WORDS BY PATRICK STRAIT
When the Green Room opened its doors in late January, co-owner Tanner Montague had no idea what to expect.
Sure, the Uptown venue, previously occupied by the far bro-ier Pourhouse, had undergone a total makeover, complete with faux plants, refinished bathrooms, and an upgraded sound system. But as a musician himself, Montague knew that he needed more than just a fresh coat of paint.
“I built the space focusing on the musicians’ experience,” he says. “How is the sound? How does it feel? What does it look like? What amenities does the band get? Once the band was happy, we started looking at what we could do for the bartenders. Is it too loud? Can we deaden the sound by the bar so they can mix drinks for people without screaming?”
If you’re wondering why he didn’t mention the audience experience, there’s a very particular reason for that.
“I’ve said it many times, but the audience comes last,” Montague continues. “If the band is happy and feels like rock stars, and the bartenders are happy and paid well, then really there’s nothing else the audience needs to see a band and know it’s going to be a great show.”
Montague’s winding road to becoming a club owner is a fascinating one. Originally from Seattle, he first found himself in Minnesota to attend McNally Smith College of Music. After graduation, he spent the next five years working on cruise ships as a musician, before moving back to Minnesota two years ago with the intention of transitioning into a career in video production. But the Twin Cities music scene had other plans for him.
“This fell in my lap based on connections I rekindled from college, and new ones I made over the past two years,” Montague says.
While his background and networking skills have shown Montague a lot about the live music industry, as a first-time club owner, he admits that he’s embracing a learning curve in his new role.
“I said yes to the opportunity, even though I had never done anything quite like it,” he says. “But I have really cool mentors who I meet with regularly to get advice and learn their experience in terms of what to expect next. I’m focused every day on what’s in front of me, instead of worrying too much about the big picture of like, how the club is going to impact the community.”
What’s in front of him has been packed houses every weekend since the opening, with local sensations like Alex Rossi Trio, Gully Boys, and The Cherry Pit christening the new space.
“I always have, like, the lowest expectations with every show,” Montague says, laughing. “I’m worried that no one is going to show up. And then when people do, I tend to ask how they found about the show or how they found out about the spot, and it always catches me off guard. They’ll say, ‘Oh, I saw you guys moving in a month ago,’ or just, you know, social media, or ‘I saw you on the news.’ And I always just think, ‘Wow, this is crazy.’”
While the audience—regardless of whether they’re the first or last priority for the space—has had incredibly positive feedback for the venue, Montague says the casual bar-hopping community in Uptown is still getting used to the change.
“Everyone is welcome. Always. But typically there will be a ticket for our events,” Montague says. “We’re not actively trying to get a certain audience, but when people come here they come in with the intention of seeing a show. We’ve had people who have come in thinking of a similar vibe to what was here before, and they didn’t expect to pay a $20 cover. For a sports bar or a club that might be a little high, and that’s OK. There are plenty of other places around that they can end up going. But we get people who want to support the bands and see the music rather than just being a space to hang out.”
Though the club is perfect for anyone who wants to get in the mix and be up close and personal with the band, it also features several different rooms throughout the venue, giving audience members the option of enjoying the show in a more relaxed setting, without having to stand front and center.
The spring schedule is already beginning to fill up, with residencies from locals Kai Brewster’s Millions, Alex Rossi, and Jeremy Harvey & Bad Dad Band, as well as out of towners like Pearl & The Oysters and Mega Mango, perhaps proving that rumors of Uptown’s death have been greatly exaggerated.
“People are entitled to whatever they want to think, and a lot of it is valid,” he says. “But I truly believe in this place, so it doesn’t affect how I think. Like people say it [Uptown is dead], but I’m sure I’m going to book a show you’re going to want to come to at some point.”
With the new Uptown Theater space scheduled to open in May and more neighborhood bars, restaurants, and entertainment spaces opening soon, Montague says he feels like the Green Room managed to get in on the ground floor of a major turnaround.
“If I was a music lover, I could go see you know, John Mayer or something across the street [at Uptown Theater], and then come over here and see some great local group in the Green Room, and then go across the street and play mini golf at Arts and Rec,” he says enthusiastically. “And that isn’t at all a dream. It’s all going to be happening here in the next few months. The whole idea of people being able to have one big city block to do so many different things like I remember is exciting.”