Often when a customer headed to the exit of Brit’s Pub, the downtown Minneapolis British watering hole, Freddie Manton would stop them at the door with one of his signature catchphrases. “Was it something I said?”
It was a joke that kept on giving, and one of the few of Manton’s that’s fit to print. A drummer whose career took him from London to Hollywood, Manton is best known in Minneapolis for his second act, greeting guests at Brit’s Pub since it opened in 1990, with a personality as over-the-top as his colorful outfits.
Manton, whom staffers and regulars at Brit’s Pub considered the heart of the establishment, died of cancer on March 19 at age 90.
“He provided so much character and was a focal point at the pub,” said Brit’s co-owner Stuart Higgins. “Much more than that, for the tens of thousands of people who have been through the doors the last 29 years, he was beloved.”
Manton was born July 13, 1928, in London. He grew up during World War II and was evacuated to the British countryside with other children during the 1940 blitz. After the war, he joined the Royal Air Force, and then he toured the world as a drummer.
In the mid-1950s, Manton made his way to New York City, where he served gangsters at the Copacabana while building up his musical résumé, according to stories he told Higgins. Eventually, he moved out West and drummed for movie soundtracks. The cymbals played at the beginning of the 1955 Frank Sinatra flick “The Man with the Golden Arm” are supposedly Manton’s, Higgins said.
Then, a childhood friend from London reached out. He was starting a British pub in Minneapolis and wanted Manton to join him.
“I think that Dad and Brit’s Pub were pretty much the perfect pairing,” said daughter Courtney Manton Chester, of Green Valley, Calif. “He felt most alive when he was with people. It’s almost like he gave a piece of himself to everybody.”
Manton was at retirement age when he started at Brit’s and quickly became a symbol of the place. “He was part of the furniture,” said general manager Shane Higgins. Photos of Manton hang on dark wood-paneled walls throughout the pub, including a large framed poster of him behind the drums. In addition to his hosting duties, Manton often played in the Brit’s house band.
But it was his quick-witted one-liners that kept customers coming back, asking “Is Freddie around?” “There is no guest experience like having Freddie Manton take care of you,” said bartender Mark Pannaralla, who worked for years with Manton doing security at Brit’s. “He had a cheesy line for everybody, and he was so upset when you left. He’s a legend.”
After he’d implore departing customers to stay, he’d see them off with one last “Cheerio.”
“It was always good to have something like that — a British pub with a British gent, a lovable rogue,” Shane Higgins said.
Around five years ago, Manton was diagnosed with stomach cancer and underwent surgery that staved off the disease. Two months ago, he found out cancer had returned in his bladder.
It was only recently that he stopped coming in to the pub on a regular basis. But with his apartment building across the street, he still managed to stop by till the end.
Customers used to seeing Manton at the host stand left notes for him in a blue wicker basket marked “Freddie’s Corner.” The basket is full.
In addition to his daughter, Manton is survived by his son, Trevor Manton of Hopkins, and 4 granddaughters. A public memorial will be held at Brit’s Pub (1110 Nicollet Mall, Mpls.) 2 to 6 p.m. on Sunday.