In the blockbuster movie Hot Tub Time Machine, four friends are transported back in time to a ski resort in 1986. Teen time traveler Clark Duke wonders: “Do I really gotta be the asshole who says we got in this thing and went back in time?” And Craig Robinson confirms: “It must be some kinda….hot tub time machine.” The concept has been so popular with moviegoers, that the sequel hits theatres in February 2015. And it’s so fun for us, that we thought we would use the hot tub time machine to transport us to some of the most fascinating place and times in Minnesota history.
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Last week four friends gathered at the Hilton Bloomington on 79th Street and France. Enjoying refreshments poolside, we cranked up the hot tub to a sweltering 94 degrees. After our third round of shots, we staggered out of the tub’s steamy mist and made our way across Mother Tucker’s parking lot to find ourselves at the Rusty Scupper. It’s so busy that cars are circling the parking lot and the valet line runs halfway back to France Avenue. There is big hair everywhere, several mullets and many puffy down jackets. The Star Tribune vending machine reads Monday, November 7, 1983!
The Scupper is a two level restaurant replete with fishing and seafaring props, steel beams and glass open air areas and its signature sunken lower bar. It was born in a time when Monday Night Football ruled the airwaves.On Monday nights, the restaurant runs a special for 25 cents tap beer and hot dogs. Little did we know that popular promotion would transform the bar into the Greatest Vikings Bar of All Time. Dan Revsbeck, former bartender at the Red Dragon, grew up in the golden age of Webster’s, McNamara’s and Chi Chi’s. He agreed: “The combination of the Scupper’s Monday Night special and the power of the 494 Strip made for a unique environment of fans and Vikings. My coworkers went there just to hunt autographs.”
Mark S. worked as a waiter and valet for 7 years. He adds: “In its hay day the Scupper was the spot to be in the Metro. It was a prime time location to run into Vikings.”
We enter the front door easily because no one is being carded. As we head down the stairs, we see star quarterback ‘Two Minute Tommy’ Kramer and his wingman Scott Studwell attracting a large group on the left side of the bar. Chuck Foreman is in the restaurant and Ahmad Rashad is barely visible through the pipes and railings on the second level. Rashad and Kramer connected on one of the most famous ‘Hail Mary’ touchdown passes in Vikes’ history three years ago against Cleveland. On this Monday, we are particularly entertained to watch one of the Vikings direct the bartender to serve his drink in an attractive fan’s stiletto high heel. His wish is granted and we shudder as he tips back the shoe and drains it! Later that evening we notice that same high heel abandoned under the bar stools.
An Affair To Remember at Breezy Point
Full from hot dogs and beer, we climb back in the hot tub and make a steady adjustment of the time machine rotary dial, transporting us three hours north to the Fawcett House at scenic Breezy Point Resort. (Photo here.) The classic log mansion boasts 11 rooms, 9 baths and is available to sleep 19 of your closest friends. We are overwhelmed by the amenities. There is a water services director and two- person staff at the beach running swim lessons, launching boats and canoes. Judging by the stares and whispers around us, it is apparent that our swim suits are way too short and inappropriate? There are waves of crisp white-uniformed resort staff buzzing around us. Ballroom dance lessons are drawing a crowd in the lodge and there is even a ‘secret’ room in the basement for high stakes gambling and slots. The dial reads August 5, 1938 and the world wishes they were here. 2
Two of the era’s most famous movie stars, Clark Gable and Carole Lombard are staying in the Fawcett cabin. Gable is nicknamed ‘the King’ and is bigger than DiCaprio, Hanks or Cruise. He has recently completed the blockbusters It Happened One Night and San Francisco. Chiseled good looks, brawny build and signature mischievous grin make him the most sought after leading man in the business. For her part, Lombard is no slouch either. She is the highest paid actress in Hollywood. A tall sizzling blond known for her comedic talents, she is coming off Oscar-nominated work in My Man Godfrey and the successful Nothing Sacred last year. You have to pinch yourself—yes, you are in Minnesota!
Fishing and hunting are Gable’s favorite getaways. He put it in perspective saying: “Hell, if I’d jumped on all the dames I’m supposed to have jumped on, I’d have had no time to go fishing.”
The couple spends all day fishing on Gull Lake. Lombard has eschewed her favorite low cut evening dresses for casual sweaters and slacks. Gable caught her eye at a Hollywood screening party. Their liaisons have become more and more frequent in recent months. Carole leads the fun with a penchant for practical jokes and Gable gladly follows along in continual state of hijinks. Their chemistry is palpable. Lombard Home Movie They spend their evenings canoodling at new hot spot Bar Harbor, a sprawling supper club on the north shore of Gull, about 20 minutes from Breezy. They dance the night away to great bands such as Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman. Scanning the great lake views under moonlight from Bar Harbor, it’s easy to see how their romance blossomed. “They had an ineffable quality in romance, the ability to have fun together,” said actress Esther Williams. “They were soulmates who thought life was delicious, and they made everyone’s life delicious around them.”3
Gable is married at the time and theirs is the most public affair in America. By the next spring Gable is unencumbered and filming the epic Gone With The Wind. Gable and Lombard were married on March 29, 1939.
Back in the hot tub time machine, we set our sights on the booming Fifties. It’s April 4, 1956 and show business is focused on the lush remodel of the Riverview Theatre. We drop in at the intersection of 38th Street and 42ndAvenue in Southeast Minneapolis. Although the theatre is only eight years old, ambitious owners Sidney and William Volk just poured in another $50,000 (a small fortune) to move their art deco baby to the cutting edge of national showplaces. And it appears to be working. “It is the last word in beauty and comfort” stated Ben Marcus of Columbia Pictures. Hollywood stars William Holden, Kim Novak and Rosalind Russell wired their congratulations today. And Columbia Pictures is eager to book its top films in the weeks ahead. Crowds wrap around the corner, taking in the sea of neon and signature checkerboard marquee. Everyone is dressed to the nines. They can’t wait to see Picnic, a sexy small town drama starring Holden and Novak. We can hear a couple in front of us talking about the scandalous “torn shirts” scene. The marquee poster reads: “From the moment he hit town…she knew it was just a matter of time!”
The theatre features stadium seating—fifty years ahead of its time. Designed by famous theatre architects Liebenberg and Kaplan, the Riverview is a departure from function, to relaxation. The chrome concession stand pours you into two comfortable living rooms of couches, orange and green tinted facades and imported Italian lamps. We notice a signed Marilyn Monroe photograph on the wall. Is it real? (Yes.) This grand opening is a big deal and the place to be seen in the Twin Cities. Picnic gets 6 Oscar nominations and wins two– creating a great jump start for this classic art deco theatre. (Photo here.)
Hub of Hell
After the movie, we feel like a beer and don’t see anything in the neighborhood. If you have a time machine, why not use it? We warm up the hot tub and reset the dial to somewhere around September 1935. Stepping out of a cloud of steam, we dry off and climb out a couple miles north of the Riverview and “Bingo”, we see some promising activity nearby at the Hexagon Bar, located at 2600 27th Avenue South in Minneapolis. There are new gangster cars, Ford and Cadillac sedans parked everywhere. The understated stucco and glass block exterior conveys a Milwaukee neighborhood bar vibe. We are very surprised to see a slew of bars and clubs nearby? When we attended a music festival in this neighborhood in September 2014, the Hexagon was the only bar. The Hexagon does indeed have an unusual five-sided bar attended by two middle- aged barkeeps clad in clean white hats and aprons. They explain that the Hexagon opened in response to the end of Prohibition last year. It turns out the end of the block, 26th and 26th is the border of the liquor patrol limits from the Twenties. This is the outer limits, as far southeast as you can go and get a mixed drink. Ha, we’re getting pretty good with this hot tub.
Other famous watering spots such as Mr. Nibs, Pearson’s, and Duffy’s will open to take advantage of this. We order four Hamm’s and our bartender quips: “Welcome to the Hub of Hell gents. You’re in luck. We just reopened after all the tear gas last night.”
We may be in the wrong place at the wrong time? We settle in and learn unsettling news about the neighborhood. This is where the city gangs running liquor, gambling and prostitution hang out. That explains all the pinstripe suits and fedora hats across the bar. Surrounding factories add an influx of blue collar clientele to create a toxic brew of drunken brawling, corruption and crime. It turns out we just missed the mother of all riots last night. Strikers at the nearby Flour City Ornamental Iron Company swelled crowds to more than 5000 people by 9:30 p.m. Police were prepared with more than 100 officers arriving by armored car, motorcycle and squad car.1 When police ignited tear gas and fired shotguns above the crowd, mass hysteria ensued. Later, hand-to-hand combat broke out between workers and the cops. The cloud of tear gas caused the bars to close and then more shots rang out. By the end of the evening, two bystanders had been killed and 28 people injured. We have heard enough about the ‘hub of hell’ and decide that ‘one beer and out’ is a good plan.
Country Western Mecca
Clearly, we need a change of scenery. Why not a little country western flavor? Our last stop is an unlikely hot spot for national country western music—the corner of 16th and Nicollet Avenue South? It’s Friday night May 15, 1970. Sherwin Linton is the headliner at the Flame Café Theatre. (Café Photo here.) Ray Jensen and Ray Riggs are on guitars. The Flame features a distinctive raised dance floor and live bands in the front and back bars. Blogger Roger reminisces: “The Flame Café was the place to go on weekends for good country music.”
Indeed, we scan a wall of framed publicity shots for Carl Perkins, Roger Miller, Justin Tubb, Wanda Jackson, Marvin Rainwater, Roy Acuff and Tex Ritter. (Insert scanned show photo Roy Acuff) It’s readily apparent that the Flame is a powerhouse in attracting national country western talent. The café has an intimate feel. Drinks and food are reasonable and we love how easy it is to meet and rub elbows with the musical talent. Who would have thought that a mecca for country music was this close?
Back to the Future
What an exhilarating ride! While our skin is wrinkled like a prune from the hot tub, we are glad to be back in 2014. Now we are excited to see how things have changed at those historic landmarks. We are a little saddened to discover that the Vikings Rusty Scupper restaurant and the Flame Café have been razed. On the other hand, we still have much to see and do. Breezy Point is a thriving resort and visitors continue to book the Fawcett House where Gable and Lombard stayed. The main lodge burned down and has been rebuilt. On the plus side, you can enjoy a sunset cruise or dance at the Marina Bar and feel what it was like back then. And Bar Harbor Supper Club is alive and kicking down the road on Gull Lake. The building structure is well-preserved and looks very much like it did for Gable and Lombard. Reminisce by walking through the expansive facility and grounds. You can dock your boat just like 1938 and enjoy premier fare like delicious Angus steaks and pistachio-crusted walleye in the highly-regarded restaurant.
Finally, the Riverview Theatre remains a must-see art deco bargain with regular tickets priced at only $3. (Children, seniors and Tuesday tickets are only $2.) Check out their famous homemade buttered popcorn and inexpensive concessions. Remarkably maintained, the theatre looks very much like it did during the grand opening. It stands out as one of the only open and operating art deco theatres. Savvy management runs more than 9 film titles during a typical week, ranging from family fare matinees, to cult favorites for midnightshowings. You have plenty of choices to make yourself at home and recreate the magic atmosphere at Picnic in 1956.
When the music festival brought us back to the Hexagon Bar last month, the resurgent Seward neighborhood filled the bar with college students and Millennials. There was live thumping rock music in the back room and cheap Tall Boy beer specials at the bar. As the sole surviving bar from the infamous ‘hub of hell’ it makes for an interesting historic stop and conversation.
For more information about Breezy Point Resort, Bar Harbor, the Riverview Theatre or the Hexagon please visit their web-sites below.
- Breezy Point Resort: www.breezypoint.com
- Bar Harbor Supper Club: www.barharborsupperclub.com
- Riverview Theatre: www.riverviewtheatre.com
- Hexagon Bar: www.hexagonbar.com
1 Best estimate of date from historical references
2Reported by Minneapolis Tribune
3 People Magazine February 12, 1996