Ruth Adams with bandmate Joe Hayden on a recent night at Nye's. (photo by Tom Wallace, Star Tribune)
Quiet and unassuming, Ruth Adams preferred to let her accordion do the talking. Leading a tiny combo that someone once christened the World's Most Dangerous Polka Band, that accordion landed her on the Jon Stewart show and ABC's "Good Morning America," while helping to establish Nye's in northeast Minneapolis as what Esquire magazine rightfully dubbed the best bar in America.
Adams died Friday at Hennepin County Medical Center at age 79 after a battle with cancer.
"Who's going to play 'The Barking Dog Polka' now that Ruthie's gone?" lamented a longtime coworker at the landmark Nordeast watering hole who called us with the news.
Ruth was a throwback to an era in Minnesota when "polka" and "pop music" were synonymous. And truly, the two converged whenever Ruth and her band took the tiny stage at Nye's, filling the dance floor with bluehairs of all ages -- studded/tattooed punk rockers along with the Northeast old-timers who still loved to cut the rug.
Ruth started playing at Nye's in 1975. While her health had declined of late, she continued to play her weekend gigs until a couple weeks ago. Sadly, a birthday celebration scheduled for Feb. 26 had to be canceled at the last minute when she was hospitalized.
Coindentally, that birthday coincided with the final night at Nye's of Lou Snider, the piano-bar mainstay who was Ruth's counterpart in the Polonaise Room (i.e., the "nice" side of Nye's). So Ruth's death doubly punctuates the passing of an era.
Look for a fuller obituary online later today, and in the print edition of the Star Tribune on Saturday.