Hot Times in the Old Town
On Saturday nights in the early 1900s, thousands of Scandinavians, Czechs, Slovaks, Irish, Germans and other Minneapolitans would come to Seven Corners looking for a good time. They came to dance, drink and socialize in the bars, halls and theaters that lined Cedar and Washington Avenues. Swedish vaudeville at Dania Hall and the Southern Theater were major attractions. Scandinavians were the largest groups of revelers and many enjoyed "snus" (Swedish for tobacco), which was often left on the streets after they went home. Cedar Avenue earned the epithet "snus gatan" (Snoose Boulevard).
Cedar-Riverside became an entertainment district in part because it was within the liquor patrol limits: almost a third of licensed bars in Minneapolis were located there. "A ga pa" was Swedish for "to tank up" on Cedar Avenue. However, some Scandinavians were strongly against liquor, and advocated for temperance. The Swedish-founded I.O.G.T. Hall provided social and cultural activities without alcohol, and the Salvation Army's Swedish corps band sounded the call at temperance rallies.
Dry laws came into effect in Minnesota as early as 1918 and after Prohibition was passed about a third of Cedar Avenue storefronts closed. Some bars survived by serving soft drinks to the area's working-class residents. But Prohibition did not stop the partying completely; Cedar-Riverside became known for speakeasies and moonshine.
When Prohibition ended in 1933, many bars reopened and working-class Scandinavians continued to frequent these establishments, even as many of their neighbors were moving out of the neighborhood. In the 1960s, young people flocked to some of the older establishments like the 400 Bar, 5 Corners Saloon, and the Triangle Bar. They gained new life as music venues and community gathering spots for artists and musicians. Cedar-Riverside became a popular entertainment district again. New theaters emerged, including Dudley Rigg's Experimental Theater Company, the Guild for Performing Arts and Theater in the Round, adding to the already lively performance spaces in the old halls and theaters.
A new appreciation for Scandinavian music and culture emerged through the Snoose Boulevard Festival, an annual event that started in 1972. The festival was the brainchild of Maury Bernstein, a musician and folklorist who thought it could be a way for newer residents to welcome back older ones, and to learn about how the neighborhood used to be. The festival ran for seven years, attracting crowds of thousands, though not all in the Scandinavian community were happy about celebrating this part of their history.
Today there is little evidence of the old Snoose Boulevard, but the drinking culture in the neighborhood has persisted. Today's popular bars include the Nomad, Acadia Café and Palmer's and are all in buildings that were bars during the heyday of Snoose Boulevard. Many former bars have been re-purposed: the 400 Bar closed in 2013, it's bar was dismantled and sold on Ebay, and it is now a mosque.
Since the 1990s, as Somalis and other Muslim immigrants have settled here, there has been conflict between those who consume alcohol and those who don't. Various neighborhood groups, business owners and residents from diverse backgrounds continue to negotiate how to work, play and worship in the same place.