If you drive around Minneapolis, you may never happen upon Darby’s Pub & Grill. If you park near the North Loop on Twins game days, you can hardly miss it.
Marcus Dorn bought Darby’s more than 10 years ago. He has catered events for the Twins at Target Field, and hosted a few of the team’s corporate parties. He knows president Dave St. Peter and chief business officer Laura Day well, and he’s a season-ticket holder.
At heart, Darby’s is a good old-fashioned baseball bar, the kind of place you stop for a beer, burger and ballgame.
On Monday, baseball’s owners and players attempted to reach a new collective bargaining agreement. The owners had set the day as a deadline for completing an agreement in time to start the regular season on schedule.
Every passing day could mean fewer regular-season games at Target Field.
Baseball owners will be fine. They’re billionaires, many of whom, like the Pohlads, inherited their wealth.
The players at the negotiating table will be fine. Those prominent enough to be at the negotiating table are well-off.
Fans, too, will be fine. Baseball is an entertainment option in a world filled with entertainment options.
In Minnesota, the people most likely to be hurt by canceled games are bar and restaurant owners near Target Field.
“I’ve owned this place for just over 10 years,” Dorn said on Monday. “The last two have sure been a test of willpower, that’s for sure.”
Over the last two years, Dorn and other Minneapolis business owners have dealt with a trio of threats to their existence.
COVID and its resulting workplace restrictions have wiped out the business lunch and happy hour crowds. The murder of George Floyd and its aftermath dampened enthusiasm for going downtown for a drink or meal.
The Twins haven’t helped. They played a shortened-by-COVID season in 2020 without fans in the stands. They started the 2021 season with limited crowds, and then they ensured crowds would remain limited with their performance.
They posted a record of 73-89. They were never in contention. They may have been the most disappointing Twins team in decades.
“A big part of our business model is based on the fact that we are a block away from Target Field,” Dorn said. “We count on those 81 home games a year to make ends meet. These last two years, not only did we not have baseball for an entire season, but we didn’t have a workforce in downtown Minneapolis.
“I mean, everything that my business model is based on has been nonexistent for two years.”
Has he been in crisis? Has he worried about being forced to close?
“Yes to both of those,” he said. “What we really need is another 100-win season. We need weather that’s conducive to outdoor baseball. People are slowly starting to come back to work, but we really need a lot of people back in the office buildings.
“I don’t think it will ever be like it was pre-COVID, but even if we can get people working in a hybrid model, that would help.”
While many bars and restaurants simply closed during the height of COVID, Dorn tried to survive with delivery and pickup options. “I’ve stayed open,” he said. “I’m trying to keep my employees — most of my kitchen staff are Ecuadorian — employed. To some degree, it paid off, because we were one of the only businesses, bars or restaurants in this neighborhood that were open full time for takeout and curbside. But by doing that, I also missed out on some government money that I would have if I had just shut the doors.”
Dorn needs the game. He is tormented by the game. He loves the game, no matter what it does to him.
“After I’ve been at Darby’s all day,” he said, “it puts a smile on my face when I walk into Target Field and grab a beer and enjoy some outdoor baseball.”
Jim Souhan is a sports columnist for the Star Tribune. He has worked at the paper since 1990, previously covering the Twins and Vikings.
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