For a little less than a decade, the Dinkytowner Café has inhabited its darkened underground space in the heart of Dinkytown. But at the end of the month, this diverse establishment will be forced to close its doors.
“We were hit by a perfect storm of problems,” said Dinkytowner co-owner Kyle McCarty .
The perfect storm, he explained, involved an order by the city of Minneapolis to refurbish the facility’s kitchen at a cost of an estimated $50,000, a determined bank and the failure to secure a long-term lease from the landlord. “We could have handled any one these on their own,” McCarty said, “but not all at once.”
McCarty and co-owner Brian Elias took control of the Dinkytowner from McCarty’s uncle five years ago.
Neither McCarty nor Elias thought there would be any trouble running the Dinkytowner, despite an order from the city to upgrade. “What we have right now works perfectly fine,” explained Elias.
One of the upgrades the city mandated was the installation of an exhaust hood in the kitchen that would cost the Dinkytowner $20,000, despite the fact that the Dinkytowner had existed without one for the past 15 years.
“There is nothing critically hazardous with the Dinkytowner,” McCarty said. “We just need to modernize to a point that the city wants us too.”
According to the owners, the city began their investigation of the Dinkytowner earlier last year, which is when the mandate to upgrade the facility was given. The pressure to comply with the requests had been mounting for some time, Elias said, until around a month ago when the fact that they had to be done very soon had become clear.
“With a long term lease, we could have done [the repairs],” Elias said. But without the guarantee of future ownership, they were not willing to invest money.
The issues with the bank came about when a previous business partner, McCarty’s uncle, had tied the assets of the Dinkytown to a loan which had eventually been defaulted on, McCarty said.
The bank began to come to the Dinkytowner to collect earlier in the year, which added more pressure to the situation, McCarty said.
After May 31, the Dinkytowner’s last business day , the property will be vacated, leaving the refurbishments to current landlord Bob Harmon.
As to what will happen after the space is reopened, both said they did not know, though they mentioned hearing that Harmon, who is the landlord of both the Dinkytowner and Blarney Pub and Grill , had plans to give the space to his son.
The lease had been reoffered to Elias and McCarty but at a much higher rate they were not willing to pay. Had they decided to stay, Elias said, they wouldn’t have been able to work for themselves — they would be working for the rent.
‘The fatal blow to hip-hop’
Among other things, the Dinkytowner has been home for many years to the developing rap and hip-hop community, a group that many feel will be severely damaged by its closing.
“This could be the fatal blow to hip-hop community,” said Mark Thone, an owner of the Mindstate Distribution, a hip-hop supply store in Dinkytown just across the street from the Dinkytowner . “The Dinkytowner was willing to let just about everybody come in and do a show.”
Some of the artists who began their careers playing places like the Dinkytowner have often ended up making it big in Minneapolis rap and beyond.
“I was looking at the set list for this year’s Soundset , and I counted 18 that had at one time or another played at the Dinkytowner,” McCarty said about the regional hip-hop festival.
St. Paul Slim and Prof — Meyer Warren and Jake Anderson, respectively — of the local Stophouse music group could be considered longtime Dinkytowner breakouts. With their new album ironically called “Recession Music ,” the group has had more recent critical acclaim, though they could remember a time when the Dinkytowner had helped them get off the ground.
“The Dinkytowner played a role in 85 percent of all local rappers’ careers,” said Anderson. “Doing shows down there made me better.”
Warren called the Dinkytowner a “crucial spot for hip-hop in the Twin Cities.”
“To me, the Dinkytowner meant a place that I could call home,” he said.
So far, the hip-hop community has experienced a bit of a shuffle-around because of the Dinkytowner closing.
The “Last of the Record Buyers” show, which had taken place every Thursday at the Dinkytowner, has moved to The Fifth Element in Uptown, and different acts are finding new places to play. Tony, the manager of STP’s Finest, a small-time rap group based out of St. Paul that played at the Dinkytowner last weekend, said that although there were other places for the group to play in Minneapolis, “to lose this place, you will lose a lot of hope for the kids.”
Some feel the Dinkytowner’s absence could adversely affect the community.
“It was a place that attracted mostly people from outside of the University community,” McCarty said. “It brought in people who never would have been down together.”
The niche filled by the Dinkytowner was one “that people were overlooking,” Elias said.
“Young or old, gangsta, grunge … on any given night, every one of them was in here,” he said.
Elias and McCarty said that when creating the Dinkytowner, they had hoped to establish a place in which everyone felt comfortable.
“The place has such a good vibe; you really don’t see many fights. Everyone is usually getting along and here to have a good time,” Elias said.
The closing of the Dinkytowner came as a surprise to many shop owners in the community.
Mike Kendall, owner of Gold Country Campus Apparel in Dinkytown, said he hadn’t heard of the Dinkytowner’s closing.
“I don’t think that [the closing] is part of a trend in Dinkytown that I’m aware of,” he said.
Frank Vescio, owner of Vescio’s Italian Restaurant, down the street from the Dinkytowner , agreed with Kendall.
“It can be difficult in this economy,” he said, mentioning that he has experienced a slowing of business.
Amid these concerns about the economy, McCarty maintained that the Dinkytowner was making good money and that a lack of business was not one of the reasons why they were closing.
For many, the closing of the Dinkytowner will be a very difficult experience.
Corey Christopher, an off-and-on employee of the Dinkytowner for the past four years, said he heard stories of Dinkytowner patrons breaking down and crying when they heard the news.
Both McCarty and Elias agree that they plan to open another restaurant eventually, but they could not say when they would be able to.
Ideally, McCarty said, the new establishment would also be in Dinkytown, which may be difficult because of limited space. Another difficulty in possibly reopening another Dinkytowner would be recreating the atmosphere of the space.
McCarty said he expected the final concerts this weekend to be more celebratory than sad lamenting for the Dinkytowner.
“We are thinking about having former employees drink for free,” Elias said. “There aren’t many former Dinkytowner employees.”
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