After 66 years, Nye’s Polonaise Room has closed its doors for good.
The news was a long time coming for the legendary bar’s regulars, whether they had their first Nye’s martini five or 50 years ago. For the past year, fans have flocked from around the Twin Cities to have one last pierogi, packing it in to sing at the piano bar one last time or dance just once more polka in its tiny dance hall.
If fans didn’t make it into Nye’s before it closed, many others chose to commiserate online. Many took to Facebook or Instagram to share photos, memories and stories with others who had also wandered into the bar only to have it leave a lasting impression.
For South Minneapolis resident Amy Engler, Nye’s was the place she went with her grandparents, immigrants who made Nicollet Island and Northeast Minneapolis home decades ago “when it wasn’t cool and hip,” she said.
Engler took to the “Save Nye’s Polonaise” Facebook group, an online community of about 9,000 that sprang up after the initial closing announcement in 2014, to share photos of her wedding party last fall. Engler and husband Kevin chose Nye’s to have their first drink as a married couple, just as her parents had done. It’s a tradition she hoped to continue.
“I think in 2016 it was super unique. It felt almost untouched. When you’re going in there it feels like you’re going back in time,” she said.
Engler said she’s disappointed with the closing, but she’s been able to come back to the bar despite the crowds. She fondly remembers closing the bar down on her wedding night, listening to polka with the bar’s longtime musicians and singing — awfully, she said — to the cheers and admiration from other guests.
“You can’t find that everywhere,” she said.
Nye’s hasn’t just been the birthplace of married couples and family traditions, but also political careers.
When Council Member Jacob Frey moved to the area he would end up leading on the City Council, he settled about two blocks from the bar. It’s where he eventually started his campaign, and Frey’s office continues to hold events in the basement. It holds a special place in his heart, he said.
“The nostalgia that the business emits is unparalleled. You get the idea that losing Nye’s is like losing a child for some people,” he said.
The cultural landmark has been a fixture for special occasions and rites of passage for many in the community, Frey said.
“Everybody’s had a hot first date there,” he said. “Nye’s has been an institution in the neighborhood and Minneapolis as a whole for decades.”
It’s one of many reasons why he isn’t done fighting to keep Nye’s around in some form. While the business is closed, some of its historic infrastructure will live on.
“If the general public says ‘we can’t do without you,’ there’s, as a private business, incentive to stick around,” he said.
Brothers Rob and Tony Jacob have owned Nye’s since 1999 and have been working with North Loop-based Schafer Richardson to redevelop the group of historic and non-historic buildings. The developer plans to demolish two of the four Nye’s buildings and preserve the other two, the three-story Harness Shop building and the two-story building on the corner.
In its place, the developer plans to build a six-story apartment complex with an infill building between the two preserved structures, which will continue to house retail spaces on the main level. Some day soon, people will a chance to live on the upper floors of the Nye’s buildings, according to the most recent plans.
The developer dramatically scaled back the 72-unit project from initial plans for a 29-story tower after opposition from local church, residential and preservationist groups.
It’s one of many developments slated for the evolving area.
This season, Lennar Multifamily is set to break ground on a 20-story tower development on the Superior Plating site at 1st & University. The project will bring about 280 apartments into the Nicollet Island-East Bank neighborhood.
Mortenson has pitched the idea of a 28-story apartment tower a few blocks down from Nye’s on Hennepin & 4th. And Alatus is planning to begin building a roughly 40-story condo tower later this year on the site of the Washburn-McReavy Funeral Home and the St. Anthony Athletic Club, two neighborhood relics.
Maureen Michalski, Schafer Richardson’s director of development, said a 14-month construction on the Nye’s project could begin early this summer.
And until then, Nye’s will continue to stand the test of time. For now, one of the bar’s signs displays a fitting sentiment: “Thanks for the memories!”
If you want to own a piece of Nye’s, the owners are auctioning off equipment and furnishings. For more details go to auctionmasters.com and click on “buyers.”