When the news hit recently that the West Bank’s iconic 400 Bar would soon reopen as a spiffy 1,000-capacity music venue at the Mall of America, the backlash was inevitable. The dissenters fell into three basic camps:
1. The general WTF? camp, for whom the news was too surreal and ridiculous to even take seriously.
2. The “sacrilege” camp, for whom the idea of using the 400’s name to sell drinks and concert tickets at the Mall of America was an end-of-times abomination.
3. The musician’s camp, for whom playing on the 400’s postage-stamp stage was a brutal rite of passage—one they remember fondly but never want to repeat.
Of course, there are also the lucky folks who saw Willie Murphy, The Jayhawks, Semisonic, John Koerner, Tony Glover, Paul Metsa, Mason Jennings, Golden Smog, Trip Shakespeare, and Arcade Fire (take your pick) at the 400 back in the 19-aughts and consider themselves witnesses to musical history. That history is now being tainted, they say, because the Mall of America stands for everything—commercialism, capitalism, corporatism, cleanliness—that the 400 was not.
True, there is no way to replicate the 400 Bar experience at the Mall of America. The working bathrooms and ample parking alone would destroy the illusion entirely. Add reliable air-conditioning, clean floors, a carpeted entrance, professional security, a decent sound system, a stage large enough for a band to move around, tasty food, room enough to turn your shoulders, and enough oxygen to breathe—and the hallowed 400 experience is all but dead. Some semblance of authenticity might be salvaged if the MOA can book bands too drunk to remember their songs or play their instruments. But even then, recreating a historically accurate 400 ambience would require a roomful of patrons so epically and irresponsibly wasted that it would scare away all the middle-aged salesmen at Hooters. Can’t have that—and if you can’t have that, you can’t have the 400.
The idea of expanding and rebranding a piece of Twin Cities music history as a Mall of America entertainment venue is understandable from a business standpoint, of course. But “cool” bars that book untested talent on a hunch and a prayer are never run by good businesspeople; they’re run by passionately crazy iconoclasts who are willing to take chances on performers whom no respectable businessperson would ever consider. And they’re willing to do it week in and week out, year after year, even when their only reward at the end of the night is a floor slick with sweat, beer, barf, and blood.
The only saving grace of the MOA venture is that former 400 Bar co-owners Tom and Bill Sullivan are involved in the project—two guys who have mopped up their share of messes. Let’s hope the new 400 Bar isn’t one of them, however, because no matter what it’s called, another live music venue in the Twin Cities is never a bad thing—even if it’s at the Mall of America.