“Welcome to the Country Club for the 99% Membership not required.” With its debut in 2015, Betty Danger’s Country Club quickly became one of the hipper bar restaurants in Minneapolis. A sister restaurant to the infamous Psycho Suzi’s, Betty’s was known for its ferris wheel (affectionately known as “The Danger”), fun froo froo drinks, mini golf and also its support of the local art scene. Not only did Betty’s participate in the annual spring open gallery tour Art-A-Whirl, and host numerous Members Art Shows in the bright green garage area, but the restaurant was filled with artwork from local artists collected by the owner.
And that’s where I come in. Back in 2015 after the restaurant was opened, I was contacted by Genie Castro, an artist whom I met a few years prior when she purchased my Thanksgiving Barbie at the Minnesota State Fair Fine Arts Exhibition. She had two inquiries: First, she wanted to get my Christmas Party Barbie hung in the dining room. Second, she wanted a custom piece created specifically for Betty Danger’s. I’ll be honest, I’ve never had a request like that and I was incredibly excited at the opportunity. I had Christmas Party Barbie framed in a big ornate gold frame, in keeping with the dining room aesthetic.
For the custom piece for the restaurant, I thought about the “back story” for the fictional Betty:
“Betty is the youngest sibling of the Van Der Bock family. When Betty was 5, she went to a country club with her parents. When she tried to play with some other little girls at the club, they made fun of her mismatched tartans and lack of croquet etiquette, causing Betty to become very distraught. She began running wildly across the golf course with tears streaming down her swollen face towards what she thought was a gorilla, a ferris wheel, and a pack of green ponies but passed out on the lawn due to hyperventilation and hysteria. Her parents took her home. She arrived safe at home in her bed and when she awoke, she vowed to open her own country club someday… one that welcomes everyone.”
I decided to use Barbie as Betty, an outcast within the stereotypical country club circles. I wanted Barbie in the extreme foreground, the rest of the group in the background, but still in focus. The color palette was a no-brainer: Pink and green (matching the restaurant). For the outfits, I went with Barbie’s Garden Party and Dancing Doll due to the fact that they’re pink and have the right “look.” For the Kens, I thought the tennis outfit and the preppy suit were on point. I already had the perfect fake green grass, but the background was a little more elusive. The issue is that finding a generic stock photo of golf course greenery ended up being more difficult than I had anticipated. Patience and a lot of searching finally paid off, and ultimately I had all the components to start shooting. Country Club Barbie was ultimately completed and framed in a gaudy gold frame and hung in the dining room. I was pretty darn proud.
One of the best things about creating a positive partnership with a place like Betty’s is that it didn’t end with me handing over the custom photograph. A few years later, after a fun filled Art-A-Whirl weekend, two more of my photos were purchased to adorn the walls. State Fair Barbie was hung near The Danger (fitting, as it has a pink Ferris wheel in the scene) and Tropical Barbie was placed in the newly remodeled front room.
I wasn’t able to participate in the first two, but ultimately I would be part of the annual Betty’s Bizarre Bazaar. Hands down the quirkiest holiday sale I’ve ever seen. It was wildly popular, with lines out the door with folks waiting to get in, even during snow storms. Sadly, I had no idea that the 2019 Bazaar would mark the end of an era. Betty’s closed for the winter after the holidays and then Covid hit. Tragically, it was just one of the many restaurant casualties caused by the pandemic.
Now, even though Art-A-Whirl went all online in 2020, I had been working on a particular piece to unveil on that weekend long before the pandemic hit and before Betty’s closed. The owner of Betty’s and Suzi’s had asked on numerous occasions if I had a tiki bar themed photo, and I never did. I decided to create my Tiki Bar Barbie to be revealed at the Members Show at Betty’s that weekend. My hope was that she’d like to hang it in Psycho Suzi’s afterwards. But, the best laid plans… I still created my photo as planned and I still released it Art-A-Whirl weekend, just via social media instead of in person. I inquired with Suzi’s General Manager to see if there was any interest in having Tiki Bar Barbie in the restaurant and, to my delight, there was. I gifted them a framed piece, as a small token of my appreciation for everything that Betty’s had done for me. In 2021, I’ll see Tiki Bar Barbie in her new home.