Friday, January 13, 2006

Nye's Polonaise Room

Nye’s Polonaise Room is more than a bar – it’s an experience. Across the Mississippi from downtown Minneapolis on Hennepin Avenue, it borders the Northeast section of the city, which is gentrifying in the immediate radius of the bar, but which otherwise remains a working class neighborhood with several bars that betray the European loyalties of the different immigrant classes that settled in the Northeast long ago. Nye’s is a Polish bar, but one that at one time wanted to put on airs with the “Pol
onaise” inserted in the name, which is “Polish” in French. I don’t know if that was supposed to make kielbasa sound more appealing back in the day, but it is what it is. Down the road a couple miles from Nye’s lies Gastov’s, a German bar whose resident analogue to the Superstar was a seventy-something fat old German man who would don a 19th century German military uniform, and a stein of beer hoisted permanently to his thick white handlebar mustache. Significantly, Gastov’s never “acquired” Nye’s back in the 1940s, and both are the better for it.

Nye’s had three separate rooms – two of which could be entered directly. The one that couldn’t was the back part of the restaurant – not much to say about that one. The main entrance came right into the bar portion of the restaurant, and on a Saturday night you barely got in the door before having to fight around Lou Snyder’s crowd, assembled to your left around her piano for a little live karaoke. You squeezed between them and the crowd assembled at the bar to break through to the booths if you were lucky to find one available.

But your best bet, if you got there early enough, was to walk on through to the pure bar section of Nye’s, which also had a separate entrance, where the Saturday night entertainment was the World’s Most Dangerous Polka Band. If I recall, there were three octogenarians in the band, each looking approximately as close to death as the others. The accordian player was an old Polish woman, Ruth Adams, with layers of fat encased in wrinkled old skin hanging down like sacks from her upper arms. For all I know, she could have incorporated them into here accordian, because that chick could play. She was accompanied by two men who looked like they had constantly arrived to the dinner table five minutes after her, and were thus out of luck. The band’s claim to fame was appearing on Letterman.

I’d like to think that the band had a fourth unofficial member, familiar to all the young ladies who ever set foot in that bar on a Saturday night – a young whippersnapper of a guy in his early 60s – we’ll call him Jean Jean the dancing machine, though I don’t know if he was so nicknamed at the time. His grey hair was crew cut, and he always donned the same extremely dated light blue suit, which he probably wore straight from a night at Nye’s to Church the next day. I never saw him drinking, nor was he ever there with any particular people, and he rarely strayed more than five feet from the 12x12 dance floor. He owned the dance floor, and on a given Saturday night would give a twirl to 20 or 30 young ladies so inspired by the World’s Most Dangerous Polka band.

I find it uplifting to think, when I visit a great historic landmark or cathedral, that the very same air I breathe was inhaled by great historical figures. In the case of Nye’s, the second hand smoke you breathe in nightly was probably exhaled from the lungs of a down on his luck mill worker who’d stop by Nye’s for a bottle of Zywiecz (the Polish beer of choice at Nye’s) on his way home to the northeast section of the city, and that smoke has lingered and re-circulated in the bar for sixty years, with more of the same being pumped into the bar each night.

Nye’s itself is like a living time capsule from a forgotten decade, but it is hard to decide which decade. The décor looked like a mix of the fifties and seventies – I could never do justice by describing it. But beyond the décor, the crowd itself looked like a mix of different casts from period piece movies covering every decade of the 20th century. There were hippies, yuppies, gays, baby boomers, lost generation intellectuals, beat generation hipsters, beat generation gay hippy intellectuals, senior citizens, underage drinkers, and every age in between, not to mention every color of Swede imaginable. And everyone was looking at everyone else and saying to themselves and their immediate group – look at them freaks!

It was impossible not to have a good time at Nye’s, unless you were one of the staff of 80 year old waitresses, who were as a rule miserable. But even that added to the experience of Nye’s. Nothing entertains so much as grandmotherly old ladies trying to weave their way through a thick crowd on a Saturday night with a tray filled with beers. Good times.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


I remember Nye's as well- a great place. However, given that my stops at Nye's were usually after the MN Econ happy hour, my recollections of the place are not nearly as clear as yours! I miss MPLS, what a great town.


9:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe I should add Nye's to the Regatta. How long do you think it would take to ride a Bat Bike from Stone Harbor to Minneapolis?

Do they serve Chartreuse there?

4:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

After I saw the movie Swingers, I fell in love with Nye's although I preferred to spend my quarters elsewhere. I remember boozing with you on Thursday over at Station 19 and the place you went on a date with Jenelle, Yachiyo and me.
Man I miss Minneapolis, but nothing was better then the bar in Uptown with all the stinking peanuts to throw at the waitresses.


3:18 PM  
Anonymous JW said...

I made it to Nye's. It was cool. But it was no Oaklyn Manor.


6:38 AM  
Blogger Professor Vic said...

Not only does Nye's serve Chartreuse (as well as a Polish version of Chartreuse that is unprintable using anything but Cyrillic letters), but I believe several members of the World's Most Dangerous Polka Band were actually Carthusian monks.

10:24 AM  

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