It was a good day for Bill Wanner if he was surrounded by good food, wine and music, and above all, by the myriad of good friends he made among customers and musicians who came to his Twin Cities establishments.
His flagship operation might have been William's Pub, the venerable Uptown bar where comedian Tom Arnold once tended bar and folk singers Peter, Paul and Mary entertained. But he largely showcased local and regional artists at the Artists' Quarter when it was located at 26th Street and Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis, the Country House in Plymouth, the Lux and the former Rossi's Steakhouse and Blue Star Room, both in downtown Minneapolis.
"He knew how to create a show environment with great food and exciting entertainment," said Bobby Z Rivkin, who played with the house band at William's Pub in the 1970s before performing with Prince. "He knew how to make people happy."
Wanner, 60, died of pancreatic cancer Feb. 27 in Denver. He had lived in Colorado the past few years and spent time with his grandchildren, said his wife, Melissa Oldham.
With acts ranging from Shangoya to the Fabulous Minnesota Barking Ducks to the Wolverines to country and roots-rock groups, Wanner offered an eclectic musical menu at William's and helped push the Twin Cities music scene forward, said Sue McLean, one of Wanner's former employees who now works as a concert promoter with McLean & Associates.
"He was a music lover, and a lot of people had work because of Bill," she said. "He was a one-of-a-kind, fun-loving entrepreneur with a twinkle in his eye, always up to something."
Much of that time was spent building and maintaining relationships with musicians. He took a special interest in emerging artists and upstart groups, and often provided perks such as free drinks or half-price dinners to bands to make them feel welcome and special, said friend and local musician Bobby Vandell.
Wanner opened William's in 1974 and ran the club at 2911 Hennepin Av. S., until the late 1980s. His latest venture was Rossi's from 2003 to 2008. He had plans to return to the Twin Cities and open a new club, Oldham said.
"He was passionate of having great rooms where the best musicians performed," said singer Patty Peterson.
He is also survived by three daughters, Lindsay Morgan and Maxlyn Wanner, both of Denver, and Z'leste Wanner of Santiago, Chile; a sister, Rita Browning, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa; two brothers, James Wanner of San Diego and Charles Wanner of St. Louis, and four grandchildren.
A memorial gathering will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday at the Monte Carlo Bar & Grill, 219 3rd Av. N.