Seedy Skyway Theater reborn as casual club

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July 12, 2004 // UPDATED 2:29 pm - April 25, 2007
By: Sarah McKenzie
Sarah McKenzie

With lights flashing, Bar-fly hopes to ignite 7th & Hennepin revival

David Kabanuk's new nightclub Bar-fly is in the ground level of the old Skyway 6 Theatre on Hennepin Avenue -- a movie house that went dark in 1999.

The theatre's marquee will continue to hang outside 711 Hennepin Ave. S., but no films will play inside. Although Kabanuk plans to keep the marquee and considers it an historical icon, he hopes to create a new history for a seedy stretch of Hennepin when Bar-fly opens Thursday.

"This part of Hennepin has lacked the spark that it needs," Kabanuk said during a tour of his new bar earlier this month.

The upscale lounge with 1970s "mod" European flavor is adorned with funky art and lit with LED (light-emitting diodes) that cover the color spectrum. The multicolored lights flicker behind the bar and bounce off metallic furniture.

A computer at the DJ table controls the LED system.

Kabanuk, who dabbles in art, showcases some of his pieces in the lounge, including a mosaic of thousands of white cubes made of polystyrene.

Kabanuk and his wife Crissy Kabanuk said they want to appeal to both younger and older club-goers. The vision is for a place that's more refined than a sports bar and appeals to the theater and concert crowds.

The nightclub has several different "VIP" areas where people can sit and drink with their friends off the dance floor. One "VIP" room, set off to the right of the main bar, is soundproof and lit with 22 special globes that change colors.

Kabanuk, who owns the Tropix Beach Club, 400 3rd Ave. N., said he has invested $1 million in the new nightclub and plans to stay closely involved with the operations.

The club can accommodate about 500 guests indoors and 150 at the outdoor patio.

The nightclub is the first part of Kabanuk's vision for the old theater. He envisions a major entertainment complex and a new street-level restaurant some day.

"We want to change the face of Hennepin," Kabanuk said.

For now, major site improvements will be limited to the club's interior. The club will have two entrances, flanking the theater's old escalator. An outdoor patio will green up the block with some new trees and plants.

The Kabanuks are in negotiations with developers who would like to hang a giant, multimillion dollar LED sign on the building's six-story, 175-foot-tall faade. The sign would have a Times Square feel.

"We have some big ideas for the faade," said Crissy Kabanuk.

The block is also home to the men's clothing store, Soho, Inc., 715 Hennepin Ave. S, the strip club Skyway Lounge, 725 Hennepin Ave. S., and Shinder's, 733 Hennepin Ave. S.

The former Teener's costume shop, 729 Hennepin Ave. S., now vacant, is also on the block.

Kabanuk owns about 53 percent of the building; hotel developer Jim Graves, president and CEO of Minneapolis-based Graves Hospitality, owns the rest.

The two developers haven't seen eye-to-eye on plans for the site. Graves has targeted

the old Skyway Theatre for a mix of housing and commercial uses, along with additional parking, but gaining control of the site

has been an obstacle.

"We still want to do a development there to improve the aesthetic of the site," Graves said recently.

The luxury hotel developer has also proposed a 40- to 50-story condo tower on the block. He would have to gain control of the remaining buildings, including Shinder's and the former Teener's, to move forward with the deal.

For now, Kabanuk is working on leasing the theater's remaining six floors to other tenants. Two of the levels have office spaces, one is reserved for banquets, and the Kabanuks are looking at developing the second floor for more entertainment uses where the biggest of the Skyway's six theaters was located.

A local tenant agency has signed on as one of the tenants.