Noteworthy Dive Bars of Downtown Saint Paul Walking Tour, 1/25

The time has come once again to sally forth and wend our way through the streets of the city in search of the marginal.

This time, our gaze turns to the oldest part of the Twin City core, downtown Saint Paul, once home to the riverboats, gamblers, drunks, refugees, and traders who gave Pig's Eye its unsavory reputation.

Here's a quote to whet your appetite, describing (downtown) Saint Paul in 1846:

Almost every house is either a shop or a grocery [a euphemism for tavern] and certainly a grocery keeper cannot complain that he has had no patronage, for drinking whisky seems to occupy at least half the time of the worthy citizens of St Paul’s while the balance of their time is employed in cheating each other or imposing upon strangers.

Since it's very first days, downtown Saint Paul has been ground zero for booze and ill repute, a home for the homeless, a refuge for the shady. And yet, since Father Galtier first planted his boulder, built his church, and re-christened the city to honor of the saintly, downtown has proved a bitter contest. Old saloons have given way to the new offices, the swank hotels, the civilized parks. The downtown dives have moved around and replaced themselves, continually thorns in the sides of the realtors, the police, the building inspectors

Things are mostly different today, mostly "cleaned up" in today's downtown, with its heated real estate market and burgeoning craft culture. All the more reason to search for the dives, lost and found, forgotten and clinging on. We will walk less then two (2) miles, stopping along the way at four (4) actual bars and countless ghosts to experience the few remaining holes in the historic or modern walls of the center city.

Plus, it'll be the first day of winter carnival. We won't be going on the official "Moon Glow Pedestrian Parade", which ends at 6:15, but we'll be making our own version, trying to glean what the moon was like a century back, when dives were prolific in the streets of the city.

[A downtown Saint Paul saloon in 1910.]

What: Guided walking tour of dive bars of Saint Paul, past and present
When: Thursday 1/25, departing at 6:30
Where: Leaving from Kelly's Depot Bar
Who: Anyone of proper age and ability
Why: Because some of it is still there

See you then!

[The carpeted wall of the Hat Trick, decorated for Christmas.]


Sidewalk Poetry #56: Walking

Walking, I am listening
to a deeper way. Suddenly all my
ancestors are behind me.
Be still, they say. Watch and
listen. You are the result
of the love of thousands.

[Pincher, Oklahoma in the 1960s.]


Sidewalk Flotsam #7

 [Whiskey. Northeast, Minneapolis.]

 [Boot. Cedar-Riverside, Minneapolis.]

 [Box of strawberries. Downtown, Saint Paul.]

 [Pumpkin. West Side, Saint Paul.]

 [Paintbrush. West Side, Saint Paul.]

 [Box of rocks. West Side, Saint Paul.]

 [Fork in the road. Location forgotten. Downtown, Saint Paul.]

[Ramen. Northeast, Minneapolis.]


Reading the Highland Villager #198

[A cold Villager.]
[Basically the problem is that the best source of Saint Paul streets & sidewalks news is the Highland Villager, a very fine and historical newspaper. This wouldn't be a problem, except that its not available online. You basically have to live in or frequent Saint Paul to read it. Until this newspaper goes online, sidewalk information must be set free. See also: Three Reasons Why I Re-Blog the Highland Villager.]

Headline: For sale: 144 acres of prime riverside property in heart of a metropolis: Ford Motor puts former assembly plant on market
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: [Huh. Why haven’t I heard about this before?] Apparently there’s a public hearing on zoning [for some reason?] on 1/17.

Headline: McNally Smith College closes; students complete semester with help of unpaid faculty
Author: Kasey McKee

Short short version: The music school closed without warning. Article includes details of how it all played out, and the email sent by the founders. Also includes some history of the school and some quotes about how much things were change and the progress that was made. Article includes story about how students were kicked out of their dorms with little notice. [The staff were screwed, yes, but the students were especially screwed. The two founders / owners, by the way, have not been seen around. There had been a plan to make the school a non-profit institution with a governing board. That was about to happen but hadn’t happened yet. Also, the building was originally sold to the school for $1 and $1.5M in city financing. Today the property is worth at least ten times that, I was told. Also the end of the fall semester is the worst time to close a school. Summer would have been much much better for all involved, and given people a chance to maybe “save” the school. This really stinks and there are some clear heroes and villains here. Hopefully we learn more about what happened, but regardless, an excellent piece of reporting in the Villager! You might even call it a scoop.]

Headline: Coleman bows out on night note; mayor leaves behind a more vibrant St. Paul
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Chris Coleman is running for governor and isn’t mayor any more. Melvin Carter is mayor now. Article includes list of Coleman’s accomplishments during his 12 years, and also quotes.

Headline: City foresters will be cutting down 2,192 ash trees in 2018
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The trees are sick or will be sick and need to be cut down. Areas includes Highland, Summit-University, Merriam Park, and other places. It’s expensive, and will be on the regular property tax levy. People can treat the trees if they get a permit and pay for it themselves.

Headline: Site plan for Marshall-Moore apartments reviewed Jan. 4
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A developer wants to build an apartment building on the site of two homes. No variances or conditional use permits are required. Neighbors are concerned about teardowns, the building’s size, noise, parking, and student behavior. [The site plan was approved unanimously.]

Headline: Developer drops plan to raze Iglehart homes amid public outcry
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A developer [same guy as above] had planned to tear down two homes to build an apartment building. Article includes lots of details about the two homes’ history, which are at least a hundred years old it seems. Neighbors are concerned about traffic, parking, historic preservation, and students.

Headline: Rezoning supported for Morning Star site
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A church and its large parking lot will be rezoned to allow for a new building to be built that will have lots of apartments for old people and a new church space. Quote from developer: “we know resources are slim and want to do this without city assistance.” [That is quite the noble gesture, IMO.]

Headline: Committee set to review St. Kate’s plan to remove trees for new parking lot
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A university wants to cut down a bunch of trees to build a surface parking lot with 250 spaces.Neighbors are concerned about the loss of the woods. Quote from administrator: “I understand the controversy, nobody wants to see trees taken down.” [Apparently university administrators DO in fact want to see this, which is why they are doing it.] Another quote from the person: “we are all parked up.” [They should have a strong transportation demand management plan that encourages things besides “everyone drive”. This is basic university campus planning stuff.]

Headline: Public hearing set on noise exemption for soccer stadium
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: the soccer team building the stadium wants to get an exception from the city’s noise limit ordinances.

Headline: Council is poised to increase tax on charitable gambling
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The city wants to raise the tax from 2.5 to 3%. Nobody spoke for or against it. We are talking about pull tabs here. [This is where my inner Republican comes out: keep yer damn hands off the pull tabs.] 

Headline: City Council awards $250,000 for revitalization of Rice Park
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: 250K in STAR and CIB funds are going for some improvements in the park. [Meanwhile they just cut down some trees in the park  to make a one-month-long ice palace.]

Headline: UPDC to vote on a name for new Griggs Street park
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: There’s a new park in an old parking / vacant lot  and it needs a name. Choices include: Peace Park, Midway Park, Mosaic Park, Unity Park, and Tiwahe Park, which means “family” in Dakota. [My vote is for Tiwahe; everything else here is super boring.] Article includes brief history of the park.

Headline: Changes proposed for St. Paul’s two-year CIB funding cycle
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The city’s process for funding capital projects will be changed, probably, so that projects that are similar compete against each other. [See my old article on this.] Big city projects would be on a one year cycle, and smaller neighborhood projects would be on the other year. Lots have people have been working on the change for a while now. [What will the balance between these two budgets be?  Regardless, this seems like an overdue and welcome change to me.]

Headline: Food shelf serves ample portion of St. Catherine students in need
Author: Frank Jossi

Short short version: College students go to the food shelf for food. Quote from  organizer: “we’re realizing these students are taking on tremendous loans, find themselves in debt and having to work while being in school.” [But at least they have a shiny new parking lot. No new housing nearby, though.]


Signs of the Times #134

should get a
Speeding Ticket

[Sidewalk. Selby Avenue, Saint Paul.]


[Window. West End, Saint Paul.]


[Window. South Minneapolis.]

Pretty Please

Parking for Sale

[Boulevard. Frogtown, Saint Paul.]

Special Only 

for 2day

[Boulevard. North End, Saint Paul.]

 Memorial Garden
Look for Plants

[Tree. St. Anthony Main, Minneapolis.]


[Barrel. East Side, Saint Paul.]


Eight Biggest Twin Cities Urban Mistakes of 2017

[Just like it was before, only more shiny.]
There are lots of reasons to celebrate 2017, good things that happened like the pair of short-but-sweet curb-separated bikeways in both downtowns, lots of new housing projects replacing parking lots or other urban marginalia, new transit plans, and pedestrian / sidewalk improvements galore.

But let’s have some fun and bash some stuff instead. I was brainstorming this list while on a walk the other day. Perhaps you have something to add?

Caveat on the rules here: “errors of omission” don’t count. You can’t say, for example, “Minneapolis didn’t get rid of all parking minimums” or “Saint Paul didn’t build a bike lane on X Street.” Let’s focus instead on things that were actually done (or killed) over the past year.

#8. Nicollet Mall re-opens with buses and without a skyway connection

Some might disagree here, but I think it’s a mistake to re-make Nicollet Mall as a transit hybrid instead of a people-centered place. The design doesn’t really fix the main problem with downtown Minneapolis, which is the so-called skyway paradox. (Key problem: the lack of doorways, shops, stores on the street.)

And keeping buses on the street prevents it from truly being a café-centered place, where people could enjoy sidewalks and car-free spaces without having the noise and pollution of an idling bus waiting at the ever-present stoplights.

#7. Plastic bag ban ban

The legislature made a lot of mistakes while it devolved into a junior high cafeteria food fight, but for some reason the one thing everyone could agree upon was a ban on bans of plastic bags. Yes, that’s right: pre-emption on behalf of the plastic bag lobby, of all things.

Hopefully this is not a sign of things to come.

#6. Saint Paul’s abandonment of street fees

I still think Saint Paul should find a legal basis for charging street maintenance to non-profits and (state) government entities. Just throwing everything onto the property tax is a mistake, in my book.

#5. Killing the 4th Street Market District

One-lane 4th Street in downtown Saint Paul offers a golden opportunity to improve the streetscape, public spaces, and bike/walk access at almost no cost to the city. There was a study done to look at the options for transforming this marginal “street” into a useful bike/walk space.

Though it had support, it was quietly killed, I suspect at the behest of conservative downtown property owners.

#4. Half-assing the 38th Street bike lane

You can still park in it by the Fire Roast Café in the morning. Someone told me that the owner does this out of spite. Half-assing a bike lane is neither wise nor safe, and certainly not for an extra marginal parking space for a neighborhood coffee shop.

(The same thing happened on 40th Street by Chris and Rob's, IIRC.)

#3. Bus fare hike

Speaking of Metro Transit, raising the fares is not a wise nor morally defensible move. Every day I watch people dig for change to pay for the bus. This was a big tax on those who can least afford it, while we continue to subsidize the hell out of suburban riders, not to mention the mountains of taxpayer cash that go to reducing costs and congestion for those driving around in private cars.

#2. D-line de-listing

The aBRT plans are the single most effective and affordable transit investments on the table in the Twin Cities right now. The D-line is especially important, as it serves the poorest and most transit-dependent parts of Minnesota. This should have happened yesterday, and instead it's been demoted to "wish list" status.

(This might change, because I don't think the decision has been finalized.)

#1. Southwest LRT bid fiasco / wall thing

I don’t know what went on here, or here, but neither was good and both are terrible. The fact that this line continues to get delayed is just terrible news for a project that was already a mixed bag. This is quickly becoming an albatross for the Met Council, if it hasn’t already.

That’s all I could think of.

What did I miss? What’s on your list?

[Article is from 1987. See the rest at Magrino's Twitter.]


Two New Guide Booklets Now Available!

Hot off the presses, two new Guide Booklets are available for purchase.

The first is the long-awaited guide to Overlooked Parks of Saint Paul. Included within this 28-page booklet are a map, two essays involving notions of nature, historic information about Saint Paul's park development in particular, rumors, hazy photos, quotations or hearsay, atmospheric speculation, daydream transcriptions, and historical trivia about five (5) lesser known parks within the western reaches of Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Featured parks: Hampden Park, Newell Park, Iris Park / Union Park, Merriam Park, and Desnoyer Park.

Booklet cover is full color featuring custom dive bar artwork by Kit Leffler. Inside pages are black-and-white.

It's based on a tour I did waaaaaay back in 2014 as part of the short-lived Pedalopolis efforts.

Check it out on the online store!

The second booklet is a guide to Noteworthy Dive Bars of Inner Northeast Minneapolis, the companion to the Noteworthy Dive bars of Outer Northeast Minneapolis. In this one, you will a map, an essay on karaoke, guidelines for dive bars, rumors, hazy photos, quotations or hearsay, atmospheric speculation, daydream transcriptions, and historical trivia about five (5) dive bars that line the edge of the historic dive district of Northeast Minneapolis.

Featured dive bars: the Northeast Palace, Jimmy's, the Knight Cap, the Spring Street Tavern, and the Vegas Lounge.

Booklet cover is in full color featuring custom dive bar artwork by Emily Parks, based on a mural at the Knight Cap bar. Inside pages are black-and-white.

This is based on the walking tour from May 2016 that ended in someone giving me a "buck" on a bike rack all the way from the Vegas to Jimmy's.

I am mailing these all out pronto, and I hope you like them.

Get yours today!

[They look great!]