Louie's Bar Resurrected as the NorthStar on Saint Paul's Payne Avenue

[Entropy meets Louie's awning.]
Even compared to most dive bar demises, I felt bad about the closing of Louie's Bar on Payne Avenue because I might have had a small hand in it. Louie's was a divey joint on Payne, an old-school hole-in-the-wall that was just treading water amid the hard times of the East Side.

I'd come across it during some dive bar scouting [see full write-up at the bottom of this post] and stationed myself there at least once for Saint Paul's Few Gear's Eve NYE alleycat race.

But it was I who blew the whistle on Louie's when I narc'd on their "40+" policy one late-spring day a few years back. I snapped a pic of the door after getting kicked out for being underage. I tweeted it out and within a day, I was being interviewed by the excellent Mecca Bos from City Pages.

Here's the story of Tony, who managed Louie's during its downfall:
Tony Carlson, general manager of Louie's, has been managing bars for 22 years, three of them on Payne Avenue, including the long-gone notorious strip club, the Payne Reliever. 
She's from the East Side, and says she's pretty much seen it all. She's been working at Louie's for about a year, and according to her, last summer was nothing but trouble at the bar. 
"We had over 350 phone calls to the police — fights, drug-related calls. Yes, people get drunk and do stupid things, but this was above and beyond that." She adds that the bar is paying steep fines to the city and has to appeal at city council meetings in order to make penance for all the trouble surrounding the bar. According to her, security cameras from the bar are linked directly to the St. Paul Police Department for surveillance purposes.  
Thanks to all the crime, longtime regulars were no longer coming in to drink, and Carlson was searching for a way to halt the crime and bring regulars back. She made the decision to card every person who came through the door, and, in October, to institute a 30-and-over policy. And for a time, things were calm again. But then this month, "The shit hit the fan again."  
"We couldn't control the crowd. We had people sitting around and not purchasing anything. A lot of homeless people, and a lot of drug dealers. The outside of the bar was intimidating with people hanging out."

She says that in an effort to "control the crowd," they took away hardcore rap and took away the karaoke. But still the trouble remained and the regulars were staying away. So they instituted a 40-and-over policy. And since then, she says, things have been calm again.  
"We have new customers. People don't feel like they have to sit with their purses in their laps. People feel comfortable again."  
But there's a loophole to the nobody-under-40-rule. Regular customers who the staff knows well have been issued "VIP" cards, and are welcome to use the bar regardless of their age (over 21, of course). Carlson says that VIP cards have been issued to some new customers, too. 

A age restriction policy is often the dying gasp of an old bar, and that was true for Louie's which lasted only a few more months. the building has been vacant since, the letters on the awning slowly succumbing to entropy.

Well, all that's changing. The Pioneer Press reports that the place is re-opening and is being fixed up. That's great news!

My favorite detail is this:
German, who said the space was “beyond a dive,” when the current ownership took over, said the dingy drop-ceilings have been taken out to reveal an antique tin ceiling, and an artist is creating an accent wall that will contain aspects of the East Side. 
German said the project is a homecoming of sorts for him. 
“I was born and raised two blocks off Payne Avenue, so I love it, and I love the revitalization that’s happening,” he said. “I’m really excited to be a part of trying to continue that.”

Payne Avenue deserves a thriving bar scene, and bringing back Louie's as NorthStar is going to fill a key gap in the city's bar culture. Head over the East Side in the near future and get lost on Payne.

And if you want a handy, increasingly-out-of-date guide to the area dive bars, I have just the thing for you.

[Louie's Exerpt follows.]

The first time I went to Louie’s was on something of a dare. The old bar was a stop on Saint Paul’s annual New Year’s Eve alleycat race, and the organizers needed somebody to staff the supposedly sketchiest bar.

I volunteered and, with a friend, spent a few hours passing time hugging the wall. I found cheap crappy lager, a well-worn juke-box, and a huge room divided roughly into a few smaller areas. On one side, a rectangular bar linked to the ceiling with wooden beams offered refuge for world-weary Payne denizens, and the wide open booth-and-table half of the room offered opportunity for the odd entourage. Groups of men leaked from the sidewalk to commandeer tables and hold court around a plastic pitcher. Later that night I sang karaoke on a small stage in the corner, loosing Sinatra onto an audience immune to my intoxicated charm.

Surely in the early days it was different, but for many people, the 21st century version of Louie’s had a bad reputation. It was a reminder of Payne’s struggles over race, class, housing, and the future of the old neighborhood. By some accounts, Louie’s had become one of the nodes of gang turf, with drug dealing in the bathroom or fights in the alley. Thus the long and shifting list of rules posted to the door.

But like many disreputable dives, so much depends on perspective and timing. My experience had always been a pleasant mix, a slice through a neighborhood that was home to Saint Paul’s downest on their luck. East Side bars are often faced with a choice about how much to enforce cultural, racial, or generational mores. This can be done in a dozen ways, from overt dress codes to juke box restrictions to lines like “we reserve the right to...” and, most importantly, the more subtle spheres of nebulous sociality.

As the old ways declined over the years, Louie’s struggled with the winds of change. The last time I went there, I was kicked out. One drizzly afternoon, a friend and I entered and, shedding our damp coats, approached the bar. I hadn’t been there in a while, and apparently things had changed.

“Don’t get too comfortable,” said the older woman tending the taps. “We’re a forty-plus bar now.

“I’m sorry, what?” I stammered.

“You have to be forty to drink here. New rule. Born’s is doing it too,” she said, looking at my younger friend. Born’s was a bar on Rice Street, a mile to the West across the freeway. They had similar problems dealing with neighborhood crime, especially late at night.

We didn’t argue or dawdle - what would have been the point? - and after a muttered joke or two, ventured directly across the street for a cheap pint of craft beer and organic appetizers at the new foodie pub. Such are the zany juxtapositions of Payne Avenue, where mix- ing tides, new and old schools of every spectral stripe, the sanitized and the dingy alike, prove a point like shadows on the face of a noir hero. “This means something”, you think to yourself, a mashed potato mountain of culture and time.

Yet the snips of easy laughter and stories I glimpsed in the bar that day lingered in my mind after the ejection from Louie’s. A while ago, a friend recounted an unbiased visit to the place: “One of the friendliest places I’ve been, the people were so nice,” he said, “and aside from the bartender, we were the only white people there.”

Louie’s has now closed, its absurd age limits the last throes of an empty bottom line. The sign on its awning is already falling apart, missing a vowel or two, and the loss is sad despite the dinge because so many of our cultural third-spaces are segregated around race or class or both. The rarity of these unexpected intersections reveals their fragility. I like to think that a dive can, for a time, offer a bridge between worlds, a place for jokes, drinks, hopes, and insults to spread like seeds through the layers of our social strata.

Not to be idealistic, for Louie’s was as rough as they come, but the death of a dive is a somber thing, regardless of taste. Rest in pieces, Louie’s Bar. May you linger in some sweet Payne purgatory, serving drinks to the ageless.


Reading the Highland Villager #253

[A Villager accompanies some grocery store sushi.]
[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: Council sets hearing on $7.5M redesign of Ayd Mill Road
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Description of the Council meeting about Ayd Mill Road. [I wrote about this recently, and in the past.] There are a few options from the Mayor's Office / Public Works, and the meeting has happened. [Council approved some money, with some vague strings.] Article includes a vague rendering of a proposal that would add a bike path. CM Thao is quoted, saying, "Why is this in a vacuum?" [Because AMR sucks so much?] CM Noecker is quoted saying "This plan has changed [a lot] in the past six months." CM Jalali says we need to make the bike trail. [After further review, here are my AMR outcome rankings: #1 - close it, build a bike/walk trail; #2 - come up with a two-lane version that hits a reasonable budget number; #3 [tied] - the compromise $7M option; #3 [tied] - the $9M two-lane option; ... [every other possible thing] ... #591 - re-pave it as a four-lane freeway to Selby Avenue.]

Headline: Ryan seeks package of changes to Ford master plan; tweaks aim to make plan consistent, more workable
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The developer who now owns the old Ford truck factory would like to change the master plan rules, including: moving commercial land use to the north edge of the site; getting rid of a "shared use" street in favor of actual sidewalks and on-street parking; having more "price options" for townhouses; reducing minimum lot width; increasing width of townhomes; and adding "supportive housing" for certain vulnerable groups as part of the affordable housing component.

Headline: City hires lobbyist to explore support for local sales tax hike; but timing of request and the priorities for sales tax increase are questioned
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The City Council approved trying to get the State government to let the city tax people with a 1¢ sales tax.It would be used for transportation, and other things like pre-K and affordable housing, maybe. CMs Brendmoen, Jalali and Tolbert voted against the tax proposal. [Very interesting vote, this.] CM Noecker pushes it, and cited a study that the streets are falling apart. [They are.] There is a legal problem involving a state law and sales taxes. [City does not have a great track record with tax-related lawsuits, FYI.] There would have to be a referendum, even if it passed the state legislature. CM Jalali was concerned about timing. The Mayor's Office might or might not like the proposal.

Headline: Infrastructure, state aid, housing needs top city's legislative wish list
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The City will ask the State government for money for things, including two bridges.

Headline: New CIB process seeks ideas for safer St. Paul
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: There is a competitive ranking process to get money for projects, including $500K for public safety ideas. Anyone can submit one. The acronym here is Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED). [This basically means things like windows, lampposts, and fences.] Article also suggest that "pavement markings to slow traffic, crosswalks, and changes to make building entrances more accessible and visible" are good ideas here too. [Please note that $500K is not a lot of money for a city.]

Headline: Grant saves Open Cities clinics
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A clinic that was open to anyone was going to close but didn't because it got some more money from a foundation.

Headline: Highland Fest began when it was the Village's time to shine
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: For years local businesses have blocked off the street by Ford and Cleveland to sell art and stuff. They're not doing it any more. Article goes into some history fo the festival, and its decline. One business guy says its because of "changes in the business community, rising costs, and challenges in getting enough volunteers." Artists aren't signing up for it either. [IMO Open Street was a vastly superior "festival" model, and the year it took place right across the river really illustrated that. Why not have an "Open Streets Cleveland"?]

Headline: City festivals face increase in public safety costs, other expenses
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Street festivals are becoming more expensive because the city Police Department makes it more difficult.Quote from the MPD: "we're dealing with potential threats that were unheard of a few years ago." CM Noecker is quoted citing costs for things like trash and renting barricades and lost revenue from parking meters. [TBH, other than trash, this particular list of expenses seems minimal costs to my mind, and probably well worth it. Any time someone wants to close a street for a F2F event, it probably saves the city money int he long run in public safety costs, by cultivating community connections and improving public health.] Grand Old Day might be cancelled too because security costs have essentially doubled. [GALAXY BRAIN: you can't have lost parking meter revenue from Grand Old Day if you don't have parking meters on Grand!]

Headline: City studying ways to promote density in multifamily housing
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The Planning Department is tweaking the RM zoning category to make it less auto-oriented. There's a public hearing in April. Article explains that RM zoning is.

Headline: St. Paul rolls out rent subsidy for struggling school families
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The city will fund a few families with kids who qualify, to help with their rent. [Also, building more housing would help too. See above story.] To qualify, you have to have young kids, be below 30% AMI, and cannot be getting other rental assistance. There's enough money for 250 families. [Good idea, but a drop in a bucket.]


Twin City Doorways #57

 [Madison, WI.]

  [Madison, WI.]

 [University Avenue, Saint Paul.]

 [Downtown, Saint Paul.]

  [Downtown, Saint Paul.]

 [Selby Avenue, Saint Paul.]

  [Downtown, Saint Paul.]

[Mill District, Minneapolis.]


Steven Higashide on Transit and Public Safety

[A fare check on the Green Line.]

One of the best urban podcasts out there, 99 Percent Invisible, had transit expert Steven Higashide on the other day to talk about how to improve the bus, and transit systems more generally in the US.

About 20 minutes into the conversation, he and Roman Mars began discussing safety concerns. I think what Higashide says would be a great improvement on the current conversations bout light rial safety happening in the Twin Cities.

Here's the quote:
Roman Mars: Another way to improve bus service is to make it equitable and safe. So how do you go about making sure everyone feels comfortable riding the bus? 
Steven Higashide: A lot of times transit agencies look at survey data showing that people are worried about their personal safety on transit, which is a major reason why people don’t ride, or a major reason why people stop riding. But transit agencies see safety as a concern, and often they very quickly to go policing as the answer. 
And that is one solution that makes some riders feel safe, but it can also make riders feel less safe. And you don’t want to create an environment where people feel like, by getting on transit, it could have implications for their immigration status, or it could lead to them being embroiled in the criminal justice system. 
And there are a lot of aspects to safety, whether that’s lighting, station design, or human presence, which may or may not be law enforcement. These are really things where conversions really have to happen at the community level, and [we should] ask what is the community definition of safety, and not just assume what the answer is. 
And then I also think the it comes to equity, fares are really important. How we pay for transit, how much, and whether people are really being treated equally. 
Let me just give a couple of examples, at a lot of transit agencies, it turns out that wealthier riders pay less because there’s a discount for a monthly pass, whereas low-income riders can’t afford to pay for that monthly pass up-front. Instead they’re paying $2.50 every time they get on, and it adds up much more than the cost of the monthly pass every time.
The point is that we need to have transit riders themselves figure out what is the best solution to light rail safety. In my opinion, more cops and fare-checks must not be the answer in today's climate of scapegoating immigrants and deadly policing. The state legislature should appropriate funds, butt out, and let Metro Transit handle this.

Also, cops or transit ambassadors should simply sign people up for the TAP program, instead of giving out fines.


Reading the Highland Villager #252

[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: GABA looks to get back to business; Association focuses on boosting membership, refining Grand Old Day

Short short version: A business association has been losing members and can't pay for many things any more, like its trademark quai-parade. They were allegations of financial shenanigans. They are trying to figrure out what to do. [Maybe spending lots of cash to hire right-wing PR consultants to fight the city on basic parking policy aka. parking meters was a mistake?] They might want more people to join, but might make the parade smaller. Quote from head of group: "to be honest, a lot of us are getting tired. We need some new blood."

Headline: Area projects meet mixed fates in gov.'s bonding bill; Plans for Watergate Marina, Victoria Theater make $2B list, St. Paul's top requests shut out

Short short version: Some things that Saint Paul wants state money for might get it, and other things it might not. One of those things might be "new orangutan habitat." [For the umpteenth year in a row] $10M for the 3rd Street / Kellogg  did not get added to the list. [It's almost as if expensive auto infrastructure projects are not going to paid for with a magic pot of money from the state or Federal governments.] 

Headline: HRA board decides to drop Highland Fest' large increase in costs, staffing needs cited for cancelling celebration

Short short version: Another business organization [totally different from the first one, mind you] is finding that their celebration is too expensive to continue and is not going to do it any more. [IMO Highland Fest is not nearly as fun or interesting as Open Streets across the river.] The city is charging more for police overtime. The fest dates back to 1984. [Saint Paul would be much better served by an Open Streets program.]

Headline: St. Paul consisders raising city's sales tax from .5 to 1.5 percent

Short short version: The city will ask the legislature to let it increase its sales tax to pay for expensive automobile infrastructure, and other things like pre-K. CM Noecker is pushing it.

Headline: Housing assistance programs top county's legislative agenda; health care access and funds for roads, bridges, and transit are other big concerns in Ramsey

Short short version: The county will lobby the legislature.

Headline: HDC committee reviews plans for parkland on redeveloped Ford site

Short short version: A neighborhood group had a meeting and talked about parks that might exist someday. There are "cost issues." There is a survey and people want walkability.

Headline: MPCA reveals latest findings on toxic wastes at Ford dump

Short short version: There's an old landfill by the river left behind by the Ford Motor Co.Industrial wastes is in there MPCA is looking into it.

Headline: Four-story dorm-like apartment building planned for Marshall-Finn

Short short version: An old house will be torn down and replaced by 18 apartments. Neighbors are concerned about traffic and parking. Some people want to save the house and move it somewhere else.

Headline: BZA reverses course on proposed banner at 'X'; After granting variances for new advertising sign it denies 3 other variances

Short short version: A city committee decided it did not want to let people hang a large "temporary" ad for Apple iPhones on the side of the hockey arena after all. Some people liked it, while others did not.

Headline: Three new bars recommended for Ward 2 sites

Short short version: [Using a strange zoning rule], the Planning Commission [including me] will allow three new places to serve liquor. There are [weird, old] "limits" on licenses in each ward, [but also a loophole way around it].

Headline: Five-story building planned near Selby-Dale

Short short version: A long-vacant lot and auto shop might become a five-story apartment building. Neighbors are concerned about traffic and parking.


Dr. Bill McGuire, Owner of the Minnesota United, on Snelling/University Stadium Development

My friend Wes Burdine (who owns the Black Hart Bar) hosts a good local soccer podcast: the Fiftyfive.One Podcast, discussing MNUFC and other soccer matters of the day.

Burdine had none other than Bill McGuire, very rich person, former CEO of United Health Group, and primary owner of the MN United, on the podcast the other day and asked him about how the development at Snelling and University is going so far.

If you recall, the development on the block is the big variable that might make the city's "stadium deal" a good or bad decision. The master plan was inspiring, but so far, there's little on the site apart from parking and huge ads for the team.

Here's what McGuire had to say [listen for yourself, starting around 9:00]:
Wes Burdine: Thinking about the development of the super block. You indicated recently, to one of the District Councils, that it's going slower than anticipated. I'm curious, where is that process right now?  
Bill McGuire: I think it will be spectacular. What I suspect, it has to be sequenced with the stadium. We had to get the stadium done first. Associated with the stadium, there are a number of things that had to get worked out. Then you go, and design the buildings. There’s a master plan, and its a good indicator of what it could be. But there are things in the master plan that I don’t think the developer will want to do it the same way. 
There might be a 25-story building in the master plan [Note: McGuire actually said “250-story building", but that is absurd; he surely meant 25-story building], but I don’t think we want a 25-story building. But how do we get enough mass and density? With lots of human density, but to get the financial part to work so that people will invest in it. 
The biggest thing about it is going back and forth with very smart people about how to make it more like an "urban village", as we talked about in the beginning. A space within a community that works that way. That’s different than saying, I have twelve plots of land and will sell them off and let anyone build whatever they want on that. 
So this is a unique complicated situation in that regard. Things have to work together. The city wanted to create a grid, part of the master plan. That grid changes the dynamics of those buildings and what the relationship is. How do you create something where people are inside and want to come there, live there, work there, take advantage of this transportation area we have already? How do we bring things there that people want? Not just another something... It's way too simple to say we just want to build a bunch of apartments there. 
Right now, the plan has been looking at reorganizing relationships, coming up with what would be first. We also have to consider things like the parking, and where is that, and what are the costs on that. Find some people who believe in this location enough to put their money in there, because this isn’t the team. This is a different deal. 
That’s really what’s been going on. There’s been a lot of energy time and money by people about what that could be. 
I would take on anybody who would say, having what we had, no streets, no sidewalks, no nothing. Now we actually have an infrastructure, we have a grid, and the opportunity is to fit things in there that work 
Wes Burdine: Is there any discussion about the block next to it? Kraus Anderson owns it, it has an empty Wal-Mart. Do you talk about what’s going to happen there versus here? 
Bill McGuire: We’re designing work around what we think works within the super block, bounded by Pascal and Snelling and University and St. Anthony. You gotta be attentive to what’s next door, but we can’t control what’s there. Even the Wal-Mart, what’s going to go in there? Is that going to be a Home Depot? Or is someone going to tear it down? We have to do the best we can to anticipate, but we can’t wait around. 
That may be the east side, but that wouldn’t be first place to build anyway. We still have a shopping center there businesses, let those folks continue. We hear things. When anybody does Herbergers, it has has actually been bought, and there’s discussion about some things to put in there that may be quite good for the neighborhood. And become there’s existing parking and stuff, it might be a good place for things that require a lot of parking. 
Wes Burdine: The types of questions that a lot of fans ask me are on these issues. Whether they live in the neighborhood or want to know what’s happening around it. In terms of the super block what basic timeline does that look like? Will it be done five years from now? 
Bill McGuire: There’s no chance of getting the 25 acres that’s theoretically available — and after the roads is about half that many —  built out in 5 years. That would be ... What we have on paper is potentially, without inflation, $850M of construction. That’s a lot. 
In an ideal world with all the parties coming together, the city as well as investors to get something done, I’d like to see shovels in the ground or planned shovels in the ground by late this year for four buildings. And I think there’s a good line of sight on those buildings, and where they would be, basically trying to sort of frame “the Great Lawn” to make that a center point for the block. Its a big open space, and it isn’t used that much right now, but it could be used a lot. 
You go to Chicago and see Gallagher Way around Wrigley Field, and see that and its a sponsored place and has public classes, yoga classes, movies. It takes something. You have to do certain things to organize it. We’re not far off from being able to do some things, but there are a bunch of technical things that have to be done, and we’re taking to people right now that don’t want to just invest in a building, but want to invest in a community where the vehicle is the building, and what it can provide. For instance, you build an office building, it may not be just a traditional 10-floor office building for companies for 20K to 100K square feet. It might be a smaller building, where you provide opportunities for business that are smaller or more startup businesses and we’ve talked a lot about that . Internally I’ve talked about that with [CM] Dai Thao and Mitra Jalali that’s bringing something to the community jobs interest attraction things that might provide opportunities for businesses that might come to other areas in the community. That’s sort or the purpose. 

The key takeaways for me are that four buildings are coming soon, and that's a lot! I particularly noticed the line where McGuire says he needs "the city" to "come together" to "get something done" there. Does that mean that the developers want more public dollars? The city has already spent over $18.4M to build the streets and other infrastructure on the site.

The other interesting line was about the Herberger's building, and the tantalizing prospect of something "that require[s] a lot of parking" moving into that empty big box store. I wonder what it is?

Also, I hate the term "urban village" and want to exorcise it from the discourse. "Urban villages" are never good.

PS. Home Depot dreams never die.


Book Signing and Discussion for "Closing Time" at Yoerg Brewing on February 27

[The awesome building where Yoerg can be found...] 

I'm excited to announce another book signing event! My "Closing Time" co-author Andy Sturdevant and I will be at Yoerg Brewing on Thursday, February 27th from 7 to 9pm to chat about our new book. Yoerg is a special place to have this event because they are carrying on the 19th century legacy of Yoerg's Brewer, the first brewery in Saint Paul, that dates all the way back to 1848.

The brewery has great food, beer, and wine,  and carries on a lot of the saloon and brewery traditions that are mentioned in our book. It also has very obscure German lagers...

Come by for some gem├╝tlichkeit and grab a book while you're at it!

Details here:


BOOK FEATURE: CLOSING TIME - Saloons, taverns, dives and Watering holes of the Twin Cities - 

WHEN: Thursday, February 27th - 7:00pm to 9:00pm 
We are super excited to have the authors of this wonderful book on the history of the great bars and saloons of the Twin Cities coming in. Bill Lindeke and Andy Sturdevant are the authors and will be appearing at the Yoerg Brewing Company to talk about the book and sign copies.

378 Maria Avenue.

As an extra bonus, you get to come to Dayton's Bluff, which is always worth doing.