A Bar Fit for a Queen

By George Holdgrafer May 3, 2012

Categories: Clubs & Music, Our Scene

The iconic portrait of Queen Elizabeth II at the 19 Bar, both of which have ruled for 60 years.

19 Bar Celebrates Triple Anniversary on May 19 (Appropriately Enough!)

February 6 was the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s accession to the British throne in 1952. And for the local 19 Bar—with an iconic 1960s portrait of the Queen having graced a wall for decades—it’s a triple anniversary: the 60th of the venerable establishment, whose entire history coincides with the monarch’s reign; the 20th of Gary Hallberg’s owning the business; and the 90th of the building that houses it.

The cornerstone of the bar—whose present name derive from its address, 19 West 15th Street, Minneapolis—bears the three line inscription: “Magney & Tussler, Inc./Architects & Engineers/1922.” The firm’s main claim to fame is that it was the architect of the Foshay Tower in Downtown Minneapolis, which debuted in 1929. During the Prohibition Era, the building later called the 19 reportedly was a speakeasy.

In 1952, life partners Everett Stoltz and George Koch opened a predominately gay bar there—a shrewd move, given its location in the heart of what has been a gay enclave for decades. From the 1950s on, the 19’s clientele mainly was gay men from the Loring Park neighborhood. In the early days, the entrance was in the middle on the north wall on West 15th Street, and the bar was on the west wall. On shelves behind the bar, each regular patron had a barrel-shaped brown-glass mug with his or her name inscribed on the wooden handle.

For nearly four decades, the usually quiet 19 suddenly would transform into a beehive of people late Sunday night, when the old “blue law” (repealed in 1990) allowed the bar, which had only a 3.2 (“weak) beer license, to stay open until 1 AM, while the Downtown gay clubs with full beer and liquor licenses had to close at Midnight.

In 1983, after several ownership changes, Ray Onstine bought the 19. Completely remodeling it, he moved the bar to the center of the room, and relocated the entrance to the east corner of the north wall. After his death, his parents, the late Bud and Charlotte Onstine, operated the business for a short time.

Hallberg purchased the 19 on May 8, 1992, and acquired the building as well in 1995. In several stages, he nearly doubled the bar’s space by expanding west into what had been the adjacent Loring Cleaners. He also built a popular year-round patio out from the south wall in the back. In 2003, he obtained a license to serve full liquor and strong beer, which brought a host of new customers who wanted more than 3.2 beer.

Today, the 19 continues the friendly ambience of its 60 years as a neighborhood GLBT bar. Most times, you’ll find some people engaging in a game of a pool at three state-of-the-art tables. Others simple will carry on a conversation over a reasonably priced cocktail or beer. As the bar closest to the Pride Festival in Loring Park, it’s the busiest place in town Pride Weekend.

Hallberg says, “We’re very proud to the oldest GLBT bar in the Twin Cities, and one of the oldest—if not the oldest—in the country. I’m proud of having owned it for a third of its history now. We thank our countless past and present patrons for supporting us all these years. The 19 will be here to serve our community for many years in the future.”

The 19 Bar is celebrating its triple anniversary on May 19 (appropriately enough!). Enjoy happy hour prices all day and all night, from opening at 1 PM to closing at 2 AM, plus free hot dogs and brats.

PHOTO
The iconic portrait of Queen Elizabeth II at the 19 Bar, both of which have reigned 60 years.
Photo by George Holdgrafer

19 Bar
19 W. 15th St., Mpls.
(612) 871-5553

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