Patrons bid farewell to local bar

by Jessica Steeno

It was the last trip down the dark and musty cave.
Patrons of Lower Landing Grill & Tap, the last non-sports bar in campus neighborhoods, descended the stairs to the dimly lit, cramped bar Thursday night for the last time.
It was the final night of operation for the Lower Landing, which was located at 412 1/2 14th Ave. S.E. The basement bar was recently sold to BW-3, a sports bar located directly above it.
Rick Price, a former co-owner of the Landing, said he didn’t want to sell the bar, but it was losing money. He said business was sporadic because his customers were primarily University students.
“You lose money during summer, you lose money if it’s too cold and you always lose money during Christmas break, which starts at Thanksgiving and goes until the new year,” Price said.
For many Landing customers, the bar was a refuge in a sea of self-proclaimed sports bars with televisions tuned to various games.
“If I don’t cry before I leave I’ll be really surprised,” said Damian Anderson, a longtime patron of the Landing. “There’s really no place as neutral as this. Everyplace else is really cliquey in one direction or the other.”
In the 1970s the Lower Landing started out as a bar and restaurant called Valley Pizza. Various musicians, Bob Dylan among them, performed at the pizza joint during its 20-year existence.
In 1990 the bar changed ownership and was renamed The Underground. Three years later it was christened the Lower Landing.
The Landing has traditionally been a hangout for people who admit they do not fit into other bar scenes.
“You have two types of people in this world — you have the sportos and then you have the others,” said Jason McIntire, a University graduate. “This bar is for the others.”
Dean Morstad, a senior at the University, said he and his friends met at the Landing every Thursday night. “It was seen by a lot of people as kind of like a coffee shop — with liquor,” he said.
Lower Landing employees first learned Thursday morning that the bar’s owners had sold the bar to BW-3. That night, Landing waitresses wore pieces of paper pinned to their shirts that read, “Tip me, it’s my last night.”
Candace Randle, a Lower Landing waitress, said only about one-third of the patrons there ever tipped. “Randy (the Landing’s manager) said I could be mean to whoever I want to tonight,” she said.
“It’s like everybody who came in there was one big family and they’re not going to be around anymore. I’ll miss the customers,” said Randy Brumm, the Landing’s manager for three years. He said he will probably look for another job.
Jeff Pohl, general manager of the Dinkytown BW-3, said his bar has tried to buy the Landing for several years because of overcrowding problems at BW-3. He said he plans to promote a sports bar atmosphere in the former Lower Landing space.
Existing walls, which are blanketed with colorful graffiti, will be painted and new carpet will be installed. Booths currently surrounding the bar will be torn out and stools erected in their places. Pohl said more dart boards and NTN, a video trivia game, will also be added.
“We want to promote the college-bar atmosphere where students can have a cheap meal and a beer,” he said.
In the remodeled bar, BW-3 will offer its current menu, consisting primarily of hamburgers and chicken wings.
Many patrons who attended the Landing’s farewell party Thursday night said they probably won’t patronize the BW-3-managed bar.
“I’ve been a regular here for over a year,” said Dan Degner, a former Dinkytown resident. “I’m leaving tomorrow to go out of state for a while, and I know when I come back there’s not going to be anyplace cool to go that’s relaxed with this type of atmosphere. We’re like family. It’s sad to see it go.”
Many Landing patrons listed the bar’s music selection as its biggest selling point. Price said the CD jukebox contained “90 great CD’s, and 10 that just make money.” During a typical night at the Landing, customers could hear songs by artists ranging from Stevie Wonder to War.
For Airik Anderson, a Minneapolis resident, a quote scrawled on the Landing’s bathroom wall remains as his fondest memory. It reads “Believe in magic, if only for a little while.”
“The unfortunate thing about the attempt to develop this type of atmosphere is you’re almost destined to fail because you’re trying to attract people who don’t have a lot of money,” Price said. “It’s really tough to walk away. It’s like losing that last glimmer of hope that you might pull it off.”
When the kitchen closed Thursday at around 11 p.m., Randle said over the loudspeaker, “The kitchen is now closed. You will never eat here again.”
Near the end of the night, the entire bar rose to toast Brumm and the Landing.