Erik and Gretchen Funk met in the fall of 1993, right as Erik’s band Dillinger Four were taking off. Five years later, they opened a business together that helped define the Minneapolis, and American, punk scene.
Seven of the people interviewed for this oral history, unprompted, used the word “clubhouse” to describe the place.
The Triple Rock Social Club opened near the end of 1998 as a bar and restaurant with oversize plates of food—for vegans, vegetarians, and carnivores alike, at a time when places like that, as Erik puts it, “didn’t basically exist at all” in the Twin Cities. “And we wanted to be able to do live music,” he adds. When they took over a bar called Blondie’s on the Ave. in the West Bank neighborhood, near the University of Minnesota, they decided, “Two out of three we can do here, and if it goes well, we can add the third. Which is exactly what we did,” Erik recalls.
Opening its doors at the beginning of summer 2003, the Triple Rock’s 380-capacity stage room had been built with care, with great sight lines and a sound system that many still remember for its vibrancy. But it wasn’t just the promise of a good show that kept musicians coming back: The Triple Rock had a half-off policy on the menu for traveling musicians, and Erik and Gretchen—not to mention Dillinger Four bandmates Patrick Costello and Billy Morrisette, who also pulled shifts there, alongside a largely loyal staff of local punks—were instantly friendly faces.
By necessity, the Triple Rock featured an eclectic array of musicians—as regular Anna Eveslage puts it, “Everybody from Yann Tiersen to the Proclaimers.” It was a favorite of local hip-hop performers, with rap and DJ showcases increasingly prominent on the calendars for much of the 2000s and 2010s. But the Triple Rock was, first and foremost, a punk hang, and that is the focus of this oral history. It’s incomplete—by necessity, any venue history is. Many key staffers are missing. And it barely touches on a menu as legendary as the shows. (Consensus pick: the Minneapolis Po’Boy.) But even with those omissions, the following will tell you plenty about how intensely the Triple Rock is missed.
Erik Funk (Triple Rock cofounder; guitarist, Dillinger Four): We met at Hamline University through a mutual friend.
Gretchen Funk (Triple Rock cofounder): At that time, I was working at Cafe Latte, Ragstock, Motor Oil [Cafe], and the Uptown Cafe, all at the same time. Like a lot of Minneapolis people, especially in the ’90s: Everyone had three jobs.
Erik Funk: Going to shows was obviously a huge part of our lives at that point. I had already been involved early on with [the punk record shop] Extreme Noise. If you wanted a record store, you built a record store. If you wanted to put a record out, you put a record out. That was the culture.
Gretchen Funk: You saw something missing? You filled the void.
Erik Funk: You did it yourself.
Gretchen Funk: I remember the night that we came up with it. We met friends at Nye’s Polonaise Room. There were people who were vegan and could only eat fries, and people who were straight-edge and were having sodas. There was a real void of a comfortable place where you could find something for every one of those pockets of people. We got home—we were pretty drunk—and I said, “I think we could totally do that.” We woke up and made coffee, and we’re like, “We actually should do that.”
Erik Funk: This happened in early ’97. We opened at the very end of ’98.
Gretchen Funk: We looked downtown at a few buildings. One was right next to SexWorld.
Patrick Costello (Triple Rock booker; bassist, Dillinger Four): I remember there being several spots that they went and checked out, either to do actual tours with a Realtor or on their own. I realized, “Oh, wow, this is a very real thing.”
Gretchen Funk: None of the liquor-license stuff ever went smoothly. They gave us the forms for adult-entertainment clubs, because they were confused by the “Social Club” [in the name]—and the liquor license for a strip club is way more expensive. We were like, “Oh my God!”
Billy Morrisette (Triple Rock bartender; guitarist, Dillinger Four): I worked from the opening night, on D4— December 4, 1998—until just over a year before it closed.
Patrick Costello: Erik and Gretchen offered to actually send me to a bartending school to work at the Triple Rock before it opened. It’s so funny to think about now. I had just gotten a dollar-an-hour raise, and I pretty much thought I was the king of France. Three months after it opened, I realized how dumb that move was.
Gretchen Funk: What we found out is if you go to shows for a year and talk about the bar that you want to open at shows, people tend to come on the opening day. We were packed on opening day, from the beginning.
Billy Morrisette: The front-of-house staff didn’t have a lot of changeover. We definitely grew older with the bar. I noticed that with the clientele as well. You saw people who were coming in as young kids start to come in for brunch with their own children.
Dave Gardner (Triple Rock sound consultant): [While] the Triple Rock venue was being built, the Great White fire happened, which dramatically complicated a bunch of stuff. If you’ve ever wondered why you never see that egg-cratelooking [soundproofing] foam anywhere—you used to see that everywhere—that’s a petroleum-based product. That is what caught on fire at Great White. We had to scramble to find all kinds of alternative options.
Billy Morrisette: The first show of the live music venue was the Monarques, the Mountain Goats, and Lifter Puller.
Erik Funk: At the time, the obvious thing would have been: Dillinger Four will play the opening night. But I understood that, on the opening night, I’m not gonna be able to be in band mode. There was more interest in Lifter Puller a year after they were broken up than there had ever been. We knew that would be a slam dunk.
Dan Monick (drummer, Lifter Puller): Erik was always like, “If I ever get this venue part open, will you guys come back and play opening night?” And we were like, “Sure. He’ll never get the venue open.” And then he got the venue open.
Steve Barone (guitarist-keyboardist, Lifter Puller): Our first show there was June 6, 2003, and there’s sawdust on the floor. They’re still putting on sound panels. They’re not done with the room, and we have to play in a couple hours. All the bands that played that first weekend were the guinea pig bands, to see what was going on in the room.
Dave Gardner: We were busy just trying to make sure sound was going to come out, and doors were gonna open, and beer would be coming out of the taps.
Gretchen Funk: We also didn’t have a liquor license until about three hours before that show. Nobody knew but me and Erik. Because of the timing of a city council vote, we were going to find out that day. We finally got the phone call from the mayor’s assistant saying, “You’re clear.” I’ve never been so relieved in my life.
Erik Funk: Incidentally, I think [Lifter Puller] asked John [Darnielle] of Mountain Goats. That was their idea. I’m pretty sure they invited John to play.
Craig Finn (singer-songwriter, Lifter Puller, the Hold Steady): John and I had become friends. And he’d been a Lifter Puller fan, and he was living in Iowa at the time, so it wasn’t crazy to suggest that. It didn’t involve a flight or anything. He just came up from Ames.
John Darnielle (singer-songwriter, the Mountain Goats; on stage at the Triple Rock, June 6, 2003): I cannot believe I get to open for Lifter Puller. I’ve been touring for six months, and this is the first show I’ve been completely fucking geeked for.
Michaelangelo Matos (author): I flew to Minneapolis for the opening shows. After Lifter Puller hit the first chord, all the drinks fell off the bar.
Gretchen Funk: The bar was so gorgeous. The guy that designed it was like, “I’m gonna put this angle on it so that people can lean up against it.” The first night, when we heard the first beer bottle hit the floor, we were like, “Oh my God, that’s not going to work.”
Dave Gardner: It was like a ski jump for drinks.
Erik Funk: The fabricator had to make it flat again, so that drinks wouldn’t slide out.
Nathan Grumdahl (Triple Rock booker; singer, Monarques): The room was built for bands that played with louder amps.
Laura Jane Grace (singer, Against Me!): When the venue side opened up, it had a brutalist feel to it in a way—concrete, knee-high stage, and it was blasting in sound.
Nathan Grumdahl: I always enjoyed playing there. There’s something about absolute zero obstruction of sight line that was really uncommon. Anywhere you stand is a good place.
Jason Black (bassist, Hot Water Music): They really did it in the best way possible. For a 400-cap room, it was laid out perfectly for everyone to see, and it sounded amazing. They utilized that space to its full potential.
Dave Hause (singer-songwriter, the Loved Ones): The first time I ever heard Off With Their Heads it was like, “Here’s a good local band from Minneapolis. There’s a vibrant underground scene here that I’m being keyed into just by being in the room.”
Marc Warnest (Triple Rock regular): Somebody called you up and said, “Hey, so and so’s playing at the Triple Rock, let’s go.” Twenty-five bucks could get you in to see some rock or hip-hop—a five-dollar cover and twenty bucks’ worth of drinks and you’re good.
Erik Funk: Before we were the place to actually have the show, we were definitely the place to go after the show.
Laura Jane Grace: We partied there after every single show we ever played in Minneapolis. The after-party was always there. We’d always go there, get shit-faced fucking wasted, and eat a ton of tater tots.
Frank Turner (singer-songwriter): I can’t really remember ever leaving the Triple Rock. I can remember arriving there many times. But leaving, not so much.
Craig Finn: The fact that Erik and Gretchen were in charge—they were people that have been on tour and understood how a touring band operates and might feel coming up [to Minnesota].
Jason Black: When you’re on tour all the time, that kind of stuff really lands with folks: “Oh, they get it and they care.” It feels nice, because it sucks sometimes, three weeks or a month away from being in your own bed.
Frank Turner: I knew about 924 Gilman Street before I could point to San Francisco on a map. I knew about CBGB’s. In lyrics or in interviews or in folklore, the Triple Rock was on my radar as a place.
Marc Warnest: Against Me! opened for Alkaline Trio at the Quest, finished their set, and [Laura Jane Grace] said, “All right, guys, we’ll see you at the Triple Rock!”
Laura Jane Grace: The first time I ever saw the Triple Rock was in 2001. It was the first Against Me! tour that went to Minneapolis. James [Bowman, guitarist] pointed it out: “That’s the bar that Erik from Dillinger Four owns.” I was super impressed. The first time we played there was 2004. We did a tour with the Blood Brothers. It was two nights in a row. You know, guaranteed the first set was tighter than the second set. [Laughs]
Really, it was just a place where everyone in Minneapolis did coke
Erik Funk: Against Me! was like a phenomenon. Really, they came from the heart of the DIY scene and were one of those bands, like Green Day in their time, where, all of a sudden, major labels were all over them.
Marc Warnest: It was the January after Laura Jane Grace had come out as trans and had announced that she was writing an album about that, which was Transgender Dysphoria Blues. So it was, at that point, a chance to hear some of those songs before the record had been released. That show was amazing. It was nothing but catharsis.
Jill Lestina-Warnest (Triple Rock regular): Nothing but love and support in the air.
Patrick Costello: James from Against Me! and I set our chest hair on fire. It smelled so bad, and the bar was packed. I got reprimanded later. Erik and Gretchen literally pulled me aside: “You can’t do that.”
Frank Turner: I had definitely heard about the Triple Rock through NOFX’s song [“Seeing Double at the Triple Rock”].
Erik Funk: One day [Fat] Mike called and was like, “Hey, dude, you’re gonna get a kick out of this. I’m gonna send you something in a minute.” And we’re like, “Oh, my God, he literally wrote a song about the Triple Rock.”
Fat Mike (singer, NOFX): I dropped that song off the album. I didn’t think it belonged on Wolves in Wolves’ Clothing because it was a political album. The people at Fat Wreck Chords were like, “You can’t drop this song. This song’s fucking cool,” so I left it on. And it turned out to be one of the best songs on the album.
Patrick Costello: I heard it for the first time in Erik’s car. I remember saying, “Did he just say, ‘Listening to Paddy talk’?” I remember for a second being like, “Is he talking about me?”
Erik Funk: “We’re here listening to Paddy talk”: Well, that’s a common experience that anyone might’ve had at the Triple Rock. But no, I don’t think it was a retelling of a specific night.
Gretchen Funk: They would never have been there in a snowstorm. Those guys couldn’t survive a snowstorm! [Laughs]
Fat Mike: You know what I’m talking about, in a “snow” storm? The Triple Rock had a cover as a punk club. Really, it was just a place where everyone in Minneapolis did coke.
Erik Funk: They came and did a video for it. We had a prescreened, prearranged crowd for the video shoot. When the video shoot was done, they played a full set for the people that were there.
Fat Mike: We hired Ryan, from Off With Their Heads, to be our driver. He was wasted both days, driving us from the hotel to the Triple Rock. I mean, wasted. It’s, like, fucking 10 blocks. I’m pretty sure it was winter. It was too cold to walk to the Triple Rock.
Erik Funk: Who were, technically, the biggest bands that ever played at Triple Rock? Right now, I think you’d have to say it’s Lizzo and Imagine Dragons. Lizzo made sense—she played everywhere in town coming up. People find it surprising that Imagine Dragons played the middle slot. They were on tour with a band called the Jezebels. I didn’t see them. That wasn’t really my scene.
Gretchcn Funk: We weren’t really that interested. They are now on the top of my playlist, because I have two kids.
Patrick Costello: The last couple of weeks that Triple Rock was around, the band the Bronx played there. That was one of the best sets I saw anybody play there, ever.
Billy Morrisette: When the Bronx played and [their alter ego] Mariachi el Bronx played. Mariachi el Bronx had just dropped their first mariachi record. Bronx probably only had Bronx II out or something. But it was a double bill. That was absolutely incredible, one of my favorite nights ever.
Nathan Grumdahl: I saw Broadcast play there. They had tons of keyboards and even some set changes that they executed. And they sounded incredible. It felt like you were in a practice space. They were very comfortable. It was very naked.
Billy Morrisette: I remember seeing the Paybacks from Detroit. I watched those guys play to probably six people. I remember running through the whole bar side and grabbing any friend I could to drag them over: “You have to come see this band right now.” I just got done working, went over, and had my face absolutely melted off. And that happened so many times.
Patrick Costello: The one show that stood out to me the most at Triple Rock—and it wasn’t even a show—was TV on the Radio. It was their soundcheck. They set up all the gear, and then the guys, for lack of a better term, just jammed. They would play covers, and then somebody might start noodling and the other guys joined in to fuck around. Their sound guys would come up and move the microphones around to get the sounds they wanted. And it was interesting in its own right. I don’t know if it was an hour, if it was two, two and a half hours. It was a long time. I remember watching that, [and] then I realized: “I have shit to do, but I’ve been sitting here watching these guys for 40 minutes—like, not breathing.” I looked over at Big Pete, the door guy, a total legend in his own right, and I realized, he’s having the same epiphany I am: Holy shit. This isn’t even the show. No one’s in here. These guys are doing what they’re doing.
Gretchen Funk: That D4th show [on the Fourth of July, 2015, in the bar’s alley] was probably my favorite show at the Triple Rock: Lifter Puller and Against Me [...everyone on that bill made me happy.
Dan Monick: We weren’t announced at all. I mean, everyone knew, but we were never announced until we walked on stage.
Jill Lestina-Warnest: Lifter Puller—we knew we had to jump on that, because we knew that was going to go fast.
Marc Warnest: I think we might have gotten that tip from one of the bartenders.
Steve Barone: I do remember classic Lifter Puller technical problems.
Craig Finn: We kick off the first song and I’m starting to smell smoke. I look to my right and there’s literally flames coming out of Steve’s amp. I see the roadie guy—running upstairs with a spare amp.
Laura Jane Grace: The D4th of July, I felt like Star Wars at the end of the movie, where everyone’s standing around getting medals. It was more of a celebration at the end, especially because it was an outside show.
Gretchen Funk: We were on the roof watching fireworks after the show with Laura’s daughter and some of the staff. It just felt so comfortable.
Erik Funk: It was a magical evening.
Gretchen Funk: A lot of things opened in [Minneapolis] between 2008 and 2015. A lot of our employees would go get jobs at new places because there was a surge of activity.
Erik Funk: There was a bubble. We started doing the shows in 2003. We didn’t get restabilized until probably 2007, 2008, and then we had a great stretch till probably 2012, 2013. Things just started getting more and more difficult again, for all kinds of reasons. By 2015, 2016, if we didn’t have a show, we’d have no one there.
Dave Hause: The Loved Ones did a 10-year reunion of our first record in 2016. Somebody actually threw a quarter and split my head open at the show, an angry fan. That’s the last time I played the Triple Rock. Here’s the weird thing: I could sense that the place, in some ways, had run its course.
Gretchen Funk: In the last two years, it was financially just really unstable.
Erik Funk: It closed in November of ’17.
Anna Eveslage (Triple Rock regular): I got friendly with a couple of bartenders and with Beth the server—she was always our server at brunch. In fact, on the day when I went for the last show at Triple Rock, she was there and she’d been drinking. She gave me a hug and said, “Anna, who’s gonna get you drunk on Sundays now?”
Laura Jane Grace: The last time I played in St. Paul was at that new brewery venue [Dark Horse], and I was really happy to see the old Triple Rock marquee above the bar. It brought a tear to my eye, and it hit me in the chest while I was on stage playing, just how very much I miss the Triple Rock.