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Midwest City Closes Last Bar On Most Crime-Ridden Block

October 2, 1988

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ Sunday was last call for tipplers at Moby Dick’s bar, a one-time haunt of politicians and pro athletes that turned rowdy and wound up as the last business on what was once the city’s most crime-ridden block.

Under a city condemnation edict, a wrecking ball will obliterate the block that was considered, until other spots closed in the last few months, the most decadent strip of entertainment establishments in Minnesota.

Crime statistics in Minneapolis pale in comparison to bigger cities. But Moby Dick’s and its neighbors were hard to ignore on busy Hennepin Avenue, just a block from the heart of the city’s downtown shopping district.

Before 1971, the bar was the 620 Club, once owned by former Minnesota Vikings president Max Winter.

″It was a bar and restaurant that catered to politicians from Hubert Humphrey on down,″ said Chuck Lutz, referring to the late senator and vice president. ″It was the gathering place for the social elite.″

Lutz is an official of the Minneapolis Community Development Agency who led the drive to raze the block for redevelopment.

In 1971, the bar was sold and became Moby Dick’s, which advertised ″a whale of a drink″ on the cheap. It also became a Moby Dick-size headache for local officials.

Before the condemnation process started, its neighboring buildings housed porn shops, strippers, prostitutes and transients. The block was home to about one-fourth of all downtown crime, Lutz said.

The 600 trouble calls made to Moby Dick’s by police in 1986 were ″several hundred more″ than to any other address in the city, said police Sgt. Dave Niebur.

″That bar has been a whale of a problem for the police department ever since it opened,″ said Niebur.

Last December, Niebur led a raid on Moby Dick’s in which seven weapons were confiscated, along with a ″supermarket″ of illicit drugs from a crowd of about 300 customers.

The raid, and sales of drugs to undercover officers by employees and customers, resulted in a 30-day suspension of the bar’s liquor license in March and April.

During that period, crime on the block dropped 30 percent, Niebur said.

″Moby’s is a perfect example of the type of cesspool that breeds crime. You’ve got to attack it,″ said Tony Bouza, police chief in this Midwest city of 360,000 people, set in a metropolitan area of about 2 million.

″It’s true that people from out of town have commented that this block doesn’t appear to be that bad,″ Lutz said. ″But that’s relative. It depends on the level of crime in a city itself.″

About 50 murders have been committed so far this year in Minneapolis, Bouza said Sunday. ″I would say Minneapolis is still a fairly safe city,″ he added. According to FBI figures for 1986, Minnesota’s major crime rate per 100,000 people was 2.5, compared with 10.7 for New York, 11.3 for Michigan and California, and 11.7 for Florida.

Under ″quick take″ condemnation proceedings, the city acquired the entire block this year and ordered tenants out.

Demolition is scheduled to start later this month to make way for a parking lot and possibly a $75 million complex of gleaming entertainment, retail and hotel space.

Moby Dick’s will be missed - if not by police, then by patrons.

Preston Atlas, 66, a retired construction worker, has frequented it since 1971.

″If you never brought trouble in here, you never got trouble,″ Atlas said from his regular perch at Moby’s 50-foot rectangular bar. ″I hate to see it go.″

″There’s just as much bad out in the suburbs,″ said regular James Champs, 44.

″This place at one time was a great taste of the big city,″ said former bartender Billy Burns, 31. ″If you wanted trouble you could find it real easy, but that’s not what most people came here for.″

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