Gay Nineties upstairs closed for fire code violations

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March 3, 2003 // UPDATED 9:08 am - April 30, 2007
By: Ellen Nigon
Ellen Nigon

The Minneapolis Fire Department has closed the second floor of the Gay Nineties Theatre Caf and Bar in the wake of a local TV news report showing the Downtown club in violation of several fire safety codes.

"It was a combination of complaints generated from the Fox 9 News report, and they were actually due for an inspection," said Kristi Rollwagen, spokesperson for the Minneapolis Fire Department. "The most striking violation they found was on the second floor: there was a gate that was padlocked shut."

According to Rollwagen, the padlocked gate prompted fire prevention officials to visit the 408 Hennepin Ave. club on Feb. 22. Fire officials returned Feb. 24 to close the second floor.

Gay Nineties General Manager Robert Parker said a padlock hung from a gate leading to a second floor exit, but said the padlock was not locked. "If you look at it, you might think it's locked, but if you take the gate and pull it across, it opens," Parker said. "That's been like that for four or five years."

Overall, fire officials found the Gay Nineties in violation of 23 fire code regulations. They said the primary reason they closed the second floor was because it didn't have enough designated exits. One stairway lets customers on the second floor exit directly onto 4th Street, but the other stairway joins the exit that main-floor patrons use to exit on Hennepin Avenue.

According to a fire department document, "The second exits from [second floor] rooms all lead to the first floor exit ... utilized to their maximum limits by the rooms of the first floor. ... This leaves no viable second exit for any of the second floor rooms."

Rollwagen said, "The exit paths leading to the exits on the second floor are not clearly defined or marked by adequate exit or emergency lighting."

Parker said the fire code violations come as a surprise to club management. "We thought we just had some minor violations, like a sign not pointing in the right direction and little things like that, but nothing like closing the second floor," he said.

Parker does not know when the second floor of the Gay Nineties will reopen. The second floor houses the "drag bar" and "retro bar," and Parker said it accounts for 50 percent of the club's business.

"It really affects the drag show more than anything. It takes about 40 employees to run everything upstairs," he said. "It's going to be quite a bit of money lost."

According to Rollwagen, the Gay Nineties can reopen after its owner has met with a Minnesota-registered design engineer to perform a code analysis of the second floor. "The designer shall provide the Fire Prevention Bureau with the documentation showing the upgrades, or any other method for compliance that will be acceptable to the bureau," she said.

Said Parker, "We'll just do whatever needs to be done to reopen the upstairs."