Liquored up and lacquered down

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March 1, 2004 // UPDATED 9:21 am - April 25, 2007
By: Ellen P. Gabler
Ellen P. Gabler

Lovin' the legendary Lee's Liquor Lounge

When the band changes, so does the crowd -- and that's what keeps things interesting at Lee's Liquor Lounge. With live music every weeknight, Lee's lives to fill the air with country, rockabilly, honky-tonk and blues -- young cowgirls and cowboys and old hats all belly up to what may be the cleanest wood-paneled bar in the world.

What's hot

A rotating showcase of the area's hottest bands draws in Lee's eclectic crowds. "We're not your VFW country hall," Booking Agent Dave Wolfe explained, "We get the local (music) scene doing what people want."

The marlin and mountain lion nailed to Lee's taxidermic walls bounce to different beats each night. Weekends carry the biggest shows, Manager Carmen Sirian said, but all week long, quality bands keep adoring fans movin' on the dance floor.

Touring country cover and brass bands trade off with local favorites including the nine-piece ska group Umbrella Bed, Auto Body Experience, Lazy Ike and the Daredevils (every Wednesday) and Roxxy Hall (an all-women group that plays every other Saturday).

Local legend, country-rockers Trailer Trash plays the first Friday of every month as does at least one band from Austin, Texas, the country-lovin' capital of the U.S.

What's not

It's best to plan ahead before taking a trip to the Liquor Lounge -- if you don't like the band or want to spend some time chatting with friends, it could be a long night. Even when they're good, the bands play loud. Check the calendar at www.leesliquorlounge.com/calendar.html to make sure your plans jive with Lee's.

The scene

With a big dance floor, seating off to the side and booth and bar lounging available, groupies can dance, drink or just scope the crowd. Lee's regulars are intoxicatingly loyal to owner Louie Sirian, and say his "big heart" and hard work make the trinket-filled saloon a home away from home.

"I threw my first dart here, and it was a bulls-eye," Kelly, a Lee's regular, said. "It's always a good scene. People are into the community and familiarity of the whole place."

The crowd

Don't expect to find a plethora of hot, young singles straddling the lounge-style seats every night. While they may come to hear their favorite band, gray-hairs often graze the dance floor while middle-aged lovers sit "bus-style" in nearby booths to watch.

That, however, might just be Lee's draw. Old, young, those with dreads, hippie dresses or leather pants with studded belts file in. Ed, who has been a bartender since '78, said the people are what make Lee's the place to be. Everyone is welcome, and everyone is so nice, he said. Jill, a first-time visitor, described Lee's as "a place for moms to feel cool."

Consumables, liquid and other

Drinks go up at Lee's when the volume does. Before 8 p.m., domestic beers are $3; imports, $4; rail drinks, $3.25, and well drinks, $4.75. When the band hits, you gotta' shell out a bit more to get sauced: domestics go up to $3.75; imports, $4.25; rails, $3.75, and wells $4.50-$4.75. Rest assured, though, the bartenders have a heavy hand, and the drinks don't disappoint.

Those looking to start early can cash in on Lee's Happy Hour special: "Everybody gets a free drink," Bill, a bartender of 11 years, said. "That makes people happy." Monday-Thursdays and Saturdays, a drink is on Lee's -- provided you get there at 11:30 a.m. or 5 p.m. or within the half hour following each.

Make sure to eat before you go, snacks are the only solid consumables here, beef jerky, chips, pretzels and, of course, the 25-cent M&M/Skittles from the vending machine.

Cover charges

A $5 cover gets you in to see most country-rockers. Special shows could reach $8. If cover charges aren't for you, just remember: Lee's is not wound into Downtown's snooty parking web; they have their own free parking lot just across the street.

The verdict

If you're hip to the music scene (or want to be), or are just looking for a break from the monotonous hip-hop slop of traditional Minneapolis haunts, make a stop at Lee's. According to one fan, "there's no place like it in town."