Hats Off to Quirky Betty Danger’s Country Club
Jodi Schoenauer of The Marsh was one of 1,500 with a ticket to the Kentucky Derby party at Betty Danger’s May 6.
Betty Danger’s childhood humiliation on the golf course of a tony country club motivated her years later to open her own country club for the other 99 percent of us. So don’t expect to see Donald Trump playing a round there.
Actually, no one plays golf at Betty Danger’s Country Club, except for a rousing game of miniature golf, where the ninth hole, involving a goat, is located on the roof of the club. The quirky Tex-Mex restaurant in Northeast Minneapolis—or Mexampton, as they call it—is approaching its second birthday and it won’t go unnoticed thanks to its deliberately tacky bubble-gum pink and green siding and giant “vertically rotating patio,” or Ferris wheel, as the rest of us call it.
Betty is the mythical sister of Psycho Suzi, another popular Northeast restaurant on the Mississippi River, and Donny Dirk’s Zombie Den. All the characters’ backstories for the restaurants are from owner Leslie Bock’s fertile imagination. Before she turns the project over to the translators of her imagination, she writes up a two-page story for the concept (Betty’s history can be read on her restaurant's website).
Server Kylee Dooher's Kentucky Derby party hat contrasts nicely with her staff T-shirt and dagger tattoo.
“Leslie’s backstory [for Betty] changed,” says Tom Wasmoen, CEO of Firm Ground, the architect and engineer firm hired to make Bock’s dream tangible. Originally, the character was an apocalyptic, threadbare Betty, whose husband, a Mad Max type, bought her a Ferris wheel to keep her happy. Instead of the preppy-gone-wrong décor of today, the original look was more “an amusement park in Chernobyl,” he adds.
In keeping with its country club elitist roots, the restaurant hosted a Kentucky Derby party in May, where the couple of minutes when the horses took the track for the historic run was secondary to the mint juleps and hat watching. Our cover girl, Jodi Schoenauer, who heads up the food and beverage offerings at The Marsh, didn’t win the best hat contest, but she did hear everyone’s Green Bay Packer story after posing for numerous pictures. Fun is Bock's calling card.
Bock sourced most of the “props” herself, such as the wallpaper, giant animals for the miniature golf course and the old books that serve as menus, Wasmoen points out.
“Her vision drives the art. Leslie is a very creative person and with that creativity is chaos,” he says, grinning.
For a year, Firm Ground worked on plans for the original site, a skinny piece of land vacated by an old A&W stand. “And then the carwash [next door] sold and that set of plans went out the window,” he says.
With more space, Bock envisioned three tiers, all with a different theme. “The city said it had to be handicapped accessible,” so they were down to two tiers. The front is more “traditional country club” (and we’re using those words loosely) with Astroturf-covered sconces for the table lights, chandeliers and plaid and horse-themed wallpaper. The garden room has a fireplace and lots of light thanks to large roll-up doors, which are the original carwash doors.
Tom Wasmoen of Firm Ground said the project wasn’t easy, but translating restaurateur Leslie Bock’s vision is exciting.
“She wanted to be green,” Wasmoen explains, which entailed incorporating the existing car wash into the country club theme. A maple tree, not in the most strategic location, stayed as did the original rotating A&W sign which became the Betty Danger’s sign. They were also instructed to save the lava rock on the outside of the stand. “We meticulously removed it and saved it for the front of the building,” he says.
“We had to do physical and visual measuring so there’s no surprises, [and] so you don’t shortsheet the bed, so to speak,” he continues. “There’s a lot of water with a carwash,” so the base concrete had to be repaired. What seemed like a perfect setup, rolling up the giant doors to park the food truck inside, became another project when the truck proved too high for the doors.
The “vertically rotating patio” was ordered from Italy and Wasmoen recalls that not speaking Italian complicated ensuring the specs were met. The baskets were custom made and after it was shipped to the U.S., they installed tables with drink holders so guests on the slow ride can eat and drink. While what’s above ground is pretty impressive, even more so is what’s underground—“$60,000 worth of concrete.”
Wasmoen says they spent a lot of time talking to city inspectors, but in the end it was the insurance company that had the most stringent rules.
There were also rules for laying out the mini-golf course, but these were from Bock. No humps, no hazards to harm the animal statues and art over sport. Designer Jim Smart worked with Bock on the interior decorating.
The project, which hit several roadblocks, was challenging, but in the end: “There’s something thrilling about
creating something that hasn’t been done before, ” Wasmoen says.
From the top of the Ferris wheel at Betty Danger’s Country Club, you have one of the best views of downtown Minneapolis and of the goat marking the ninth hole.