From across the street the large windows are nearly opaque. Behind the fogged glass, throngs of partiers are tearing up Bar Abilene’s dance floor with varying degrees of grace.

“Shots! Shots! Shots! Shots!” booms the voice of Lil Jon around 12:30 a.m., as a DJ plays one of the rap star’s hits. A few girls greet their friends with high-pitched screams. Cellphone cameras flash.

It’s elbow-to-elbow inside the Uptown Minneapolis Tex-Mex joint that doubles as a dance bar. But Adam Dewenter, 28, managed to find some bar-side real estate. “Saturday nights can get a little intense,” he said.

Late-night intensity has become the norm in Uptown. Since the creation of Calhoun Square in 1983, the lively district at Lake Street and Hennepin Avenue has attracted shoppers, diners and moviegoers. But these days, nightlife is king. With more than 20 bars and restaurants in a three-block radius, Uptown is a bar-hopping hotbed that draws revelers from across the metro area in all seasons.

When Plymouth’s Faith Chamas and Edina’s Kathryn Holahan seek a night out in the city, Uptown is their preferred party destination. After popping into Primebar earlier, the two snagged a high-top in a packed Uptown Tavern & Rooftop (formerly Drink). “I feel like Uptown is more down-to-earth [than downtown],” said Holahan, 24. “Hardly any places have a cover charge.”

Uptown Tavern might not charge a cover like some downtown party bars and nightclubs, but the staggering girl holding a 21st-birthday balloon across the room paints a picture that is more common downtown. Other Uptown stalwarts such as restaurants Lucia’s and Barbette, and newcomer craft-beer bar Republic, provide a less raucous experience.

Compared with Warehouse District clientele, Uptown’s core demographic skews slightly older and “more sophisticated,” said Bar Louie owner Eric Fortney. Fortney, who also owns Brothers Bar & Grill downtown, called Uptown’s a “first-time jobbers’ crowd” — mid-20s to early 30s — apt to grab dinner and bounce around for a few drinks afterward.

Most of Bar Louie’s business comes from people who live in and around Uptown, he said. But restaurant impresario Phil Roberts said his flashy Chino Latino, Uptown’s cheekiest institution, has a heavy suburban draw. “We do our share with the neighborhood, but Chino is that naughty place that little Muffy’s mother from Minnetonka doesn’t want her to go to,” said the Parasole Restaurant Holdings CEO.

Seeking balance

With all the bars, restaurants, retailers and residents in Uptown, there are many different stakeholders.

Finding harmony among the various interests and maintaining a mix of commercial and residential properties has been an evolving process. Two years ago, Minneapolis City Council Member Meg Tuthill, who represents Uptown’s 10th Ward, authored a controversial ordinance to clamp down on noise from outdoor bar and restaurant patios after fielding complaints from residents.

“We’ve got to find a balance that works,” Tuthill said. “Part of why Uptown thrives and has thrived forever is because there’s always been a really good balance up there, and that’s really, really important. You’ve got the folks that treat it as a destination place and those that ... are in the immediate area that use Uptown on a daily basis.”

Although the ordinance was withdrawn, Tuthill said her proposal led to added taxi stands (to help clear streets more quickly between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m.) and off-duty police officers patrolling Uptown on Thursday through Saturday nights. Randy Stanley, divisional vice president at Parasole, said 10 Uptown bars and restaurants, including Parasole’s Chino Latino and Uptown Cafeteria, collectively spent $20,000 last year to pay for the off-duty cops.

“Once we all got done being pissed at each other, it started working out pretty good,” he joked.

Tuthill said she didn’t receive a single noise complaint last summer.

Both Roberts, who has owned area restaurants for nearly 30 years, and Bar Louie’s Fortney point to safety as being part of Uptown’s allure.

Fifth Precinct Inspector Tony Diaz said Uptown is assigned two beat officers on weekend nights, with a number of area units also able to assist with any incidents, though he said disturbance calls stemming from the nightlife scene are relatively few. “It’s not like drama central,” he said.

Here comes the neighborhood

Rather than staying downtown after DJ-ing an event at Gallery 13 with a friend, Uptown resident Anders Borg returned to his home turf for a nightcap.

Borg, 24, has been living nearby for about a year, but he and his friend, from North St. Paul, were skeptically making their maiden pilgrimage to Primebar (they said online reviews made it sound “douchey”). However, the two were delighted by its laid-back environment compared with other Uptown bars.

“I’m still getting used to the fact that there’s a bar here I enjoy,” Borg said.

While Primebar has been open less than a year, Roberts said even Uptown’s longstanding establishments are constantly being discovered due to its young, transient population. “When my daughter graduated from college, she and three girlfriends moved into the upstairs of a house about three blocks from Lake and Hennepin,” he recalled. “Then, of course, they move along, they get married, they move to Minnetonka [laughs], they do whatever they’re going to do. But there’s a new pipeline of young people coming [in]. That pipeline is continuous.”

According to 2010 U.S. Census data, 46 percent of residents who share a ZIP code with Roberts’ Uptown restaurants are 20 to 35 years old. A number of new luxury apartment projects, including The Walkway at the former Cowboy Slim’s site, look to attract even more young affluent urban dwellers. Troy Wenck, president of Reuter Walton Construction, said the six-story, 92-unit City Walk is scheduled for a fall completion and has two restaurant and four retail spaces.

This type of residential/commercial development has bar and restaurant owners beaming, even if some residents bemoan the gentrification. Roberts, who calls Uptown Minneapolis’ SoHo, doesn’t want the neighborhood to lose its character, but welcomes the economic activity. “The more vitality, the more people you can get on the street — that’s a good vibe,” he said. “It makes it the place to be.”


Michael Rietmulder writes about bars and nightlife.