Private faces in public spaces

Share this:
March 15, 2004 // UPDATED 9:47 am - April 25, 2007
By: sue rich
sue rich

Who's in those photos that grace Downtown bar and restaurant walls?

A few steps into Kieran's Irish Pub and Restaurant, a blue-green door-to-nowhere appears. Hung like a picture on the rough-hewn wood covering the windows, the door is graced with small lamplights, an Irish license plate, and, in its center, a photo of a young pony-tailed woman in a beige cotton shirt with a karaoke mic in hand. Adjoining her image: a written eulogy about the "graceful rollerblader" who will be missed dearly by many, including her beloved cat, Mini Me.

A rose, wilted and dried downward, points to the permanently smiling face of 24-year-old Kelly Schommer, a local student who died of unknown causes while a Kieran's server. A nearby wall is full of images of people close to Kieran's, including many who have died.

"It's sort of a shrine, I guess," said owner Kieran Folliard.

Many Downtown restaurants and bars have personal photos on the walls, featuring people and sometimes places most customers will never know. Despite the mystery, the images lend an air of familiarity to their surroundings, each reflecting more about the feel of a place than its menu -- from nostalgic to whimsical to naughty.

When Folliard speaks of those in Kieran's shrine, he alternates between hushed and bubbly tones between sad and charming tales. In one of the lower-placed photos, that's Kieran himself standing next to a gentleman in a wheelchair.

"He died of cancer," said Folliard, speaking low.

The beloved regular planned to retire to The Emerald Isle, but never got the chance. Suddenly up-tempo, Folliard added, "Funny thing is, I ran into him on the street in Ireland just months before [the photo was taken]."

Another photo features three young guys smiling for the camera. Not long after the photo was taken, the one with long hair died in a car crash, Folliard explained. Now, every late spring on the anniversary of the crash, the two remaining buddies and Kieran's crew throw a remembrance bash with live music in the pub's Titanic Lounge.

That's the way it goes here. Death, struggle and celebration are all portrayed in the black-lined yet bright paintings on the walls. It's bittersweet, as one would expect an Ireland of the potato famine and heather hills to be. The chips come with vinegar, and vice versa.

One shrine photo features Folliard's three children Vienna, Shea and Tyrone then 3, 5 and 7, and now all over 18 (each alive and well, and able to drink in Ireland). Years ago, Folliard snapped the photo with a "crappy little camera" after pulling into the driveway of his home, then in Dublin. The long drive from his parents' house and the afternoon sun had lulled the normally rambunctious youngsters into a mouths-open, drooling, deep sleep.

Across the bottom of the photo is a message: "Tranquility."

"It was a rare moment, indeed," Folliard said.

Kieran's Irish Pub & Restaurant, 330 2nd Ave. S., is open Monday-Friday, 11-1 a.m. and Saturdays, 5 p.m.-1 a.m.

It's easy being green

Cuzzy's, a green cinderblock Warehouse District bar and restaurant, is a favorite haunt of local construction crews as well as the pinstriped set.

Here, the waitresses (yes, they're all waitresses) remember your face and your "usual." However, regular "Slow Dancin' Dick Hanson," a.k.a. Richard Hanson, likes to cross them up. "I'll order French Toast one day, an omelette the next," he said.

On most Fridays after Cuzzy's 7 a.m. opening, Hanson and his cadre grab "their" table, the one right under Hanson's photo.

In addition to his regular breakfasts (which sometimes extend into lunch), the heating-ventilation technician is a Christmastime troubadour, playing keyboard, usually with a guitar and sometimes a sax for accompaniment, to spread holiday cheer and raise funds and canned goods for a local food shelf.

"You want a challenging gig, try playing Christmas music at 7 a.m. at a bar," said Hanson, who got his nickname for being able to "waltz" people about with his not-so-tall tales.

In the slightly grainy picture, suspender-wearing Hanson displays a $1,500 guitar a buddy was selling. The pal used the picture for the his Web site; Hanson slapped the pixilated image on a wood/faux marble background, signed it in true celebrity scrawl and tacked it over his ritual spot to half-jokingly claim his table.

Hanson himself has been playing the guitar since serving as an airplane mechanic in the service in the '60s. The 60-year-old plays "mostly rhythm," and he "tries to save lives," buying and fixing up battered six- and 12-strings.

Hanson said he has over a dozen guitars at home, including a no-name he bought in rough shape in Mexico that he wouldn't trade for any other, "not even that $1,500 one."

Cuzzy's, 507 Washington Ave. N., is open Monday-Friday, 7 a.m.-1 a.m. and Saturdays, 5 p.m.-1 a.m.

Runyon's wall

Paul Runyon, the original owner of Runyon's on Washington Avenue North, hasn't been in to see the wall of photos he put up in his namesake bar and restaurant since he sold it four years ago.

The photos are part of the place, and the new owner, John Rimarcik, can do with the business what he would, the semiretired Runyon said. Rimarcik, who also owns Caf/ Havana, 119 Washington Ave. N., and The Monte Carlo, 219 3rd Ave. N., said they've basically let the wall alone, only adding a picture on occasion.

The wall features photos ranging from exotic places to headshots of Jesse Ventura. "He [Ventura] and Hulk Hogan were a big part of Runyon's in the '80s," Runyon said, noting that Minneapolis was a hotbed of professional wrestling before it went WWE. Few big names dot the wall here and there -- a made-up-as-usual Tammy Faye Bakker can be spotted on the wall across from the bar near where the tall tables start. However, Runyon doesn't recall Bakker, asking, "Was she with someone wearing a Runyon's Traveling All-Stars shirt?" Indeed, she was, and these are the people Runyon is more likely to remember.

When Runyon opened the bar in the '70s, he issued Runyon's Traveling All-Stars t-shirts, an homage to a team his father played on. People started having their pictures taken in them on various travels and sending them back to Runyon as potential wall fodder.

With the All-Star contributions, the wall grew, becoming the first extensive bar/photo gallery Downtown. "I wasn't trying to be East Coast or anything," said Runyan, "I just put up what I like . . . I wasn't really one for paintings."

Runyon's, 107 Washington Ave. N., is open daily, noon-9 p.m.

All about the bull

At Manny's Steaks, "Deuce" (a.k.a. Kevin Fraley), is in charge of the 500-plus photos that decorate the steakhouse's skyway wall and bar within. (The fancier dining room is largely photo-free). Nearly every photo is black-and-white and features customers -- including local and national celebrities, from Daunte Culpepper, Norm Coleman and Jerry Springer to local female rockers Babes in Toyland -- acting out in front of the restaurant's signature painting of a bull.

The bull, prominently displayed in the entry, is, to say the least, well endowed. And amid the vast majority of clean-cut photos of arm-in-arm families and couples -- including a pair of beaming just-marrieds still in their gown and tux -- some patrons appear to be delighting in the bull's boy parts. Here and there a blushing grandmother, a young woman, guys in suits or leather jackets, appear to be cupping the bull's testicles. (Other photos feature model-looking women doing more interesting things . . .)

Inside the East Coast-style steakhouse, workers, most of them male, have gathered to eat and talk before the evening rush. As each digs into their meat, they pay no heed to the portraits above the bar they're sitting at, pictures featuring their own faces. Around the corner from the counter, a disembodied headshot floats alone. The word balloon coming from the Xerox image's mouth reveals that this server, who is contentedly munching in the flesh just a few feet away, wears red panties.

Manny's, 1300 Nicollet Mall (skyway level), is open, Monday-Saturday, 5:30-10 p.m. and Sunday, 5:30-9 p.m.