And Then There Was One... Farewell to the Bee Hive, the Twin Cities' Penultimate 3.2 Bar

Somehow this news escaped me, but the Bee Hive Tavern closed down last month. The Pioneer Press had a poignant write-up of its economic demise a few weeks ago ("...it feels like the end of an era, with no one there to see it..."). The article is short and sweet and you should read it.

I am a bit sad about the Bee Hive's inevitable demise because the place had long been one of my most treasured historical anecdata. I first discovered the Bee Hive after a friend of mine moved to the East Side, bought a house on Forest Street a few blocks away. He lasted a few years before the drug dealers and petty nuisances drove him away, but when I'd go over to visit I would pass by the curious Bee Hive building, half of which was an old former barber shop, and the original bar which dated back to 1887, and had been a Schmidt "tied house" saloon in the 20s and 30s.

I was so enamored of the odd Bee Hive that I listed it in my recent City Pages "Saint Paul dive bar guide". Here's what I wrote, only a few months ago:
The windowless white walls of the Bee Hive Tavern, on Forest Avenue in Dayton’s Bluff, hide the last 3.2 bar in St. Paul, where Zima has been on the menu since it went out of style the first time. John, the owner, is almost always there, and this quiet bar is a great place to hang out and watch cable TV or Vikings games, or to simply sit in silence while drinking “ponies” of weak beer. The building dates back to 1887, and the bar used to be owned by the Schmidt brewery back when “tied houses” were legal. Like its 3.2 counterpart in north Minneapolis, the T-Shoppe, this is the last gasp of the golden age of prudent prurience.

I can only hope that a few City Pages readers made it over to Dayton's Bluff and had a "pony" of Old Style before the place went belly up.

The owner and ubiquitous bartender John was a nice guy, if adverse to change. He's previously owned a 3.2 joint in Frogtown called "The Family Inn," where (I was later told) people would be able to bring in their own bottles of booze and, for a small fee, mix them with bar-supplied juice. THat was the old business model, very fly-by-night and, for John anyway, very lucrative.

The new business model is something altogether different. I can only imagine how many hours John spent sitting alone in the Bee Hive watching cable TV shows about antique salvage or fixing old cars, waiting in vain for someone to walk through the door to order cheap lager.

Well, let's hope John got a payout. Farewell Bee Hive. You were the last of an era, that's for sure. Now, only the T-Shoppe remains.

Here are the Bee Hive tasting notes from my Noteworthy Dive Bars of the Greater East Side bike tour, from last year. Those were the good ol' days.

So anyway the Bee Hive is funny. It's all white and windowless and John, who has owned the place for 40 years, is always there. Always, every time I've been there. He's often there alone, watching reality shows about salvage or thrifting or old cars. The building dates to 1887. Half of it used to be a laundromat but at some point they took out the interior wall and consolidated the space. John didn't change the name when he bought it, and doesn't know the origins of the insectile moniker.
John used to own a long-shuttered bar in Frogtown called the "Family Inn," which I'd always found to be an amusing name. I asked John about it and he said something like "oh well it was different in those days. You'd bring your family to the bar, kids, everyone."
John often talks about the old days, somehow unromantically wistful, and how many shift workers used to pour into his bars at all hours of the day.
"Made a lot of money," John says, "but things are different now."
The first time I went there, visiting a friend who lived in the neighborhood, I remember seeing Zima on the menu. I asked John about it the other day and he admitted that he kept a case of it around for years after it disappeared, as a joke. The menu is still there on the wall, but there's a piece of paper covering the Zima. I wonder how much he charged?
Someone said to me, "the Bee Hive? That's a 3.2 bar." And I didn't believe them because I didn't know there were any 3.2 bars in Saint Paul. (isn't that a Minneapolis thing?) But lo an behold, it's true. Something to do with being close to schools or churches or both. All they have on tap is PBR and Hamm's, available for $1.50 per half-pint. The bar's population peaks during Vikings games, when they sometimes serve up purple jello shots every time the Vikes score.
Mostly the room is empty though.

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