Imagine the scene.
You’ve been planning all week to get together with your group of friends for a night out. Your plans have to be on point. Cell phones are not the norm; they are the rarity … if in existence at all. No, “Call me when you get there and let me know how it is.” Going live meant turning to your crew and saying, “Did you see what I just saw?” If you were a DJ and someone requested a song you had to have it … you couldn’t download it on the spot. Oh, and when you got to the club you were partying with musical royalty.
You were at The Fox Trap and Prince was on the drums backing a singer, who at the time was the main attraction. You were at the Nacirema singing for the first time on stage and Prince is in the crowd. You’re at Glam Slam and Prince is right next to you … after all, it’s his club. And we can’t forget about The Riverview, The Quest (formerly Glam Slam), Escape, South Beach, Gabby’s and Arnellia’s, just to name a few.
If you were out “clubbin’” in the Twin Cities in the ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s and early 2000s this was quite possibly your reality. And if it wasn’t Prince it was the Flyte Tyme or Morris Day, or Alexander O’Neal … later the brothers of Mint Condition and Next. If reggae was your thing you were anywhere Ipso Facto was playing.
For many this was the “golden era” of partying in the Twin Cities.
“I started off singing at The Nacirema,” said one of the area’s most recognizable voices, Kathleen Johnson, who is still a sought-after performer. “My sisters and I sang there back in the day. It was the club that Prince would come check us out at. Then came Vanity 6.”
Johnson said her group, Myst, was a favorite of Prince, but he was looking for a different look at the time, thus Vanity 6 was signed instead of Myst.
According to Johnson, the Nacirema, located at 39th Street and 4th Avenue in Minneapolis, was the place to be for Black artists and Black club goers.
“For Black bands and venues (it was the spot.) We were not otherwise allowed in the white venues,” said Johnson. “Not much has changed though, except the fact that there are no Black venues (specializing in live music) after Arnellia’s.”
Arnellia’s is the club in St. Paul known by its namesake, Arnellia Allen. Called the “Apollo of St. Paul,” Arnellia’s was a staple on University Avenue in St. Paul until 2017, when Allen, who owned the club since 1992, passed away.
“(Nacirema) is where we met Ms. Arnellia. She was a waitress there,” said Johnson, who was a longtime friend of Allen and regular performer at her club.
And there was Quest.
Quest, which is now the site of Cowboy Jacks, 126 N. 5th St., Minneapolis, was originally Glam Slam … Prince’s club. Glam Slam was open from 1990-1995 before transitioning to Quest and according to many, Prince was a regular at his club.
Some say he was also known to show up at North Minneapolis’ most famous club, The Riverview.
“When the Nacirema closed then it was on to The Riverview,” said Johnson.
Clearly, she wasn’t alone.
“Riverview ... nothing like it on Friday after work,” said Laverne McCartney Knighton, area director of the Twin Cities United Negro College Fund. “(It’s) where we went to meet everybody. Great times up in that joint It was indeed ‘The View.’”
Kelley Green agrees.
“For me as a young 20-something in the ‘80s, going to The View was the main club stop for socializing,” said Green. “(It was) a great mix of younger and older people. Most 40-plus people (today most of those people are in their 70s and may be in their 80s) would be at The View for happy hour and when we started rolling up in there, usually after 9 p.m., they (older patrons) would start to leave. For instance, I used to see my dad, Edgar Jackson, Earl Bowman, Charlie Smith, Frank Wilderson, Cornell Moore and so many others get up and leave as soon as they saw us coming. The music was the best. At its heyday, you would see Kirby Puckett up in there … former Vikings, Joey Browner, Darrin Nelson and the list could go on. (It was) a great mix of people and we had a great time. I would go every Friday and Saturday.”
And if it wasn’t The Riverview, according to McCartney Knighton it was Corks.
“We were the new young transplants here in the Twin Cities in the late ‘70s, early ‘80s and Corks was the place to go for young professionals,” said McCartney Knighton. “All you had to do was make one phone call, ‘Where you going after work? Meet you at Corks.’ The place was small and we were thick as thieves in it, but we had a blast. (It was) the place to see and be seen.”
For Sherilyn Thomas, here memories are more recent; as a former waitress of Escape Ultralounge in downtown Minneapolis. Escape, located in Block E, closed in the mid-2000s.
“My first VIP table was Michael Jordan at the Trent Tucker party,” said Thomas. “Shook my ‘lil teenage life.”
To be young again. But with these great memories of yesteryear in the Twin Cities, in many ways we shall all remain forever young … and forever grateful for the club owners, bands, DJs and promoters who paved the way.