How a Warehouse District nightclub once known for danger inside and out became a model of good behavior
The scene varies from night to night. Monday could be suit-clad hipsters wiggling to a salsa beat. Wednesday might look like a high school talent show, except that the students are smoking. And Friday, hardcore rockers rule the night. The constant at this multi-dimensional music venue? It's safe. That hasn't always been the case at The Quest Club.
"Back in about 1998, on a Saturday night ... I wouldn't say it was dangerous, but it was unsafe," said 26-year-old Quest patron Karla Smith. "Security seems tighter now."
Today, most people involved see The Quest, 110 N. 5th St., as a secure place to party -- from the owner to patrons to even the Minneapolis Police Downtown Command. The change from problem club to model club didn't come overnight; for the past three summers, police officers, the 5th Ward councilmember, city liquor inspectors and representatives from Warehouse District nightspots have met monthly to work through their problems. The Quest, by many accounts, is the group's biggest success story.
"They've been really good about taking responsibility," said Downtown Command Lt. Tony Diaz.
"It was a concerted effort to provide quality entertainment and make people feel safe," said Quest owner Gilbert Davison.
Myths and unsafe realities The Quest opened in 1995 after having been Glam Slam for five years. Glam Slam was an industrial-looking club in the full Manhattan glamorousness of the word. The buzz surrounding Glam Slam was that Minnesota recording artist Prince owned it.
He never did, according to Quest general manager Shannon Swedberg. Current Quest owner and former Prince manager Davison always has.
Davison let the myth perpetuate because it was good for business. "We used to have big crowds gathering. Everyone wanted to see Prince," said former security guard and now-manager Scott Kretz.
When Glam Slam morphed into The Quest in 1995, it took on an earthier feel: a garden room full of greenery and another upper level room with a celestial theme. "We were trying to come up with something more life-affirming," Davison said. "Glam Slam was more industrial and cold. We wanted a sense of escapism."
The crowds never stopped coming. Non-Quest patrons hung around outside simply to see what was happening.
"There was a scene outside. Some people even came with lawn chairs and lunch boxes," Swedberg recalled.
According to the Downtown Command's Lt. Tony Diaz, "When people loiter outside of the bars, that's when fights occur. In the past there were a lot of fights out front, a lot of congregating out front, some shots fired," Diaz said.
Kaye Stein, a manager at Quest neighbor the Loon Caf, 500 1st Ave. N., remembered that "those music venues would get out and the people would just hang out at the parking ramp across the street," Stein said. "You couldn't even drive down the street."
Davison admitted, "We thought what happened outside The Quest wasn't our problem."
But problems also plagued the inside of The Quest, especially on nights that the venue was rented out. Independent promoters packed the club, collected their money, and basically didn't care what happened after that.
"We would rent the venue out and not know enough about what they were doing," Swedberg said.
"They were not legitimate promoters. They were just trying to make a bunch of cash."
Underage, over-served But the problem didn't simply lie with the independent promoters. According to Lt. Phil Hafvenstein, commander of licenses and investigations, The Quest also had issues with underage consumption.
In 1997, The Quest failed a decoy operation in which an underage person was able to buy alcohol.
That incident led to a hearing between The Quest and the Licensing and Investigations Department. Davison was asked to review his security system and draw up a business plan. He did and on Dec. 19, 1997, investigators went to the club to follow up on the business plan. This time, the Quest passed the investigation. They also passed another compliance check for underage drinking on Oct. 13, 2000.
In the last couple of years, Hafvenstein has not had any problems with the club. "They certainly aren't on my radar screen very often," he said.
Self-help The Quest has gone through a type of self-examination to improve their relationship with the Downtown Command and their neighbors. "It wasn't fair for us to say what happened outside The Quest wasn't our problem," Davison said. "We look at what are those things that are helping and what are those things that are hurting."
Manager and former security guard Kretz said that his security guards don't push patrons out the door when the clock strikes one. "We try to give them some time to get their coats out of the coat check and say their goodbyes," he said.
According to Lt. Diaz, the security staff is then very efficient in removing loiterers from outside the club. "They assist us with helping with the crowds out front. They ask people to politely move along," Diaz said. "They don't overreact."
The city has also made moves, turning 5th Street near The Quest into a no-stopping zone.
Anyone parking or idling can immediately be ticketed and towed.
Security staff also maintains a "Banned for Life" list. When someone causes a fight or gets into any kind of trouble at The Quest, staff will take his or her picture and name and ban him or her from the club.
To resolve the underage drinking issue, The Quest servers and bartenders undergo server training. Inexperienced servers handle fewer customers directly. For example, someone who wants to tend bar at The Quest would first have to work behind the scenes stocking the bar and washing dishes. That way he or she learns the ropes before actually achieving the position of bartender.
Neighbors are happy According to Swedberg The Quest has changed their programming in three ways: More national concerts; rock night on Friday's and no R&B Saturday's.
She said that changing their crowd was not a factor in changing their programming. But since changing some of the themed nights, The Quest is now attracting a smaller African American demographic. Swedberg attributes that to no more R&B night.
"We're trying to format and offer a variety of music and we don't really have any control over what demographic is attracted to that," she said. "We do offer a variety of things that appeal to a wide variety of people. There's something for everyone."
Neighbors say that the artists The Quest brings in have made a big difference in perceived safety. They've had such bands as Barenaked Ladies, David Gray, Dido, Train and Nickelback.
According to Stein the crowds that come to these shows typically aren't dangerous, and besides, they give her business. "Before where we used to dread them having concerts, now it's a positive," Stein said. "These bands bring in a crowd that would go to the Loon or any of the other restaurants in Downtown. We're benefiting from them in that way."