“No, not Nye’s!”
It was the collective cry heard around the Twin Cities as news broke Monday night that Nye’s Polonaise Room, a Minneapolis fixture, will close next year, marking the end of an era of polka and piano.
Owners of the bar and restaurant, located across the Mississippi River from downtown, told their 35 employees Monday that Nye’s will shut its doors after 65 years in business.
Home to the “The World’s Most Dangerous Polka Band,” Nye’s has been a local landmark for decades. In 2006, it was named by Esquire magazine as the best bar in America.
“It’s a sad day, but it was time. It’s the end of a legacy,” said Rob Jacob, 51, who co-owns Nye’s with his brother Tony, 46.
Nye’s opened in 1950 at 112 E. Hennepin Av. as a blue-collar corner bar. The Polonaise Room opened in 1964 after owner Al Nye purchased the building next to the bar for a dining room addition.
“Nye’s is the last of the places remaining. It will be a huge blow, from my perspective, a huge blow to East Hennepin,” said local restaurateur John Rimarcik, who owns another local landmark, the Monte Carlo, and Rachel’s, which is located down the street from Nye’s.
Its disappearance will affect the flavor of the entire neighborhood, he said.
After the news was reported Monday by the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal, people raced to social media to lament the closing.
There is still plenty of time for nostalgic customers to sing their last song at the legendary establishment. Nye’s is not slated to close until August or September.
It wasn’t an easy decision to make, Jacob said. But Nye’s wasn’t able to be competitive anymore with its supper-club atmosphere and had been struggling to make things work financially for years, he said.
Jacob said that he and his brother would rather close Nye’s now, in its prime, rather than make changes and distort its legacy.
“For us to change anything, it wouldn’t have been Nye’s. That’s one thing we didn’t want to do was to make a drastic change so that people would say, ‘Geez, Nye’s has changed,’ and it would have taken that,” he said.
Jacob said there wasn’t any outside pressure by developers to close Nye’s.
A decision hasn’t been made yet what to do with the property after the closing, Jacob said. A couple of ideas have been floated, including selling the property but not the Nye’s name.
Nye’s was special, he said.
“It catered to the 21- to 80-year-old crowd,” Jacob said. “Just a wide variety of people where an 80-year-old can sing a song with a 22-year-old at the bar. — that, to me, it’s unique.”
While the Nye’s Piano Bar has been a popular place for amateur singers to test their limits (vocally and alcoholically speaking), the neighboring Nye’s Polka Room became home to many well-respected musicians, including the weekend polka vets and local rock bands such as the New Primitives and St. Dominic’s Trio.
Singer/songwriter Molly Maher hosted a popular weekly gig with Erik Koskinen in the Nye’s Polka Room for six years up until 2011 and said “it was like our womb.”
“The stage is like a clown car where everyone has to cram together to fit, it’s so small, but there’s something comfortable and intimate about playing like that,” said Maher.
Those who want an actual piece of Nye’s history may be in luck. Jacob hinted that he would probably hire an auctioneer to help sell some of Nye’s memorabilia.
Without Nye’s, Jacob has plenty of other eateries to keep him busy since he also owns several Jake’s City Grille locations. But there will still be a void.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do without Nye’s.”