Red's Savoy, Last Bastion of Greater Lowertown, Finally Crumbles

When my cat died a few years back, after I had held her as she was put down, I got pretty sad. Afterward, for some reason, the only place I wanted to go was Red's Savoy on East 7th. There was something about the place, the combination of pizza and atmosphere, that offered cozy comfort I needed. If there's an American version of hygge, the Danish/Norwegian concept of "snug", it would have been abundant at Red's.

This is to say that I was very sad to see the closing of the old place. I liked the original Red's Savoy for many reasons, and the pizza wasn't even one of them!

[Super snug.]
First, it seemed to me that it was the one place in all of Saint Paul that was most trapped in the 1970s. As I wrote in my "Saint Paul By Decade" post:
Walking into Red’s, which was founded in the mid-1960s, does feel like what I imagine the 70s to have been, all weird color palettes and urban dystopian vibe. I’m sure the pizza hasn’t changed much, either, nor have the sometimes-questionable bar conversations about East Side crime or the struggling economy.
It turns out, I was right. The pizza, and indeed the entire situation at the OG Red's Savoy, was synonymous with Red himself. (The place even had a vaguely racist vibe that matched the time... or maybe that was all in my head... [Thanks Eric!]) According to the recent restaurant eulogies, Red was always there, either back in the kitchen making pizzas or sitting at the bar.

Here's the Pioneer Press report:
Schoenheider, 82, died Aug. 21 after a brief illness, and many of the restaurant’s customers knew him well. The imposing 6-foot-4-inch man often sat at the end of the bar with a beer and a shot, shooting the breeze with customers, after he was done working for the day.
His children said that in 52 years, he never took a vacation, and worked 365 days a year, even on Christmas, when he would open the restaurant to do inventory and give some of his less-fortunate buddies a place to come on the holiday.
I suppose the 1970s had to come to an end someday, but I wish it hadn't.*

The second reason I loved Red's was for it's parking lot, home to one of the most ignominious tales in recent Saint Paul lore. The parking lot, always visible on the black and white closed circuit monitor, was famed for one thing: the famous sting that caught former Mayor and Senator Norm Coleman's octogenarian dad in a car with a prostitute.

Here are some excerpts. From the City Pages:
What's this nation coming to when the unbridled passions of an 81-year-old man are scorned and not celebrated? St. Paul Police were called to Red's Savoy Inn and Pizza on East Seventh Street last July to find Norman B. Coleman Sr., the father of U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, canoodling with 38-year-old Patrizia M. Schrag in the parking lot. Coleman Sr. received a citation when he deserved a medal of valor. Dig, if you will, the picture: A lady by his side, the smell of oregano and pepperoni on the warm summer wind, the hum of the nearby traffic racing—quite a romantic moment for the senior senator's senior. Then came the tsk-tsking, the pearl-clutching, the head-shaking by the muckety-mucks. Coleman's own son practically labeled him a degenerate when he mourned, "He clearly has some issues that need to be dealt with, and I will encourage him to seek the necessary help." Coming soon: the Norm Coleman Sexual Rehabilitation Center and Shaming Annex. We suggest a commemorative plaque outside the pizzeria instead.
And from the Pioneer Press:

St. Paul police cited the 81-year-old father of Sen. Norm Coleman and a female companion after officers reported seeing them engaged in a sex act in the parking lot of a popular pizzeria.
A person passing Red Savoy's Pizza at 421 E. Seventh St. called police about 6:30 p.m. Tuesday and said two people were "having sex in a vehicle," a police report said.
Beverly Coleman, the elder Coleman's wife and the senator's mother, said she was shocked to learn of the citation.
"I can't believe that is true," said Beverly Coleman, who lives in New Jersey.
Her husband has emphysema, she said, and suffers from symptoms that could be the beginning of Alzheimer's disease.

Well it was true. There was something about Red's Savoy that was mana from heaven for old right-wing Saint Paul. I wish that plaque had been erected. [sic]

The third and greatest reason Red's was important, though, was that it was the last bastion of the old neighborhood that used to connect Lowertown to Railroad Island and the East side. Back in the early 20th century, there used to be a whole industrial area of the city, a mix of industry and warehouses and bars, that was erased in favor of freeways and parking lots during the 1960s.

Red's represented the last stand of the old neighborhood.

Here's what I wrote about it a few years ago, after another story about cars crashing into the sides of historic buildings.

In Saint Paul, Red’s Savoy Inn offers the extreme case. Red’s Savoy is an old school Italian bar and restaurant, chock full of character. It’s also an island in sea of freeway interchanges, nearly the last remnant of an old industrial neighborhood that was folded into the old rail yards that used to dominate the east end of downtown Saint Paul.

During the 1960s, almost all of the neighborhood was torn down as three freeways were rammed through the neighborhood (Interstate 35E, 94, and US Highway 52 all come together here). As locals are fond of pointing out, because of one badly designed on-ramp, so many cars have gone through the front of the building that they built a permanent concrete barrier on the sidewalk.

That Red’s Savoy is still standing is a testament to resilience, not just to the economic tides, but to the literal violence of cars smashing upon its bricks like waves. Saint Paul’s Gibraltar.

That's how things stood a few years ago, but things change. Here's another line from the Pioneer Press piece:
The restaurant’s closure comes after the completion of the reconstructed Lafayette Bridge, which fixed the problem of vehicles careening into the building.
Over the years, several semi trucks and vehicles and at least one motorcycle ended up in the dining room.
Well, I guess time, erosion, and automobiles will always win in the end. Not even Gibraltar will stand forever. (Take note, Prudential Insurance!)

Rest In Pieces, Red's Savoy Inn. You were a symbol of obstinacy, for better and for worse. Saint Paul is a lesser place without you.

* The whole ADA angle is upsetting, given what I have heard about the lawyer behind it, who is basically using disabled people to operate a shakedown scam. The guy has used ADA threats to get settlement money from over a dozen of the historic older businesses in Saint Paul, many of which have thin margins and very old buildings. Note: if he had wanted to actual help businesses get to be ADA accessible, often in ways that might or might not be legally required, he would have filed a complaint under state and not Federal law, which allows for some compliance time and sometimes also even provides funding.

No, this is / was a simple scam.

Update: In what Tad Vezner calls "cruel and unusual punishment," Coleman Sr. was banned from Red's for a year after the incident!

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