Another mainstay of the West Bank music scene in Minneapolis, Whiskey Junction, will close by the end of the year, and this time there is blame going around.
The owners of the blue-collar, biker-friendly rock and blues hub -- which neighbors the Cabooze at 901 Cedar Av. S. -- say Minneapolis' newly passed $15 minimum wage ordinance is driving them out of business since it does not include tip credit for service staffers such as bartenders and waiters. Whiskey Junction was among the many bars and restaurants whose operators pushed the Minneapolis City Council for such an allowance, to no avail.
“After recent changes in the Minneapolis ordinances regarding minimum wages and primarily the lack of a tip credit provision, we feel now is the time to get out of the bar business,” owners Tom O’Shea and Elizabeth “Little” Obregón wrote in a Facebook post announcing the “toughest decision” to close.
“We fought for a voice to explain how minimum wage without a tip credit will be detrimental to the small bar and restaurant owners of Minneapolis but we were not listened to. Therefore its on to the next adventure!”
O’Shea’s and Obregón’s worry about the effects of the city’s minimum wage law may have been a bit on the early side, however. Small businesses such as theirs won’t have to pay the full $15 wage to employees until 2024, with the first bump to a $10.25 minimum wage starting next July 1.
O’Shea and Obregon have owned the venue since 2006. Throughout the past decade, they have hosted live music on an almost nightly basis. The Belfast Cowboys and “The Voice’s” Nicholas David were regulars in that time. In recent months, rootsy Americana-flavored acts such as Lolo’s Ghost and Doug Collins & the Receptionists and jammy rockers such as Orange Sunshine and Rare Medium filled the calendar.
“I was just gobsmacked by the news,” said Doug Collins, whose group has another gig there Thursday night. “They seemed to be doing pretty well. James Loney’s band [Lolo’s Ghost] was getting a good crowd every Sunday, and we were getting people in, too. Everybody who came out seemed happy to be there. It had good sound and was a good place to play if you’re a band who’s not big enough for [First Avenue].”
Whiskey Junction’s demise follows last week’s closing of the nearby punk haven Triple Rock Social Club, which will be turned into a restaurant and special-events space. A more kindred venue to the Junction that hosted similar groups, Harriet Brewing in south Minneapolis’ Longfellow neighborhood also closed last year. “It’s getting kind of worrisome,” Collins noted.
A bar since the late-1800s and a steady live music venue since the mid-'80s, Whiskey Junction will be open through New Year’s Eve. O’Shea and Obregón have not said what they plan to do with the property.