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The Viking Bar closes amid ownership dispute

The Viking Bar in 2016 (Photo by Nate Ryan/MPR)
The Viking Bar in 2016 (Photo by Nate Ryan/MPR)

by Andrea Swensson

January 09, 2018

Less than two years after a major remodel and reopening, the historic Viking Bar in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood has closed and its building has been put up for sale.

Built in 1905 and opened as the Viking in 1959, the bar became a hotspot for West Bank blues and folk musicians during the scene's explosion in the 1960s-'70s, hosting popular acts like Bill Hinckley and Judy Larson, "Spider" John Koerner and Willie Murphy, who ultimately played what would be the bar's first closing night on July 31, 2006. By that time the bar had been owned by the same family for 47 years.

With the simple words "Gone Fishin'" placed onto the marquee, the Viking sat empty and untouched for nearly a decade. Then in early 2016 a new era was announced: the building had been purchased, extensive renovations were underway, and the new-old Viking Bar would be available to musicians and West Bank visitors once again.

The bar reopened on May 25, 2016 to much fanfare. Willie Murphy was announced as one of the first performers to play the reopened space, as were other local legends like Cornbread Harris and Curtiss A. The new owners, Patrick L. Johnston and husband-and-wife duo Amy and Aaron Britt, had partnered with Forage Modern Workshop to completely overhaul the bar, updating the bathrooms and adding a commercial kitchen, as well as new stage lighting and PAs, while retaining the character of the turn-of-the-century building. Johnston's son, Patrick G. Johnston, became the day-to-day manager, and three different bookers were tapped to fill out the performance schedule, pulling from all corners of the eclectic West Bank scene.

But the new partnership appears to have faded quickly.

When reached for comment about the status of the bar today, the bar's current management simply said, "It will play out in court." Reached separately, Amy Britt said that, "Aaron and I are no longer involved with the Viking Bar, other than legally. Aaron's last day there was November 18, 2016 and neither of us has been in since." The Britts are minority owners of the bar, while Patrick L. Johnston is the majority owner.

Management also indicated that the bar may be sold soon — in a real estate listing posted December 27, the two-story building is being offered at $1,084,000. A flyer advertising the property states that the building is "100% occupied by three tenants," including the Viking Bar, Glitch (which rents the second floor), and Clear Channel, which provides billboard income on the roof.

If the bar remains closed, the last concert hosted during this iteration of the Viking will have been the Car Hearts, Dry Ice and the Confused Brothers Band, who all performed on Saturday night, January 6. No additional concerts are currently listed on the bar's website.

"It's hard to see so many of the places where we had such good audiences close — Harriet Brewing, Wild Tymes, Whiskey Junction, The Nicollet, and now The Viking," says AJ Scheiber of Wilkinson James, who performed regularly at the reopened Viking. "It is getting tougher and tougher to find congenial performance venues around town — so much talent vying for fewer and fewer platforms."

Clean Water Land & Legacy Amendment
This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.