Embattled Minneapolis Champions bar shuts down

  • Updated: March 15, 2014 - 7:06 PM
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Rick Nelson, owner of Champions, outside his Lake St. bar late Wednesday night, March 21, 2012.

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

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Champions Saloon & Eatery, the W. Lake Street bar that lost its Minneapolis liquor license over city concerns about drugs and violence, was set to close down Saturday at midnight, owner Rick Nelson said.

“It’s a very sad day for the neighborhood,” the sole owner of the 32-year-old establishment said. “We got a bad rap and we were just railroaded out of business.”

An undercover police investigation that began in late 2011 led to charges against 14 people for allegedly dealing drugs in the bar’s vicinity. In August, there was a fatal shooting inside the bar. An assistant city attorney said during the licensing debate that the bar refused to accept responsibility for escalating criminal and nuisance activity.

Formerly a neighborhood meat market, the leased building at the corner of Lake Street and Blaisdell Avenue S. had evolved into what Nelson regarded as a friendly social club for middle-aged city dwellers, mostly African-Americans. He said the bar’s troubles started in March 2012 after the city disallowed off-duty police officers from working there as security guards.

Nelson said he is proceeding with a 2012 lawsuit against Minneapolis city officials, who he said pushed Champions out of business in a racially motivated move.

He said he hopes to resurrect the establishment somewhere else in the city after the litigation ends. Nelson said he had to scratch plans to keep Champions open by serving only food. “We couldn’t survive,” he said.

TONY KENNEDY

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