Revelling in the blues, again

After a lengthy restoration, Viking Bar, a historic Riverside Avenue music venue, has re-opened its doors for blues lovers.

Viking Bar owners Patrick Johnston, Aaron Britt and Amy Britt pose for a portrait in their Cedar Riverside bar on the evening of May 28. The Viking Bar reopened under new management on May 25 after closing its doors 10 years ago.

Zach Bielinski

Viking Bar owners Patrick Johnston, Aaron Britt and Amy Britt pose for a portrait in their Cedar Riverside bar on the evening of May 28. The Viking Bar reopened under new management on May 25 after closing its doors 10 years ago.

Eliana Schreiber

After a decade of dormancy, the Viking Bar — a West Bank music venue — opened its doors to a crowd of blues-loving fans last Wednesday.

Closed since 2006, the historic Riverside Avenue bar has been home to some of West Bank’s most notable blues and folk musicians. Now, the bar’s new owners hope they can pay homage to the Viking’s rich history.

As soon as the building went on the market, owner Aaron Britt, his wife Amy and their friend Patrick Johnston quickly seized the opportunity to buy and restore the abandoned bar.

The team purchased the bar early last year and finished renovations late last month, Aaron Britt said.

“With the legacy comes responsibility,” Britt said. “You have to honor that.”

While restoring the bar, the new owners wanted to maintain the historical structure, leaving the original 1905 wood floors intact, Britt said. In addition, the team preserved the ’40s- and ’50s-era booths, wood walls and back bar.

During the restoration process, the  owners uncovered the bar’s original tin ceilings after tearing down a 3-foot-deep drop ceiling, Britt said.

This discovery was the bar’s biggest improvement, said Doug Myren, a patron who visited the bar last week.

Myren — who began visiting the bar when he was a law student at the University of Minnesota in the ’80s — said the bar was a lot dirtier then, adding that he recognized many past regulars of the bar on Saturday.

While he wasn’t surprised the bar closed, Myren said he figured it had to re-open at some point.

“In celebrating the legacy, [we hope] … we can entertain the people who are still interested in going to a bar like the one they went to years ago,” Britt said. The goal, he added, was to make as few changes as possible while still following current safety codes.

Craig Kent, one of the venue’s bartenders in 1992, said he lived in an apartment above the Viking for 10 years, where he would enjoy drinks with friends who came to see the bar’s regular musical acts.

“You always knew that you’d see somebody … when the Liquor Pigs came,” he said. 

The Front Porch Swingin’ Liquor Pigs returned to the Viking Bar Saturday, one of the many acts to perform at the bar since its re-opening.

Kent said he’s excited to see the impact of the bar’s return. “It’s going to be a great thing for music.”

After seeing the bar change its “gone fishing” sign — which had been posted since 2006 — University alumnus Ryan Bandy made his first trip to the bar Saturday.

“The vibe is great,” he said, adding that he felt welcomed as a first-time guest. 

Britt said he hopes the bar’s presence will help the surrounding community and encourage others to explore the area.