starting with a trumpet-accompanied acoustic pop set by Colin Bracewell.
"It's a great view from the stage and sounds great," Bracewell raved after his set as he literally sized up the new club.
"I think it's a really nice-sized room for bands that fall between 7th St. Entry and bigger places like the Varsity or Fine Line."
Lined with a botanical-garden-ready array of palm and bird of paradise plants — putting the "green" in the room — the venue boasts large windows, one large bar per floor, scattered tables and chairs and an impressive outdoor balcony in addition to the balcony that wraps around the stage.
Like Bracewell, many of the other performers on the sold-out opening night lineup sounded sold on the place. For at least a couple of them, though, the Green Room — and, more specifically, its location — was a hard sell.
"I actually hate Uptown," confessed Kathy Callahan, singer/guitarist in the opening night's headlining band Gully Boys. "But this place could change that."
Laura Larson, frontwoman in Saturday's penultimate band Scrunchies, lived in Uptown for a decade and was proud to get in a few gigs with her first band Baby Guts at the Uptown Bar & Grill before it closed in her early 20s. But she was uncertain she would ever play in that part of town again.
"It didn't feel welcoming to artists and independent businesses anymore," Larson said. "This feels like a step back in the right direction."
'Not in downtown'
Scrunchies' hard-thrashing set sparked what was probably the first mosh pit in Uptown in over a decade. Before Larson's band went on, the fast-rising rock sextet FènixDion prompted the Green Room's first big singalong with a darkly soulful cover of Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine," a warm contrast to the bitter cold outside.
The lack of a coat check was one of the hiccups on opening night, when temperatures dipped below zero: "One of the worst nights of the year to not have one," admitted Montague. But the fledgling club owner was happy to have not suffered the same fate as two nights earlier during a soft-opening event.
"Our [point-of-sale] system crashed, so we just had to let people drink for free," he said with the kind of roll-with-it shrug that goes well with operating a rock club.
Montague, for one, is a firm believer that Uptown really is on the up again, and a music venue like his will be welcomed there.
"I've seen all kinds of moving trucks pulling up around here lately," he said. "By summer, we'll have five new bars, plus the Uptown Theater. I really do think things are coming around again, and our place could play an important role."
One other new music space also recently opened a block away inside Arts+ Rec Uptown, a new hybrid entertainment space and restaurant within Seven Points mall (formerly Calhoun Square). Arts + Rec's so-called Black Box Theater holds about 50 people and hosts bands one or two nights a week alongside comedy, drag shows and more, with tables and waiter service for most shows.
There also are occasional concerts and salsa dance nights — not enough — at the Granada Theater, the ornate, 1920s-era, 600-capacity space that was shuttered for most of the 2010s but finally reopened to event bookings in 2019.
Patrons who took in the Green Room's opening night all seemed open to the idea of making Uptown a more regular stop for nightlife excursions. Oddly, though, it was hard to find anyone on hand who actually lived in one of Uptown's many new condo and apartment buildings.
"I think we need more music venues not in downtown," said Lydia Dunn, 23, who turned out from south Minneapolis to see FènixDion's set — but also said she came out just to go out. "Coming out of COVID, I think we need more places like this to socialize and have fun."
A music lover old enough to have frequented the Uptown Bar & Grill, John Wegner of St. Louis Park gave the Green Room a thumbs-up: "Anywhere that books Gully Boys and FènixDion is a great place to have," he said, "and it sounds good in here."
Knowing the challenges of profitably operating a business in Uptown nowadays, however, Wegner sounded hopeful but less certain the Green Room will stick.
"I sure hope so, but it depends if people turn out," he said. "Ask me again in a year."
Rundown on live music in Uptown
Now open: The Green Room. Upcoming acts include Preston Gunderson (Sat.) and Oregon's Jenny Don't & the Spurs (March 3), with more coming soon. The venue, which includes kitchen service serving finger food and sandwiches, ultimately hopes to host entertainment every Thursday through Sunday. (2923 Girard Av. S., greenroomn.com)
Coming soon: The new Uptown Theater. Expected to hold about 2,800 people, the historic movie theater has expanded into a neighboring building and will feature a general-admission floor and seated balcony a la St. Paul's Palace Theater. No opening date or concerts have been confirmed, but it's reportedly on target for summer. (2906 Hennepin Av. S.)
Part-time venue 1: Arts + Rec Uptown. Inside Seven Points (formerly Calhoun Square), this hybrid space boasts a trendy restaurant, mini-golf, pop-up record store and a performance space dubbed the Black Box, where about 50 people can sit, watch and dine. Upcoming bookings include retro jazz singer Leslie Vincent (Feb. 8) and yacht-rock act the Lonesome Losers (Feb. 14), plus comedy and drag shows. (3001 Hennepin Av. S., artsandrecuptown.com)
Part-time 2: Granada Theater. The smaller former movie theater along that part of Hennepin finally reopened in 2019 after a decadelong lull and now hosts occasional concerts, salsa dance nights and jazz shows. Upcoming gigs include Salsa del Soul (Feb. 17) and Orquesta La Clave (Feb. 24). (3022 Hennepin Av. S., granadampls.com)
Nearby: Uptown VFW. Officially named the James Ballentine VFW Post 246, it's technically in the Lyn-Lake neighborhood. But it's closest in spirit to the Uptown of old with its 400-person performance space — renovated specifically for live music in 2016 — and remains a vital venue for local and indie bands. (2916 Lyndale Av. S., uptownvfw.org) 2916 Lyndale Av. S., uptownvfw.org)