MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — There are probably few bars in the state of Minnesota that have a history that is as rich, or as clandestine, as the one located at 408 Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis.

As general manager Robert Parker guides us on a tour through the labyrinths that connect the six bars inside the Gay 90’s, one is quick to realize that this is much more than a club. It is a time capsule that, over the years, bore witness to the struggles of the gay community — as well as holding many secrets to Minneapolis’ past.

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“The Gay 90’s didn’t start out as the Gay 90’s. It started out as The Casablanca,” Parker said.

The Casablanca opened its doors in 1943 as a dinner and burlesque club. In 1948, it changed hands and became the Gay 90’s – almost 20 years before the word “gay” had been used in its current context.

“It was a term like the ‘fab 40’s’ or the ‘roaring twenties,’” Parker said. “It meant to be happy.”

Its proximity, in what was otherwise known as the Gateway District of downtown, was known to be a place of “permissiveness,” where respectable people did not go.

(credit: CBS)

“It was a strip club so close to skid row,” Parker said.

Which made it a good place to “not be seen.”

“It was a favorite place for the police chief, the mayor and council members,” he said.

But in the late 60s and early 70s, the city set their sights on cleaning up the Gateway District, and so went the striptease and burlesque shows at the Gay 90’s. And in 1975, the bar reopened as a discotheque.

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“And it slowly evolved into a gay bar,” Parker said.

In this case, timing was everything. As gay people all over the country began demonstrating for equal rights, the Gay 90’s became their home in Minneapolis.

“You could lose your job, your friends and your whole life could be destroyed, and this was a place that you could go and not worry about it,” Parker said.

He speaks from 30-years’ experience working at the club.

“The new generation sees this as a bastion of acceptance, and before it was a place to hide,” Parker said.

And there is no hiding the fact that the Gay 90’s has served an important role for the LGBTQ community.

“Not only are there just gay people here, but it’s an entire amalgamation of the entire population,” he said. “So gay, straight, transgender, older, black, white, Latino — every type of person living in this city is represented inside this bar.”

So Twin Cities Pride Week holds a special meaning for the people at this iconic place. And they would like you to know that whoever, or whatever you are, you will be welcomed with open arms.

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“I think everyone should celebrate gay pride,” Parke said. “Hopefully one day they’ll just call it ‘pride.’”

Amelia Santaniello