The tears flowed only slightly slower than the drinks at BJ’s Liquor Lounge on Monday.
After 40 years in the business, Minneapolis’ last neighborhood strip club held its final dance.
BJ’s survived 27 years after the city tried to move all nude entertainment downtown. It kept rolling after the city ordered BJ’s to stop the dancing in 2007. A new cutoff of Jan. 1, 2020, was approaching when a developer offered to buy the place at 229 W. Broadway Av.
“It was just time,” said owner Brian Bjurstrom.
And so the regulars gathered Monday to bid it farewell — with one last drink from a bartender they consider a friend or one last lap dance from the women they’ve grown to know over the years.
“I don’t know where everyone’s going to go,” said Patricia Jasinski, a former dancer who runs the pulltabs. Working there, she said, is “something we all planned on doing for a long time.”
They’ve been reminiscing a lot over the past week, and many describe the bar the same way.
It’s like “Cheers with topless girls,” bartender Chuck Daszkiewicz said during an interview last week.
They all know each other. In the dimly lit barroom, romances have been born.
Jan Ohnstad began working there 34 years ago. She started as a waitress and frequently served a men’s softball team. One night, all of the guys moved up to watch the dancers — all of the guys except for one.
She asked him why. He told her he liked the view better where she was. They’re married now, and they have two adult children.
Today, Bjurstrom considers Ohnstad his right-hand woman. She coordinates the dancers’ schedules but also fills in as a bartender and works anywhere else she’s needed.
Many of the dancers call her “Mom,” she says.
Every morning, she texts them to confirm their schedules. Her phone breaks out in a Minion giggle ringtone each time they respond.
“It’s just one big family here,” Ohnstad says.
Stay long enough, and someone will offer to buy a drink. Or a lap dance. Or both.
For some, the dancers are clearly a prime attraction.
For others, that comes second to the camaraderie.
They know each other’s spouses. They know their health conditions. They go fishing together, or catch a baseball game.
They’ve been there, too, through the bar’s most challenging times.
Bjurstrom’s father, Jerry, opened the bar in 1980, when it was still legal to have strip clubs throughout the city. In 1992, Minneapolis officials passed an ordinance that required new strip clubs to be located downtown.
A decade later, they passed a new measure that required nude dancing to be phased out at clubs outside of downtown, including BJ’s Liquor Lounge.
Jerry Bjurstrom eventually reached a deal with the city to do away with the dancing in 2007, but the city worked with him as the deadline passed.
It helped, Minneapolis officials said, that the club didn’t have any major health violations or public safety problems.
“This is a great example of the city and the business working together,” said Linda Roberts, assistant manager of business licensing for the city of Minneapolis.
After Jerry Bjurstrom died in 2018, another round of talks occurred. They agreed that the dancing would end by 2020.
By then, BJ’s Liquor Lounge was the last strip club operating outside of downtown. There are 13 other strip clubs in Minneapolis, down from 17 adult businesses in 2017.
BJ’s Liquor Lounge could have continued to serve drinks under the new arrangement, but before that happened a developer approached Brian Bjurstrom with an offer.
They’re not sure what the bar will become next.
The regulars will probably scatter. Jasinski will work at another bar nearby. Daszkiewicz might manage boxers, leaning on his own past experiences in the sport. Ohnstad plans to give herself a month to rest and catch up on sleep.
Bjurstrom isn’t sure what he’ll do. He planned to stay through closing Monday, whenever that might arrive. Afterward, he said, he’d probably sleep on a cot there one more time. He’ll take some time to figure out the rest.
Many of the people who call BJ’s Liquor Lounge their second home have promised to stay in touch. But, they acknowledge, it will never be the same.
“I’m going to be lost,” Daszkiewicz said. “Everybody is.”