The last days of the Triple Rock

“In 1996 we were out for drinks at Nye’s with a group of friends—some vegan, some not, some straight-edge, some drunks,” says co-owner Erik Funk. “Gretchen [Funk, the club’s other co-owner] joked about how we should open a place that had something for all of us: food, drinks, and the music we all loved. The next morning she wasn’t joking anymore, and we started working on it.”

This October, after a 19-year run, the husband-and-wife team announced that their bar, possibly the best-known music venue in Twin Cities history outside of First Avenue, would close on November 22, sending a tsunami of sadness and regret through the music scene. Social media blew up with Triple Rock stories, of crazy punk shows and crazier hangovers. But if we’re eulogizing the place—and this is a eulogy—we shouldn’t forget that it was, from its inception, a social club that welcomed everyone.

The Funks had initially searched for an established venue, but in the late ’90s, that was hard to find in Minneapolis. In 1998 they bought the West Bank neighborhood bar Blondie’s, renamed it after James Brown’s church in The Blues Brothers, and opened for business on December 4. The jukebox was stocked with an eclectic mix of punk, hardcore, hip-hop, rock, and metal. The crazy menu appealed to vegan and omnivore alike, from noon until late. Their bartenders invented ridiculous drinks like the Johnny Jump-Up, a pint of cider with a shot of whiskey that sometimes felt like the proportions were reversed.

“I had kitchen experience and was responsible for the Triple Rock’s initial menu—the food and the now-legendary menu descriptions,” says Gretchen Funk. Erik, the guitarist for Dillinger 4, would take care of the rock ’n’ roll. “Erik had zero experience in bars or restaurants, but we planned from the start that live music would happen as soon as we could do it.”

The Funks came out of a generation of punk-rock kids who didn’t necessarily connect with older Minneapolis bands, but by staffing their bar with a mix of peers (Erik’s D4 bandmate Billy Morrisette was their first official employee), local rock old-timers, and service industry vets, they were soon five deep at the bar with punks, indie kids, and those older folks, raising their glasses in begrudging respect. The patio was always jam-packed. Some early patrons formed a Wednesday Ladies’ Dart League. Regulars claimed their favorite stools. New bands arose over shots. Touring acts ate there before playing other clubs in town.

In 2003, after the bar built an adjacent music space, those bands could play at the Triple Rock as well. Unlike most local clubs, the room was built from the ground up, with good sound design in mind. A mass of brick, concrete, and steel, it was a stark contrast to the bar, but its excellent acoustics and sunken dance floor made for some of the best sound and sight lines in the country.

As a touring musician, Erik Funk knew what he was getting into with the venue, and how to handle bands on an individual basis. “My first memory of Triple Rock as a venue is when Sweet J.A.P. played their opening weekend,” says Hideo Takahashi, currently of Birthday Suits, who’ve played the Triple Rock 26 times. “When we loaded in, Erik told me that they made sure the house PA speaker was up in the air because of us. Serious or not, he told me they made sure we had nothing to climb on.”

Over 14 years, the Triple Rock hosted thousands of local and touring bands, took chances on acts few other venues would, and was often the only place for 18+ and all-ages shows. It was never just a punk venue, though it was a venue more willing than any other in town to book punk bands. The concert calendar served up hip-hop, indie rock, and metal; half-room shows for smaller local shows and events; and the annual Christmas Stareoke, hosted by Arzu Gokcen. “I always thought of Christmas night at Triple Rock like the Island of Misfit Toys,” she says. “Whether people had been with family (for better or worse) or if they were Christmas orphans, it was a safe and welcoming environment for everyone.”

Not everything the Triple Rock tried worked, and not every event was worth the hassle—the long-running and popular Triple Double DJ night co-sponsored by Burlesque of North America and Modern Radio Records ended after a series of security problems. The rise of craft beer pubs and foodie culture, along with increased operating costs, came to present new challenges, and drinking crowds started to thin. On nights when no music was booked, the club might be deserted. “You would walk in the old bar side on a Friday night and there would only be a handful of people in the place,” says longtime bartender Jake Jarpey.

Since the closure was announced, the Triple Rock has looked a lot more like it did in its heyday, with sold-out shows and record bar sales. The final show on November 21, with D4 and Chicago hardcore legends Negative Approach, sold out almost instantly. (If you couldn’t score tickets, there’ll be a night of DJs, bands, and memories spanning both rooms on the 20th.) “I feel as though I’m processing it like a death, really,” says Jarpey. “Each shift is hard knowing it’s finite. The shifts have been good too. Maybe that’s what makes it bittersweet.”

“Closing the Triple Rock was a really hard decision and we’re heartbroken to finally let it go,” says Erik. “As awesome as it was, running a small business is a battle. The staff we’ve had are the reason it stayed open as long as it did.”

“We’ve been so overwhelmed these past few weeks by the memories everyone has shared,” says Gretchen. “People are getting tattoos! In the Triple Rock community, people have started bands, died, gotten married, broken up, had babies, lost family, and on and on. Sad stories and happy stories abound for us, but we’ve finally been able to hear everyone else’s, and it means so much.”