Notorious club Karma closes for good

Minneapolis records show Karma had 165 calls to police in an 18-month period.

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Security guards at Karma lined the street in front of the club after the bars closed in downtown Minneapolis on a Saturday night. Karma recently had a shooting and a stabbing near and in the club.

Photo: Kyndell Harkness, Star Tribune

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Karma, the downtown Minneapolis nightclub that tangled with the city over its sometimes violent clientele, has closed its doors for good.

Club owner John Barlow said Friday that he relinquished the club's liquor license two to three weeks ago. The decision headed off a legal battle with the city, but it doesn't end Barlow's struggle to get in the good graces of police and the city licensing staff.

"We just decided we wanted to move in a different direction with the building and the location," Barlow said. He said the city's efforts to shut him down weren't behind his decision. "We ran the venue for six years. It was a great time that we had. The dynamics of downtown change a lot. It was time to close it."

The decision brought relief to many, from the mayor's office to the local business association, which had struggled to put a good face on a Warehouse District reputation marred by a series of shootings and fights. Karma, at 315 1st Av. N., had become the focus of trouble at closing time, when up to 10,000 people pour out of 30 bars and nightclubs downtown.

Barlow, who also runs Epic nightclub at 510 1st Av. N., said he and co-owner Ned Abdul would find a new concept for the Karma location, with possibilities ranging from a Coyote Ugly to an Asian restaurant. Barlow said he would not personally run the new location. He predicted it would open by next spring.

Minneapolis police Inspector Kris Arneson said that since Karma closed about four weeks ago, the number of bar fights in the Warehouse District has dropped.

Officers working downtown used to all go to the Warehouse District at bar closing time when Karma was operating, Arneson said. Now they don't have to concentrate all of their attention on one spot.

Arneson said some Karma customers have gravitated to Envy, less than a block away, but the police have been working with the club's owners. "It's not as intensely problematic as Karma," she said.

It was Sunday nights at Karma that police were most concerned about. The night typically featured hip-hop parties open to anyone 18 or older and some felt it was an open invitation to street gangs.

In April, a Karma patron stabbed another patron with a broken glass inside the club. On Memorial Day, at bar closing time, three men were shot in the street near Karma.

The city in June asked Karma to shut down so that an improved safety plan could be developed. At the time, Barlow said he had no plans to shut down. He and his attorney had argued that the shootings took place in the street, not in Karma, so they were beyond the club's control.

The club tried to upgrade its security. In addition to trading glass for plastic containers, the club used Breathalyzers, increased its uniformed security force and scanned IDs.

Then the city dubbed the bar a public nuisance, vowing to fight renewal of its license. At the time police records showed 165 calls to the location in the past 18 months. The city was scheduled to have a courtroom showdown with Barlow in January, which will now be dismissed, said city attorney Susan Segal.

Neighborhood a 'safe place'

The club's closing was welcomed by Joanne Kaufman, executive director of the Warehouse District Business Association.

"The neighborhood was getting bad press for what was happening very late at night and only on Sunday nights. We just wanted to see that situation end," she said. "People think the neighborhood is all sports bars and nightclubs. That's just not the case. It's a safe place. It's a fun place. People don't need to be afraid to come into downtown."

Barlow's plan for a new club, called Pearl Nightclub, elsewhere in downtown will face city opposition, according to Grant Wilson, Minneapolis' licensing manager. "The city's position is we are intending to deny that application through an administrative law judge process," he said. Those hearings would likely occur in early 2012, he said.

Barlow said on Friday that he doesn't want to open any more clubs in the immediate future.

mckinney@startribune.com • 612-217-1747

tom.horgen@startribune.com • 612-673-7909

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