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City Pages: Best Book (Nonfiction)

City Pages

Shiffer_King coverMinneapolis isn’t what it used to be. Whether you assume that to be good or bad might change after you read The King of Skid Row, a historical account of the Gateway District during the 1950s and ’60s by journalist James Eli Shiffer. John Bacich (a.k.a. Johnny Rex) was at the center of it all as the former owner of a bar, liquor store, and “cage hotel” (tiny, one-room crash pads) in the area. Through interviews with, and photographs taken by, Bacich, Shiffer uncovers a forgotten demographic: wayward bachelors bereft of employment, families, or a place to call home. Sociology students researched them, mission workers tried to “save” them, and police busted them for excessive intoxication. Shiffer vividly evokes the neighborhood at its violent and drunken peak in this vivid and fascinating account of a bygone era.

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The King of Skid Row