Just three days after news broke of owner Julius De Roma's support of David Duke, Clubhouse Jäger is closed, possibly for good.
If De Roma intends to reopen the bar, he'll need a new set of employees.
Sources close to Club Jäger say some staff quit shortly after City Pages first inquired about De Roma, and the $500 he gave to the white nationalist's U.S. Senate campaign last October. A staff meeting was called to inform employees of the news on Monday, and some immediately decided they couldn't work another shift at the popular Minneapolis bar.
Rob Callahan, a writer and events host who's run a weekly trivia night at Club Jäger for nine years, says when he was called in on short-notice for the Monday meeting, he assumed the bar was terminating his contract. Instead Callahan says he found almost the full roster of Jäger employees reeling from the news.
"Half the people were in tears," Callahan says, "and the other half were pretty much punching walls."
Callahan says he decided to wait one more day, to see if City Pages had sensationalized the report of De Roma's affinity for Duke, a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan. After reading the story Tuesday morning, Callahan canceled his trivia night at Jäger, just as other events organizers and performers did the same.
Subsequent news reports spread the word about De Roma, who also owns numerous properties in Uptown Minneapolis. Callahan says staff reported receiving threatening messages, and one server told of being recognized, pursued on the street, taunted as a "Nazi," and spit at. The bar's phone line was flooded with calls and voice messages disparaging both owner and employees.
Callahan says bar workers told him a small group of patrons -- people staff didn't recognize as customers from any night before -- actually showed up in support of De Roma on Wednesday night. The combined "weirdness" of those two days convinced management to open the bar one last night, then close it for good.
"Those who had stayed on stayed because they had families to feed," Callahan says, observing that employees who quit aren't eligible for unemployment benefits.
On Thursday, employees, family, and a handful of longtime regulars gathered at Jäger around 4 o'clock, Callahan says. Leftover food was collected for delivery to charity. Some people hugged, some cried, others gave farewell speeches. At midnight the non-employees left, and staffers stayed behind to close down the bar together one last night.
No one mentioned De Roma's name throughout the night, not that Callahan heard, and he says he's not aware of anyone being in contact with the owner this week, aside from De Roma's being informed that City Pages was attempting to reach him.
"[De Roma] did not reach out to us," Callahan says, "and none of us had any interest in seeing him again, and nothing good would have come of it anyway."
Callahan says he can only recall seeing Julius De Roma in the bar "three or four times" during the near-decade Callahan frequented Club Jäger.
City Pages' attempts to reach De Roma have been unsuccessful. On Tuesday, when WCCO showed up on the owner's doorstep, De Roma described his donation to Duke as a matter of "free speech" which was being "blown up beyond what it should be."
Employees started looking for other work as soon as they learned of De Roma's political connection, knowing both that the bar might not survive the controversy, and they didn't want to work there if it did.
"As far as I know, no one's secured another job yet, though I heard there have been businesses reaching out," says Callahan. "I would say that, to any businesses out there in town who need servers, bartenders, and cooks, and bar management, and want to hire people who said 'No' to working for a known racist, they should put the word out."
UPDATE: After this story published, journalist (and occasional City Pages freelancer) Tigger Lunney noted employees who quit a job are still eligible to file for unemployment in Minnesota, if the employee can demonstrate a "good reason" for leaving. Under state law, a "good reason" is defined as one:
"(1) that is directly related to the employment and for which the employer is responsible;
(2) that is adverse to the worker; and
(3) that would compel an average, reasonable worker to quit and become unemployed rather than remaining in the employment." Learn more about filing for unemployment here.
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