Photo by Caitlin Abrams
Exterior of Nye's Polonaise Room in Northeast Minneapolis
It’s hard to let the past go. Especially when it’s decked in sparkly Naugahyde and carries the slight scent of pierogies. In early December, Nye’s Polonaise Room announced it would be closing at the end of summer in 2015.
The Nordeast bar and restaurant has been open for 65 years, which is no small feat. Neither is finding relevance, as it has over those decades, with new generations who found pleasure in singing at the piano bar, or pulling up a quilted red vinyl bar chair for strong unfussy cocktails. Esquire magazine saw fit to name it the Best Bar in America in 2006. Along with Kramarczuk’s (recently named a heritage spot by The James Beard Foundation), it’s one of the last nods to the formerly Polish character of the neighborhood.
This is a hard one for me. Like many others, I found my inner karaoke whore in my 20s while belting out “Que Sera, Sera” with help from Sweet Lou at the piano. I spent many nights nursing an olive habit with a side of gin after the first time I ever got fired. Honestly, outside of the pierogi, I didn’t care much for the food that wasn’t liquid, but Nye’s was there for me.
I have popped in from time to time over the years, the ladies and I had a drink there a few summers ago. But I rather felt I was leaving it to the next generations to discover, letting them own the dark place that seems like a comfortable and welcoming wormhole to an easier, glammier time.
The Jacob brothers bought Nye’s in 1999, and largely left it unchanged. They busied themselves with building an empire of suburban dining by proliferating the landscape with Jake’s City Grilles. Things have not worked out the way they wanted, I guess. While at first we were told that Nye’s just wasn’t cutting it anymore, it later came to light that the owners had already entered into a partnership with a developer to build another massively tall condo on the spot. Is that what we need in that neighborhood? More density, less character?
Honestly, it stings that a couple of people who couldn’t make a crappy suburban chain be successful feel the need to rake in their riches by grinding to dust something that has endured 65 years and helped define a neighborhood and a culture. Is that unfair? Is that selfish of me? Well, I personally think condos are a dime a dozen, but what about a windowless haunt where you can’t take a good Instagram to save your life? Where you have to put down your phone and sing to sheet music with a live piano? Where you can escape the earnestness of forward motion and just relax in a living slice of the past for a moment? How many of those places do we really have? Not enough.