The What’s Up Lounge Locks Its Doors, Effective Immediately


Oleander Saloon photo courtesy of Mankato Times

Well, it finally happened. After months (years?) of legal strife and struggles with the city, The What’s Up Lounge–Mankato’s only pure music venue–has closed.

Via Facebook:

Due to LEGAL ISSUES, the What’s Up Lounge is closed down effective immediately. All future events are cancelled. Any questions may be directed to the owners.

This is a huge blow to our music scene. Hopefully, we can reclaim our rightful place in our community as we have been being pushed out by various entities for far too long.

This Facebook page will be kept going to help promote shows and artistic events happening at other Mankato venues.

Thank you for all of your support and for the amazing memories created in our wonderful home.

While the venue’s viability has been hanging by a thread for the past few months, foreshadowing does little to soften the blow. Recently hired booking / promotions manager Logos Ironpaw was throwing serious effort into rebuilding the place’s reputation, and a slate of killer shows booked for February made it seem like the venue was on track for revitalization. While it was doubtful that the What’s Up would ever reattain the heyday enjoyed by veterans of the Mankato music scene, things looked to be on encouraging path.

The potential was palpable, and I was stoked about the prospect of a turnaround. I was never a part of the What’s Up’s glory days, however, and during my relatively brief residency in Mankato, I had never seen the venue as anything other than what it is / was: An afterthought attached to the Oleander Saloon, which is unquestionably one the shittiest establishments in the city.

The owners of the What’s Up / the Oleander never cared–at least outwardly, and that’s all that matters–about fostering independent art or making the venue a place that bands and fans alike would actually want to spend time.

They never displayed the desire or wherewithal to maintain a thriving venue, and, frankly, from a transplant’s perspective, it seemed sad that Mankato tied the vitality of its music scene to the health of a wheezing relic.

Reading between the lines of this KEYC report, closing the What’s Up seems like a last-ditch, ass-saving effort:

The Oleander Saloon on Riverfront receives a four-day suspension of their liquor license, as a result of the shooting last May, serving after hours in June, and over serving a customer on Christmas Day, resulting in a blood alcohol level of .34

Council member Trudy Kunkel says, “We’re actually looking at four incidents, even multiple violations within one incident.”

The bar owners, which will be shutting down the What’s Up Lounge above Oleander, were also fined $2000.

Simply put, the What’s Up’s demise is collateral damage. The owners of the Oleander gave exactly zero fucks about running a respectable venue. (Want to cut down on incidents? Hire some security and STOP OVER-SERVING PEOPLE.) In order to avoid complete collapse, something had to give.

While Mankato scenesters bemoan the loss, much of their anger is being directed at the city council for riding the bar’s ass for months before finally dropping the hammer.

This anger is misplaced.

Had the Oleander and the What’s Up Lounge focused efforts on making their businesses palatable to customers both old and new–while providing management with the tools required to succeed–the What’s Up would still be open, and these shows wouldn’t be cancelled.

The venue’s biggest problem? It wasn’t an appealing spot to hang unless a personally intriguing band was taking the stage. Forcing largely-unknown acts to do all of the attendance-generating legwork is a piss poor business model, yet the establishment was either oblivious or apathetic.

Mankato deserves a venue that actually supports the music and those that promote it. Perhaps the demise of the What’s Up is a blessing in disguise. Instead of leaning on a rotting establishment to do the scene’s legwork, maybe an upstart outfit will rise from its ashes and learn from its mistakes.


Scene fixture Dagger Chuck just posted this update to FB:

Just got off the phone with [owner] Casey [Burns]. The city council meeting did not go so well tonight, but The What’s Up is not closed permanently but until the new owner takes over. The Ole and What’s Up however are for sale. Start digging in your pockets.

And even our stalwart bastion of culture and current events, the Mankato Free Press, chimed in:

Owners Casey Burns and Ian Nelson said the Oleander will remain open as they attempt to sell the businesses, and that the closing of the performance bar on the second story of the building will be effective at least until new ownership is found.

That’s little comfort to the likes of Ian “Goat” Dunford, curator of the Goat Fest death metal gathering–featuring local, regional, and out-of-state acts–which was slated to take place this weekend. Or those that were looking forward to seeing the likes of BNLX, Buildings, Fury Things, Hardcore Crayons, and more over the course of the next few weeks.

Again, you can blame the city if you’d like, but ownership’s shortsightedness and lack of accountability is what hung these promoters and bands out to dry, ultimately crushing what had once promised to be an impressive rebound effort.

So, what’s next, Mankato? Does someone with capital swoop in to save the day, or do the basement bootstraps get pulled?

A suggestion for the future: Don’t shackle your loyalties to a commercial entity that doesn’t reciprocate.