King of Skid Row, The: John Bacich and the Twilight Years of Old Minneapolis By James Eli Shiffer

The Minneapolis band the Gateway District was named after the Minneapolis neighborhood that served as the city’s skid row from the late nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century. As a city, Minneapolis is fond of demolishing any evidence that its downtown was ever home to the less-than-respectable. I lived in Minneapolis for most of the ‘90s, but never came across the phrase “Gateway District” until I read about the band in this magazine.

Star-Tribune reporter James Eli Shiffer interviewed, for many hours, John Bacich, Gateway District entrepreneur. After trying to run a south-of-downtown restaurant in which, literally, every employee stole from him, and after trying and failing to make a killing in California real estate, he opened a bar, a liquor store, and a “cage hotel” in the Gateway District. (Perhaps Bacich’s spirits following his failures matched the spirit of the District, and that’s why he set up shop there, but Bacich never really explains the why.)

The reader learns about “cage hotels” and “gandy dancers” and the origin of the phrase “skid row.” The King of Skid Row, in its way, belongs on the shelf with such AK Press volumes as You Can’t Win and Sister of the Road, and features many interesting stories, but it is a reporter’s book published by a university press, and frequently cites the work of sociologists (one of whom goes balls-out to undergo the experience of being a District denizen who’s arrested by the police). You won’t be bored (unless you only enjoy first-person narratives), but this isn’t outlaw literature.

And those interested in Minneapolis history should particularly welcome the insights into municipal corruption and its confines, to which Bacich ultimately adjusted. –Jim Woster (University of Minnesota Press, upress.umn.edu)