Remembering the Longhorn, 'Minneapolis' CBGB's'

Regulars salute the long-shuttered punk bastion at First Avenue.

CHRIS RIEMENSCHNEIDER , Star Tribune
Updated 5/14/2015

There were wagon-wheel chandeliers on the ceiling, a woman with a foreign accent at the front door and everyone from the Suicide Commandos to Elvis Costello and the Police on the stage.

The Longhorn Bar was Minneapolis’ punk-rock headquarters in the late 1970s and early ’80s. The coolest bands from England and the States came to the long, low-ceilinged club in downtown Minneapolis. And it was a launchpad for Twin Cities groups, including the Replacements and Hüsker Dü. Local rockers from that era — including Flamingo, the Hypstrz, Curtiss A and the SubCommandos (a mashup of the Suburbs and the Suicide Commandos) — are getting together Saturday at First Avenue to salute the Longhorn.

“It will be like a high school reunion,” said drummer John Haga, who will play with the Hypstrz, Curtiss A and the SubCommandos.

Former Replacements manager Peter Jesperson, now an executive at New West Records in Los Angeles, is flying in to revisit his days at the Longhorn’s house DJ. The force behind the Longhorn, Jay Berine, now located in Marina Del Ray, Calif., is not expected to show up, however.

In June 1977, Berine started presenting punk and new-wave bands at the Longhorn, a modest steakhouse at 14 S. 5th St. that had featured jazz in a second-floor music room. Lunch was served to business workers in the first-floor punk club. “The Longhorn was Minneapolis’ CBGB’s,” said Flamingo lead singer Robert Wilkinson, referring to the legendary New York City punk club. Most significantly, it was a club where bands could play original music. Other bars in town presented live music (First Avenue was in a disco phase), but they demanded that bands play mostly covers.

The Longhorn lineup was a Who’s Who of hipsterdom from 1977 to ’82, including the Twin Cities debuts of Costello, Talking Heads, Blondie and the Police. Iggy Pop, the Ramones, and the Buzzcocks also played there. There clearly was a scene developing in the Twin Cities. When the Longhorn came along, the 1970s heyday of free-form radio had been quashed by corporate programmers. So most of these bands were discovered through record shops — like the Jesperson-managed Oarfolkjokeopus (now Treehouse Records) in south Minneapolis.

The same 300 or 400 people hung out at the Longhorn — “the bands and our girlfriends,” recalled Suicide Commandos guitarist Chris Osgood. “It was completely like a clubhouse. After the bar closed, it was ‘Where’s the party?,’ since everybody knew everybody.”

The club also became a testing ground for local label Twin/Tone Records, co-founded by Jesperson. It was launched in 1978 with EPs by the Suburbs and Curtiss A, and signed the Replacements after their 1980 club debut at the Longhorn. A documentary about the Longhorn is being shot by first-time filmmaker Mark Engebretson, a former Longhorn patron who still fronts the Silverteens.

Like a Ramones song, the Longhorn didn’t last long. Frank, a caterer and cousin of Berine’s, took over the club and later renamed it Zoogie’s. His heart wasn’t in the music, so the scene and club didn’t last past the spring of 1982.

LONGHORN REUNION

With: Flamingo, the Hypstrz, Curtiss A, the Sub­Commandos.

With: 8 p.m. Sat.

Where: First Avenue.

Tickets: $15.

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