Each month, I write a column for Transistor (www.transistormag.com) called CTRL+ALT+DULUTH. (Yes, it plays on the "duh-LOOT" pronunciation.) Below is the text from last week's issue:
As any laid-off journalist in town can tell you, craigslist has become Duluth’s destination of choice for people in search of IKEA furniture, jobs working for Ponzi schemes and no-strings sex that may or may not involve kitchen implements, barn animals or snowmobile grease.
Well, you can now add dive bars to the list.
For those of you who missed the recent story in the Duluth News Tribune (as usual, pause for laugh track), Kozy Bar owner Eric Ringsred has put the notorious Hillside nightspot up for sale on craigslist.
Love him or hate him, Ringsred remains one of the most fascinating figures in town. In the story referenced above, the emergency room physician cum entrepreneur tells the DNT that his goal in buying the bar four years ago was to turn it into a positive meeting place for Duluth’s downtrodden.
There’s merit and heart in that, but unfortunately, not much reality. Ask anyone even remotely connected to the social services sector (social workers, shelter managers, police, academics, you name it) and they’ll tell you that the first step in creating a positive and supportive environment for a vulnerable population is removing alcohol from the equation – not selling $1.50 pitchers of Icehouse.
Of course, the Kozy isn’t Ringsred’s only club-footed foray into urban crusading. As an ardent architectural preservationist, he committed both his time and money to rescuing the historic NorShor theater from the eventual wrecker’s ball. Again, a noble cause. His current solution for keeping the building commercially viable, however, is to rent it to a brothel (at least according to Duluth police) fronting as a strip club.
(Lest you call me a prude: A strip club doesn’t have to be a cesspool. For tips on how to run a tight ship without the high profile and whiff of prostitution, see the Saratoga down in Canal Park.)
In a spirited defense posted to the Web a few years back, Ringsred reasoned that civic organizations like the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Downtown Council should welcome the NorShor because it will help the city attract more conventions to the DECC. (Boy, what I would give to see the people at VisitDuluth give THAT presentation.)
Rather than parsing Ringsred’s idiosyncrasies, perhaps we should turn to more compelling questions: If you had the cash, would you buy the Kozy Bar? And if you did buy it, what would you do with it?
One idea: Turn the place into a private bar/supper club for the regulars – similar to the Owls Club down a few blocks west. Doing so would preserve the social community and vibe that exists between the current, non-troublesome patrons and give management and customers much more control over who comes and goes. Membership could be contingent not on fees but on adhering to club rules and helping with daily operations.
Sure, you’d still have the alcohol and its attendant ills, but we’re dropping the pretense that the bar can be a transformative agent in people’s lives and circumscribing the mission to merely allowing people to drink themselves into oblivion without worrying about getting shot or stabbed to death inside. To me, that’s a basic human right.
What do you think?