MANKATO – This was the first weekend of full-squad workouts for the Vikings. Considering the comfortable weather and the anticipation that the 42-year Super Bowl drought will soon end, there would have been more than 10,000 fans over the two days on “The Hill” to watch walkthroughs and practices and to seek autographs.
The upper campus of Minnesota State Mankato is located on The Hill, and that includes the dormitory, the fieldhouse, the office space, the practice fields and the stadium that was home to Vikings training camp from 1966 to 2017.
“This place would be wall to wall with customers,” Jon Mueller said. “The whole thing is over now. That’s the reality, and we have to adapt.”
Mueller is the owner of Jonny B’s, a bar and restaurant at University Square, the small mall across the street from Blakeslee Stadium and the parking lots used by Vikings fans.
This was noontime Saturday, and rather than a couple of thousand Vikings fans milling along Stadium Road and looking for a beverage and a sandwich, there were a handful of customers in Jonny B’s.
The two people at the bar were Jonny and an off-duty bartender. There was a cook and a pair of bartender/waiters, and that was it.
“I’m only here now to support my staff,” Mueller said. “We all know it’s a weekend when the Vikings would’ve been here, and I thought they would be feeling a little lonely.”
The young woman behind the bar said: “We are. We’d be going crazy serving food and drinks right now, if the Vikings were in town.”
Mueller has been involved in the bar business on The Hill since 1989. He was working for Universal Sounds/Market Systems, designing and setting up clubs and bars.
“We had a job with the Albatross, the legendary ’Tross that used to be right around the corner from this place,” Mueller said. “I did some work there in ’89, I was offered a job as a bar manager, and I’ve never left.”
The Vikings were staying in Mankato for five or six weeks in those days, and the Albatross was a nightly stop for players. Mueller opened “Boomtown,” also around the corner, in 1994. The players, coaches and team officials tried to avoid operating on the same shift at Boomtown, which was a madhouse during training camp.
Mueller opened a second bar next door in 2004, and it was named Jonny B’s, as in Jonny Boom. He sold Boomtown a couple of years later, and that’s now called Bradley’s.
“This used to be a Burger King,” Mueller said as he sat in Jonny B’s. “Before that, it was a Hardee’s.”
Mueller smiled and said: “Right out there, that’s where Keith Millard put his vehicle in the flower bed. I was with him that night … at the Albatross.”
Millard, the great defensive tackle, missing the entrance for the Hardee’s drive-through. That’s an infamous tale in training camp lore.
There are dozens of photos on Jonny B’s walls — favorite Vikings, famous Vikings. Mueller has scores of Vikings friends (none more so than Mike Tice) from his 28 years of training camps on The Hill, and hundreds of great stories.
“Those shan’t be told,” Jonny said. “But we sure are going to miss having some new ones to not tell.”
Wally Boyer is a couple of blocks down the street as the owner of Jake’s Stadium Pizza. On Saturday, there were 20 customers at 2 p.m.
“Between practice sessions on a weekend like this, we’d be jammed with Vikings fans,” Boyer said. “What we’re going to miss most is the word of mouth that this was a place where the Vikings all went for pizza.
“Kyle Rudolph’s quote, that what he’s going to miss about Mankato is Jake’s Pizza … how do you beat that for publicity?”
Later on Saturday afternoon, three customers were at the bar at Mettler’s. The stage still was dark and the entertainers in downtown Mankato’s long-running gentleman’s club would not start dancing for another hour.
Jan Vasil was behind the bar, as she has been for decades. Jan told of several Vikings who were regulars and she admired as well-mannered gentlemen — some of whom might surprise you (although not here, not now).
Owner Moose Maes said: “We would see players in fairly large numbers all the time, but not in recent years …. not since that ship sailed.”
What ship? “The Love Boat,” Maes said. “Ever since that story broke loose with the Vikings in 2005, someone had to be telling the players every year to stay away from dancers in public.
“As for the four or five buddies who picked a day to come to Mankato, watch a Vikings practice and have a good time … we’ll miss those guys.”
Patrick Reusse can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on AM-1500. firstname.lastname@example.org