Bright lights, big city


We were bumpkins, green as grass, my girlfriends and I.

Fresh from small towns, we’d come to the big city of Minneapolis following high-school graduation to find office jobs.

We lived at Dunwoody Hall — a dormitory residence for working women located downtown at 10th and Harmon (long since demolished).

Then, in the mid-1950s, Dunwoody was the place we called home.

And then, downtown Minneapolis was the place people from all over town came on Friday and Saturday night to watch their pick of movies at half a dozen theaters. There were good restaurants where you could have a nice dinner, too. The sidewalks were brightly lit and crowded with folks enjoying perhaps their one night of entertainment for the month.

Hennepin Avenue was Minneapolis’ main drag, and a place to go for a drink. The bars were generally well managed and the riff-raff weren’t allowed. The cops on the beat herded them back home to the skid row flop houses on Washington Avenue if they wandered too far west on Hennepin. The paddywagon was a familiar sight.

I, and some other Dunwoody girls, was drawn to Hennepin by the bright lights. The surge of colorful neon fronting the bars was something not found in the rural communities of Minnesota and Wisconsin we hailed from. Nor was the liquor served in these places available to the likes of us. We were “good girls,” mostly Lutheran and from teetotaling families, not to mention underage.

But, hey, we were far from home. Our folks would never know; our ministers would never know. We just had to go inside one of those Hennepin Avenue bars and see if we could “get served.”

Traveling in a group of four or five, on a Friday night we’d walk there, wearing high-heeled pumps and 2-inches-below-the-knee dresses, attempting to look sophisticated.

Several bars were clustered on Hennepin at Sixth Street. We bypassed one called the 620 Club, “where turkey is king,” as it sounded more like an eating place. We wanted a real bar, and settled on Brady’s Pub, with its Irish coat of arms marquee.

Obviously appearing too unworldly to be prostitutes — and too naive to even realize they hung out there — and yet attractive enough to draw male trade, we were not turned away.

I distinctly remember sipping on one “7&7” all evening, and also (shame on me) inhaling several Pall Mall cigarettes, in another attempt at sophistication — and feeling deliciously wicked about it!

Our extreme naiveté also kept us from realizing that all the bars along Hennepin were closely affiliated with local crime lords.

Word about the connection eventually came to us from a very bold member of our “drinking group” — a boldness that somehow actually got one particular “Dunwoody girl” a luncheon date with the infamous Minneapolis mobster, Kid Cann!

As for me, I quickly discovered the fare at Bridgeman’s Ice Cream parlor, which was also on Hennepin Avenue, to be more to my liking than that of Brady’s Pub. But I never missed a Friday night out with the girls!

Carol Hall lives in Woodbury. She’s a longtime freelance writer, a University of Minnesota graduate and a former Northwest Airlines stewardess. Send comments and questions to [email protected].