The Listing – James Ballentine Uptown VFW Post 246
- 2916 Lyndale Ave. S.
- Minneapolis, MN 55408
- The post was opened in 1919, the building opened in 1954, renovated recently for larger events and live music
- 3,200 square feet, 444 for venue capacity
- Depending on the show, all seating is moveable
- Full menu served late, with breakfast served on the weekends. Two large bars can provide quick service, even on busy nights.
- 50 free parking in the back of the venue. Street parking is tricky due to the Uptown area.
As the last VFW post in Minneapolis, the James Ballentine Uptown VFW has wisely adapted and remained relevant in a thriving area. The post started in 1919 in honor of James Ballentine, a lieutenant in Machine Gun Co. 3rd Infantry. James was killed in action while in France late October 1918. Born in Minneapolis, James served as Senior Class President and captain of his track team. His contribution to Minnesota sports culminated while at the University of Minnesota, winning the track championship in 1916. Laid to rest at Victory Memorial Drive, James is honored and reflected throughout the venue in pictures, paintings, plaques, and his Purple Heart hanging on the wall. The VFW was built in 1954, providing a permanent location for veterans in the Twin Cities. The original back bar has been featured on Esquire TV’s Best Bars of America and remains untouched by major remodeling.
The VFW hosts a variety of events. Routine events like Vingo (video bingo), Ballentine’s Burlesque, MPR’s Transmission dance party, comedy showcases, and karaoke fill their calendar. F1RST Wrestling events quickly sell out, and they also host community leagues for yard games throughout the year. Nothing is more Minnesota than meat raffles and pull tabs, which they also routinely have running. It’s this variety and tradition that brings a community back every week.
Each event has its regulars. As one patron explained to me, “Karaoke saved this bar.” When smoking was banned no one wanted to go out to bingo and socialize. The VFW was contemplating shutting down but instead added karaoke. This led to a renewed interest and suddenly a destination place to strut your stuff. It’s considered one of the best sounding karaoke spaces in the cities and is often filled to the brim.
The music venue has some unique perks for artists. The in-house, custom Ellis Drum kit, along with their 2018 Fender Bassman 500 (with a 4×10 cab), are used frequently at shows. Their ability to internally live stream throughout TV’s and sound systems in the space is also a nice touch and option for the right event. The large 20′ x 14′ stage can accommodate any act, although salsa nights with Malamanya fills up the stage.
Exclusive pinball machines and dart boards sit along the back wall, giving attendees entertainment options at any time of the day.
The venue is rectangular in shape, giving the audience space to filter and move throughout. A drop-down screen is available for use, making music video dance parties very popular as well. Like a Swiss Army tool, the venue is designed to adapt and accommodate a large swathe of events.
For many fans, seeing where artists gather before performing has always been a mystery. The VFW was gracious enough to show us this space. Hunkered down below the venue is a green room for artists. The room is often used for internal meetings, so depending on availability this lounge provides a quiet oasis for bands to prepare for a show. Custom VFW art and information on James Ballentine cover the walls, providing inspiration and strengthening the core values of the venue.
Sitting in the back bar, surrounded by regulars and veterans, you can’t help but feel the history around you. As the largest and oldest war veterans service organization, the Veterans of Foreign Wars have a long and proven history of providing vital assistance and support to America’s service veterans. As a non-profit, all proceeds after covering costs goes back to local initiatives and programs to assist veterans in the Twin Cities. The VFW is a destination hangout while in Uptown, and the contribution they make back to the services and veterans in the community always makes you feel good.
This November 4th they will be celebrating their 100 year anniversary. The immediate theme behind the event is gratitude, which they plan on doing by inviting members and people that have meant the most to their location. Plans are still being made, but they are already expecting a packed day with 600-700 attendees.
Joe Holland, Event Manager
Joe Holland and his team continue to upgrade the venue, concentrating on progress and avoiding stagnancy. Like many sound guys, his past includes playing in bands, recording, and exploring music all over the cities. Joe was able to handpick his sound engineers, building a team from the ground up. It’s this experience that drives him to better support the venue, as he knows direct ways to improve.
His sound system is robust and provides plenty of power for the space. Four EV QRx 212/75 mains and six EV TX118 sub-woofers are the spine of the system, while the digital Midas M32 mixer is the brain. The um-pf is apparent as Joe has to recenter the historic kick drum in the back of the room every month, due to the bass shifting it around. Their ability to provide six separate mixes through their Yamaha CM15V monitors is another helpful service for bands.
A1 sound tech Paul Hatlelid puts in the most time running sound at the venue. For a venue that has handled Supersuckers, Wayne Hancock, Junkyard, Dillinger Four, Run Westy Run, Spider John Koerner, and many more, it’s the high level of experience that matters. Paul’s depth of knowledge of the room and equipment makes for smooth shows with bands of all sizes and experience.
When asked about what makes the venue truly unique, Joe states it’s the trust and respect that the leadership team has for their work. They continue to provide resources to grow and build a great venue. This faith in Joe’s team gives him the ability to address any issue. For example, as with any large venue, hard surfaces become an immediate challenge. The paper mache ceiling treatment, along with heavy curtains surrounding the stage, have made drastic impacts on the room. Joe shared some upcoming upgrades for the venue, including new LED stage lighting, a new sound system, and updated audio-visual elements.
To start, 50 free parking spots in the Lyndale area is extremely rare, so always search that before resorting to street parking. Once inside, I highly suggest hitting the back bar first. The tradition and history in that space is worth absorbing. The VFW carries some unique and exclusive pinball machines, many of which you can’t find anywhere else in the Twin Cities. Bring a pocket of quarters. As for the venue, the best shows I’ve attended have been taken in while standing in the middle of the venue. You have a perfect view, developed sound waves, and the right balance of bass and treble. It’s my favorite sweet spot.
The Guest Room
by Scott Bryan, Copy Editor at Music in Minnesota
No, Dave, actually, this is about as cold as it gets.
Anyway, I scooted on over to the James Ballentine VFW. On a Friday night, this means navigating Lyndale Ave S. This tense line of traffic is comprised of motorists with mixed motivations. Everyone from drifting gawkers to late-delivery tractor trailers is accounted for. Then I circled the three block radius looking for parking, a feat that isn’t as ominous as it sounds. I found a cozy space on a residential side street, close enough to minimize the danger during the nose-hair-freezing walk to the venue.
Once inside, you can enjoy food and conversation in the main bar or hang a hard right into the music venue. If you’re there for a show, that’s all you need to do. The room with the stage is self-contained. It has access to the food menu, a full bar, and easy exits for between-act smokes and bathroom breaks.
Because it was -10 outside, my date for the evening had stayed in the apartment, but there was plenty of wandering room in the large, high-ceiling-ed space. The back of the hall is lined with pinball machines and dart boards which, as far as added features go, are pretty awesome and seemed a little neglected by the bearded, drink-in-hand hipster crowd in attendance. Again, maybe the weather kept the more side-quest inclined fans away, but I busied myself and blended in without any trouble.
The sound quality in the room is also a huge attribute. Unlike some other spaces that host local shows, the room is big enough to accommodate socializing and movement while the performance is happening. At some of the other intimate venues in the area, once the music starts one’s attention is uncontrollably locked in, there isn’t much room for deviation in focus.
I was blown away by openers, Black Widows, whose musical cauldron of goth surf rock can brighten eyes behind even the darkest of eyeliner. The room allowed me to have a casual chat at the merch table with bassist Pamela Laizure while balladeers Farewell Milwaukee crooned in the background. It was easy to purchase a pin, shake a hand, and bestow compliments before turning 45 degrees to hear some ‘Please Take Me Back’ Americana from the nearby stage.
Full schedule can be found here.
Music venues are the lifeblood of our community. By providing musicians the opportunity to showcase, collaborate, and experiment with their craft, venues are essential in their development. This series will continue to promote and support our local venues across Minnesota. Please see the previous articles below and go support local music. Our hope is these articles show the importance of supporting venues and places where creativity can thrive.