First Avenue (nightclub)


First Avenue & 7th St Entry
The Mainroom, The Entry
First Avenue nightclub in Minneapolis
Former namesMinneapolis Greyhound Bus Depot (1937–1968)
The Depot (1970–1972)
Uncle Sam's (1972–1979)
Sam's (1979–1981)
Address701 First Avenue North
LocationMinneapolis, Minnesota 55403
Coordinates44°58′41″N 93°16′33″W / 44.97800°N 93.27594°W / 44.97800; -93.27594Coordinates: 44°58′41″N 93°16′33″W / 44.97800°N 93.27594°W / 44.97800; -93.27594
Genre(s)music, concerts
Capacity1,550 (Main Room)
250 (7th St Entry)
Built1937; 85 years ago (1937)
OpenedApril 3, 1970; 52 years ago (1970-04-03)

First Avenue & 7th St Entry are two historic music venues housed in the same landmark building in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota. The nightclub sits on the corner of First Avenue North and 7th Street North, from which the venues get their names. The two are colloquially distinguished by locals as The Mainroom and The Entry.

The building was constructed in 1937 as the Minneapolis depot of the Greyhound Lines bus system and operated for 31 years. Allan Fingerhut purchased the facility in 1970 and converted it into a nightclub. During the 1980s, First Avenue flourished and became a landmark in the music and entertainment industry, playing a seminal role in establishing the '80s funk rock sub genre via the Minneapolis sound, and being the primary local venue for hometown star Prince. Since its rise to fame in the 1980s, First Avenue has hosted many notable local and national music acts. The building is marked by more than 400 large stars on its exterior commemorating these performers, along with other figures notable to the city.

The venue's history and cultural significance has resulted in local and national recognition. Journalist David Carr wrote in The New York Times that First Avenue's cultural weight and history is matched by only a few clubs in the United States: CBGB, Maxwell's, Metro Chicago and the 9:30 Club.

The nightclub was featured in Prince's commercially successful 1984 film, Purple Rain.

History[edit | edit source]

Greyhound Lines Facility, opening[edit | edit source]

Black and white photo of corner building on a semi deserted street with round facade, sign saying Northland Greyhound, and two vertical signs reading Greyhound, surrounded by buses, Pantages Vaudeville and other buildings visible in rear
The Minneapolis Greyhound Lines depot was built in the Streamline Moderne style in 1937.
eight or ten light colored wooden tables with chairs seen from behind host station, lit with six bright ceiling lamps
The depot restaurant (pictured in 1951) became a coatroom which became the 7th St. Entry.

The building opened as a bus depot in 1937, decades after Greyhound Lines was founded in Hibbing, Minnesota. It was noted for its Art Deco style and amenities of air conditioning, shower rooms, and public telephones. The interior floor was checkered terrazzo, while the exterior was shiny blue bricks with white trim. The bus station moved to its present location on 10th Street in 1968.

The transformation from a bus depot into a concert venue has a disputed history.

Disco era[edit | edit source]

Following two years of steady business, The Depot was faced with a new reality: the public music scene was changing. Psychedelic rock was out and disco was in. In order to stay on top of this new trend, the club needed to change its image. After a short remodel, The Depot in July 1972, evolved into Uncle Sam's, a national franchise of the American Avents Corporation of Cincinnati. A red, white, and blue patriotic-themed club with recorded dance music, a drummer, a DJ, and a light-up plexiglass dance floor became what doorman Richard Luka described as, "Studio 54 for the discriminating Kmart shopper." In about late 1973, Steve McClellan (who'd become the club's talent buyer and eventually general manager) started working at Uncle Sam's as a bartender. He would enter American Avents' management training in 1975.

After American Avents left in 1979, general manager McClellan hired his former high school classmate Jack Meyers to help him manage money.

7th St Entry[edit | edit source]

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The 7th St Entry

The 7th St Entry is a smaller stage (capacity 250) attached to the historic First Avenue (capacity 1500). This space was once a restaurant (the "Greyhound Cafe") and later a coatroom, before staffer Danny Flies and McClellan spent $1,500 to turn it into a barebones music venue as part of Sam's. Meyers donated his own Bose speakers for stage monitors. Like Jay's Longhorn Bar and Duffy's, the Entry catered to local bands, often too new to play the Mainroom.

The Entry opened its doors on March 21, 1980, with Cathy Mason fronting Wilma & the Wilburs, who were first to play, as warmup for headliner Curtiss A.

black & white shoulder high portrait of man in his thirties with folded arms seated at desk in front of vinyl record albums and a stereo, wearing black sunglasses, dark backwards baseball cap, and dark shirt
During the era's wild west of settlement with artists, Steve McClellan was known as one of the few reliable promoters in the United States.

The Prince explosion[edit | edit source]

Discrimination had created a race barrier in the Minneapolis music scene. Encouraged by Dunlap to write their own material,

Recorded live in 1983 by a Record Plant truck parked outside at an August 1983 show, "Purple Rain" became the title of the film Purple Rain. Prince's management team offered First Avenue $100,000 to use the mainroom for filming in late November into December 1983, with the clause that the Entry would remain open. Most of the club's employees were extras in the film. The production gave the club its patch panel and dimmer packs. McClellan feared the audience had changed from genuine music lovers to a lot of tourists; still, he and Meyers were grateful for the boost in revenue. The issues were quickly resolved (the judge presiding in the bankruptcy case noted, "I gather there is some urgency about this"), and the club was reopened by new partners Meyers, McClellan, and former business manager Byron Frank, with shows resuming after one week's closure.

McClellan ended his 32-year stint at First Avenue in 2005, and began to focus on local music non-profit, the Diverse Emerging Music Organization (or DEMO). After McClellan's departure as general manager, Jack Meyers was appointed to the position and continued until 2009, when Nathan Kranz took over. Dayna Frank took over for her father the same year.

Notable events[edit | edit source]

The nightclub has been the starting point for many bands that have come out of the Twin Cities, including Prince, The Revolution, The Replacements, Hüsker Dü, Soul Asylum, Semisonic, Atmosphere, Brother Ali, Dosh, The Jayhawks, Mint Condition and Curtiss A, among others.

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The Depot Tavern opened in 2010 next door to the 7th St Entry. The bar and restaurant has live video feeds from both the Mainroom and the Entry.

Bands and artists have performed at the nightclub and influenced the Minneapolis music scene from 1970 onward, as exemplified by the silver stars that adorn the black building's exterior (every star has the name of an artist who has played at First Avenue or 7th St Entry). First Avenue also appeared in Prince's 1984 film Purple Rain, and many of the film's music performances take place at the venue.

U2 wrote part of October at First Avenue, during sound check.

Grammy Award-winning alternative-country star Lucinda Williams was married on stage following a performance at First Avenue in 2009.

Gwar guitarist Cory Smoot played his last performance at the venue on November 3, 2011—he died just hours afterward.

The club was named in Playboy Magazine's Guide to Best Nightclubs in the World at #15 out of 20 in the November 2013 issue.

During the Theory of a Deadman concert on August 12, 2015, part of the ceiling collapsed, pulling down part of the sprinkler pipes. Three people were slightly injured, two of whom were taken to the hospital.

The non-profit Developing Music and Arts Foundation (DMAF) was founded by the club in 1999. It was rechristened The Diverse Emerging Music Organization (DEMO) in 2004 as an independent entity.

Productions[edit | edit source]

In 1970, The Depot recorded the first live album from the venue, titled Gathering at The Depot, featuring artists such as Danny’s Reasons and The Litter.

Daniel Corrigan is a First Avenue photographer since 1981 whose work fills the book Heyday. Later after the advent of ubiquitous digital photography, he became an employee in the facilities department, and made a series of under-two minute videos for the Minnesota Historical Society describing his photos.

Local Minnesota band Trampled by Turtles released Live at First Avenue CD In 2010

First Avenue & 7th St Entry published a promotional book in 2000, First Avenue & 7th Street Entry: Your Downtown 'Danceteria' Since 1970. The book was written, edited and designed by Rebecca Noran; and contains information on the history of the club.

In November 2005, First Avenue released its first compilation CD celebrating 35 years of history. The 16 track CD, Bootlegs Volume 1, is a collection of songs recorded in either the mainroom or the 7th St Entry. Most of the songs on the CD were bootlegged, thus forming the title of the CD. Bootlegs was produced by Karrie Vrabel, with the liner notes written by Steve McClellan. All the proceeds of the CD go to McClellan's non-profit organization, DEMO. The goals of his organization are "to support musicians while promoting gender equity; diversity of music style and genre; diversity of musicians from local communities; careers in all stages of establishment; and the staging of performances with high production values."

First Avenue is also home to F1RST Wrestling, a local professional wrestling company currently owned by professional wrestler Arik Cannon. It showcases Minnesota's top wrestling talent and brings in bigger names, including Sean Waltman, Jerry Lynn, Tyler Black, Colt Cabana and others. F1RST Wrestling currently holds its WRESTLEPALOOZA events at First Avenue which feature a combination of pro wrestling, live music and burlesque.

References[edit | edit source]

Riemenschneider, Chris (15 October 2017). First Avenue: Minnesota's Mainroom. Minnesota Historical Society Press. ISBN 9781681340449.

Further reading[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]