The old, dark and funky 400 Bar on Minneapolis’ West Bank will be resurrected as a splashy Mall of America complex that will include a live-music venue, restaurant and music museum.
The mall announced Tuesday that the indie-rock bastion, which hosted early gigs by the White Stripes, Arcade Fire and hometown heroes the Jayhawks, will reopen in June on the MOA’s fourth floor.
It could host as many as 1,000 fans for concerts — in contrast to the scruffy corner bar that squeezed in fewer than 400 people before closing in November 2012 after several years of steadily declining business.
“We want to provide a unique music experience,” said 400 Bar business partner Joe O’Brien. “Tourists and locals will have the opportunity of experiencing educational programs and live entertainment in a fun, family-friendly environment.”
O’Brien said the museum also will open in early June with a Beatles exhibit organized by the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles. A “pub-style” restaurant, run by the operators of Merlin’s Rest Pub in Minneapolis, will follow soon thereafter.
While Minnesota musicians are usually receptive to a new venue that might hire them, some are skeptical about putting a revered indie institution in the megamall.
“I see it as the equivalent of McDonald’s offering artisanal cheese,” said Minneapolis rocker Adam Levy of the Honeydogs, who played dozens of gigs at the West Bank bar. “The Mall of America, and all its consumerism, and an iconic music venue with its history of independent music seems incongruous.”
A Twitter backlash started almost immediately with the hashtag #400BarAtTheMall combining the names of bands and stores. Some examples: “As Seen on TV on the Radio,” “CinnaBon Iver” and “Long John’s Silversun Pickups.”
O’Brien shrugged off the initial reaction as well as doubts about whether fans and bands from the old 400 will warm up to a venue in the MOA.
“We wholeheartedly think people will want to come there often,” O’Brien said, pointing to the combination of daytime and nighttime business envisioned in the three-part approach. “We’re putting in a lot of thought and effort into making sure it earns a cool reputation.”
O’Brien said he signed on with the 400’s co-owners, Tom and Bill Sullivan, a decade ago during their 17-year run at the 400, which had been a blues-folk hangout featuring Willie Murphy before the indie-rockers took over.
While the Sullivan brothers have yet to comment on the plans, O’Brien said they will be equal but not silent partners.
“You probably won’t see them working the door every night like they used to, but they will be very involved in bringing in the bands,” O’Brien said.
The old 400 Bar building was sold to the operators of the Banaadir Academy charter school to be used as a community center for the neighborhood’s growing East African population.
The Mall of America hasn’t had a regular live-music venue since the Gatlin Brothers music club, one of the mall’s original tenants, closed after four years.
The new space formerly housed Players Bar & Grill; more recently, it played host to the traveling exhibits “Diana: A Celebration” and “Bodies: The Exhibition.”
Some local musicians are excited that the Sullivans are returning to the live-music scene.
“I think it’s great that Bill and Tom are involved with it,” said Jayhawks bassist Marc Perlman, who used to tend bar at the 400. “I’ve seen many more music venues in malls, especially in the South.”
“I never thought I’d hear the Sullivans and Mall of America in the same novel, not even the same sentence,” said longtime Minneapolis rocker Kevin Bowe. “If Bill Sullivan can wrangle the Replacements on tour [he was their longtime tour manager], then I think he can do a club at Mall of America — and solve the Middle East situation at the same time.”