Minneapolis bar works to shake legacy of violence

  • Article by: NICOLE NORFLEET , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 5, 2012 - 8:47 PM

At the 4th Street Saloon, patrons are patted down and walk through a metal detector before entering.

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Mike “Big Mike” Oker, 4th Street Saloon’s general manager, said the bar is a positive contributor in north Minneapolis and has strengthened its security.

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

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Before customers can get into the 4th Street Saloon in north Minneapolis after dark, they get patted down and walk through a metal detector. But that didn't stop someone from sneaking in the gun used to wound two people inside the bar last week.

The shootings have prompted police to review security at the bar, no stranger to gunfire -- three people were shot and killed outside the 4th Street Saloon in 2007 and 2008. Yet neighbors say the bar at 328 W. Broadway is better than it used to be.

"I think they do a very good job at keeping it safe," said Susan Friedman, co-owner of Friedman's Department Store, across the street from the saloon. She said, "I think it's the people who go into it" that cause the problems.

Mike Oker, 42, the saloon's general manager, agrees, blaming the trouble on the bar's location. While maybe 99 percent of north Minneapolis is full of good, hardworking people, Oker said, "It's a matter of that 1 percent."

Oker, better known as "Big Mike," has been working at the bar for about 12 years. He's easy to spot in the bar not just because of his size but because of the chorus of greetings from patrons when he walks by. Standing behind the long wooden bar this week with Christmas bulbs hanging in the background, Oker described the place as a positive contributor to the community.

"If I'm here, I'm a part of something," he said. Oker describes it as "one of the safest bars in Minneapolis." But its record with gun violence shows otherwise.

Since those fatal shootings in 2007 and 2008, the bar, which already had a walk-through metal detector, has beefed up security. Now, when people enter at night, security staffers also do patdowns, search purses and use a handheld metal detector, Oker said. There's video surveillance inside and outside the bar.

Those measures could be working. In 2007, police filed about 31 reports in relation to issues at the bar's location, Minneapolis police Sgt. Steve McCarty said. The number would include incidents that happened at the rented rooms above the bar as well, he said. Last year, reports numbered about 17, he said.

Alexandra Jasicki, director of community affairs for the Hawthorne Neighborhood Council, agreed there has been a "definite improvement" in safety at the bar.

"I know that incidents have really calmed down over the last couple of years," she said.

A customer since he was old enough to drink, Jamain Williams, 39, called it a "good bar" where the staff does "the best they can" to stop fights from breaking out.

Overall, during the past five years, slightly more than 100 police reports have been filed for the bar's address, McCarty said. Those include incidents ranging from assaults to traffic stops.

For a bar, "I don't think it's anything alarming," McCarty said of the number of reports.

Yet last Friday about 2 a.m., two men were shot during a fight inside the bar, he said. One man pulled a gun and shot the other. When another man tried to intervene, he was also shot. Neither injury was life-threatening.

Oker said he doesn't know how the gun got in the bar. There's video footage of the shooter that police have reviewed, he said. No arrests have been made.

City Council Member Diane Hofstede, who represents the ward in which the bar is located, said city officials will meet with the owner to see if safety can be improved.

While she didn't downplay the seriousness of the recent shootings, Hofstede said, "An incident should not identify the entire area."

Nicole Norfleet • 612-673-4495

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  • Mike “Big Mike” Oker, 42, who has worked at the bar for 12 years, was surrounded by patrons, people he considers his friends. There were three killings near the bar in 2007 and 2008, but neighbors say the bar is better than it used to be.

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