How else to socialize?

Dating in Minneapolis during the 50s and 60s

Normandy Hotel Inn in the 1940s / Photo by Normandy Kitchen

I am one of scores of Minnesota high school graduates who left a small town to work in Minneapolis during the mid-1950s . . .  and went out bar hopping to meet men.

Because college was not an option for us and we didn’t marry right out of high school, we were expected to “get out and work.”

Now, this bar-hopping behavior destroyed the very fiber of our upbringing. We were the proverbial “nice girls.” We really were. Our parents would have been horrified had they known.

But we were eager to shed our small town ways. Being 17 or 18 years old, we were also eager to grow up.  In short, we desired sophistication. Drinking, for adults, was at its height during the ‘50s and ‘60s, smoking was, too. So, what better way to jump start our transformation than to take them up?

Many of us lived in dormitories designed exclusively for “office girls”, as we were then called, which provided a safe curfewed environment, plus meals.  The dorms were situated in downtown Minneapolis where clerical jobs were plentiful.

The dorm I lived in, which was fronted by a 3-story mansion with a homey screened-in front porch, was called Dunwoody Hall. It sat rather conspicuously on the corner of 10th and Harmon Place in the heart of downtown Minneapolis

This location proved favorable for our socializing forays. We could walk over to Hennepin Avenue, which was the downtown hotspot for sparkly neon-lit drinking establishments.

And so at 8 pm on Fridays (which was considered solo night for young singles), we’d primp, experiment with makeup, don our reasonably new high heels (I’d gotten mine for confirmation) and gather in the Dunwoody sitting room. Four or five of us would group together and head out.

The first bar we picked when I did this for the first time was “Augie’s” at 424 Hennepin. Men’s heads turned as we marched in. The Peter Pan collars and longish hemlines’ of our modest JC Penny dresses sharply differentiated us from the sexy attire of the “ladies of the night” who frequented these places.

But our intention—unlike theirs—was respectable. We simply wanted to meet men who would then proceed to telephone us later and ask for a date.  . . And in some cases, I’m here to tell you they actually did!

We next got turned on to Buster’s Bar. Professional athletes hung out there, University of Minnesota football players, the “Golden Gophers,” as well. One member of my group dated team captain, Jon Jelacic, whose nickname was Jumbo.

I well remember a particular Minneapolis Tribune sportswriter who showed up wherever we were. He seemed to make a hobby of taking out whichever of us—impressed with his status—would accept.

But our favorite spot was the Normandy Hotel Piano Bar where we sang along with a middle-aged woman who played piano. This seemed a somehow cozy and almost homey way to get acquainted with the opposite sex. It was almost like meeting at a house party.

Now, I’m not sure how we got away with being served drinks in any of these places. None of us was 21. The bartenders surely realized this. Young women at a bar must have meant good business to entice men in.

I am happy to say that liquor tasted awful to me. I never found a drink I enjoyed. As coached by another Dunwoody girl, I stuck to ordering a “Screwdriver,” which contained vodka and orange juice, as vodka was somewhat tasteless.

However, smoking was another story. I got hooked then and kept it up until 1963 when the Cancer scare did scare me into quitting.

Today, when my two grandnieces talk about their computer dating and ask how I met men when I was young, I always tell them: “My girlfriends and I went to Augie’s on Hennepin Avenue on Friday nights!”

This usually requires more explanation!

Carol Hall lives in Woodbury. She’s a longtime freelance writer, a University of Minnesota graduate and a former Northwest Airlines stewardess.