The Triple Rock Social Club sign has moved to Las Vegas

A lit sign featuring The Triple Rock Social Club with neon signs
Half of the Triple Rock Social Club sign hangs at Dark Horse Bar & Eatery in St. Paul.
Michaelangelo Matos | MPR

By Michaelangelo Matos | The Current

When The Punk Rock Museum officially opens in Las Vegas — a date mooted, after many delays, for this April 1 — chances are that you’ll see a lot of the Twin Cities on display.

A lot of every place with a punk scene, in fact. The museum has pronounced itself open to any and all willing participants. “If you’re a punk band, you’re f**king in,” Fat Mike Burkett of NOFX, the museum’s prime mover, told Spin. “It’s that simple ... We want people to come from Indonesia and see the flier of their band on the wall. You know how proud they would feel? I want anyone in a punk band around the world to have that opportunity.”

Among the Punk Rock Museum’s investors are Kevin Lyman, the founder of Warped Tour; Foo Fighters guitarist Pat Smear, formerly of Germs and Nirvana; and skateboarding hero Tony Hawk. And Fat Mike himself told The Current: “The second-biggest investor is Erik Funk”—the guitarist of local punk heroes Dillinger Four. Burkett boasts: “We’ve got the Triple Rock sign going into the Punk Rock Museum.”

Wait — does that mean the Triple Rock Social Club sign, which has been hanging up at the downtown St. Paul’s Dark Horse Bar and Eatery, is leaving town?

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Not so fast. That sign was two-sided. “My half of the sign was made into a neon, and is hanging in my bar,” says Paddy Whelan, the Dark Horse’s owner-operator. “The other half is in Vegas.”

Whelan had worked for the Triple Rock as a bartender for a decade prior to its closing. “The sign hung in the Triple Rock forever,” he says. “I worked there for a long time. It’s a real important thing that I had a good home for.” There are other pieces of Triple Rock memorabilia on view at Dark Horse, as well, for those who want to see those things closer to home.

If you do decide to visit Vegas, the Punk Rock Museum’s attractions also include a chapel for weddings and wakes and, per a report from V13, interactive areas that include “a guitar room where you can play the actual guitars and basses played through the amps the artists played them through. We have guitars and amps from Rise Against, NOFX, Pennywise, Sick of It All, Strung Out, and many more. Yes ... you can actually PLAY THEM. A lot of people ask, ‘what happens if something gets broken?’ The simple answer: we fix it — just like we did on tour.”

“Mike is really the spearhead,” says Funk. “There’s this big collection of people that will work it out for the last couple of years: finding investment and getting a building squared away and doing acquisitions.”

“Their collection is amazing,” adds Gretchen Funk, Erik’s wife and the co-founder of the Triple Rock Social Club. “I’m very hard to impress, and I’m impressed by what they’ve got there.”

Besides, at the Punk Rock Museum, the Triple Rock sign isn’t likely to show up right away. “Don’t expect that to actually get on the wall,” says Erik. “It’ll be in their collection. Maybe someday, if they’re doing a thing specifically on venues in the 2000s, it’ll be part of a rotating exhibit.”

A brief history of the Triple Rock

Erik and Gretchen opened the Triple Rock Social Club as a bar and restaurant in 1998 — on December 4, AKA D4, the band’s initials — then expanded it in June 2003, by turning an adjacent space into a live venue, purpose built for amplified rock bands.

As Steve Waksman’s eye-opening 2022 book, Live Music in America: A History from Jenny Lind to Beyoncé, points out, this is frequently not the case. Think of First Avenue (a former bus depot) or the Palace Theater (built long before rock, or even amplification, came along): Many times, the places we hear music were first intended for something else entirely.

But at the Triple Rock, the pit in front of the stage was lowered, allowing the stage and the back half of the room to remain at about eye level. That gave the performances there a special intensity.

The new venue’s timing was also good. “It was a time when the Uptown Bar wasn’t really having shows anymore,” recalls Steve Barone, formerly of Lifter Puller and the Hawaii Show. “They filled the void in town.”

D4 bassist Patrick Costello was a booker there for several years. “Probably my favorite job I’ve ever had in my life was doing local booking for the Triple Rock,” he says. Costello recalls that filling the slots was relatively easy due to demand. “We had to get calendars together months before the club even opened. We were already booking shows for dates three months after the opening date.”

Though the club had a strong foothold in punk, its booking policy was always broad. From a reunion of Chicago’s Effigies (a particularly fond memory of Erik Funk’s) to a memorable reading by food TV auteur Anthony Bourdain to multiple appearances by Lizzo during her time in Minneapolis — both solo and with her short-lived local trio the Chalice — as well as numerous other hip-hop showcases, the Triple Rock was a vital node in the local scene until its closure in November of 2017.

One thing that gave the Triple Rock a hold on many of its regulars was the food. (OK, the bar, too.) Both Gretchen, who oversaw the kitchen, and Erik, who tended to the band side, look back with pride on their offerings — everything was available in carnivorous, vegetarian, and vegan options, and all were prepared with rigorous separation.

“We were the first to have poutine on the menu in the Twin Cities — definitely the first to have a vegan option of poutine,” says Erik.

“We also had vegan Worcestershire, which was difficult to find,” adds Gretchen.

The results made believers out of everyone. Costello’s favorite dish — “Oddly, this is a weird thing” — was the vegan meatloaf: “And I ate meat. But I just loved the vegan meatloaf. And, of course, the po’ boy.”

Everyone loved the Minneapolis Po’ Boy. “I had a lot of touring friends at that time, and when they would come there, that was what they wanted,” says Nate Grumdahl, who also booked local bands for the Triple Rock.

Those touring bands got fed. “The portions there were very Midwestern, just almost out of control,” recalls Craig Finn, who headlined the Triple Rock’s first show, reunited with Lifter Puller — right as his next band, the Hold Steady, was taking off in New York. Naturally, the first Hold Steady show in Minneapolis also took place at the Triple Rock. (THS is celebrating its twentieth anniversary this year.)

Finn also mentions a humorous “bottle service” item: “At the very beginning, they sold Olde English, a bottle of malt liquor, and they would bring one of those champagne stands out to your table and do a presentation where they let you sniff the bottle cap.”

And what was Fat Mike’s favorite dish on the Triple Rock’s menu?

“Vodka,” he says without a second’s hesitation. “Duh!” He laughs. “They made a great vodka there. I had the vodka sauteed in butter and garlic. It was delicious.”