They must love this bar.
"It's impressive to see everybody drinking this much at 2 in the afternoon," K102 radio personality J.D. Greene told a boisterous crowd Friday at Toby Keith's I Love This Bar & Grill in St. Louis Park.
Well, they love Toby Keith. He finally showed up to christen his namesake honky-tonk that opened in June in the West End complex and has been packed ever since. About 400 ticket winners and VIPs gathered at a private event to hear the country superstar speak. He autographed a stars-and-stripes guitar but didn't sing a note at what he called a "honky-tonk, redneck all-American bar."
"We're honored to have Minnesota on board," said Keith, who had a concert Friday night in Omaha and will play in Duluth on Sunday. "Minneapolis always has been wonderful for us. It's a perfect town. It's got a lot of country music. And we've been following the Twins."
Keith was a man of few words in public but, for the next 90 minutes in the bar's VIP room, he gave face time to three local TV stations, K102, the Star Tribune and 80 hand-picked fans. Each fan got a handshake, a smile for a photographer and seven seconds of time with Keith -- but no autographs. It was slam, bam, thank you Toby.
"It was better than nothing," said Candy Poland of Albertville, who has a Yorkshire terrier named Toby. "How many times do you get to meet a country-music star?" She hung out in the honky-tonk, where the superstar later autographed her tambourine to her screaming delight.
Keith lends his name and advice to the chain of Toby Keith bars run by the Arizona-based Capri Restaurant Group. In 2005, the group opened the first ones in Oklahoma City, his home base, and Las Vegas. Minnesota is the fourth grand opening he's attended this year. There are nine bars open, three more scheduled to kick off this fall, with a goal of 40 in the next three years.
"I have final say-so on the entire concept, from food to liquor," Keith said backstage. All the joints are named after his 2003 hit "I Love This Bar."
After his VIP meet-and-greet, the singer finally got to sample 11 plates of entrees that had been waiting for him since his arrival. Standing at the VIP bar, he nibbled from the various plates for 10 minutes, sometimes asking questions of a Capri executive. Before he jetted to Omaha, he insisted on a final stop -- the kitchen, to meet each and every worker there.
Staff writer Tom Horgen contributed to this story.