Noteworthy Railyards of Minneapolis and Saint Paul Bike Tour, next Thursday

Railroad siding in Northeast Minneapolis.

Hey! It's been a while since the last bike tour, around about two years. (By funny coincidence, I now have a two-year-old.) AS you might imagine, this one has been cooking in my mind of ra while. We're going to bike around and look at some past and present rail yards, ,certainly a negative / blank space in many people's imaginations of the city. And yet rail yards are all around us, and there used to be twice as many, huge swathes of urban land given over to nothing but railroad tracks and 24/7 industrial activity. They're quite interesting and with the help of a local railroad expert, I'll do my best to explain what they are, how they work, and how they've defined the urban geography of Minneapolis and St. Paul. 

You'll learn fun things, such as the existence of "East Minneapolis" (a real thing) and what "humping" really is... I hope to see you there!

[Facebook invite here.]

Who: Anyone who wants to ride bikes and learn about history
What: 2+ hour, 15-mile relaxing bike ride around St. Paul and Minneapolis
When: Thursday, June 29th, leaving at 7pm
Where: We will meet at Insight Brewing and end at Bang Brewing (about a mile away)
Why: Because some of them are still there, and trains are cool

Railyard in Saint Paul.

Railyard artwork by Aydin Büyüktas.


St. Paul Loses a Link to its Past as Alary's Rebrands

One of the weirdest dive bars in downtown St. Paul (sadly a too-short list) is closing down. Alary's Bar on 7th Street announced it was closing, and possibly rebranding. It wasn't my favorite place, but it was unique! Their odd parking-lot patio alone made it a must-see stop on any downtown St. Paul bar crawl.

Alary's grand entrance.

Alary's has a great, sordid, St. Paul history, and is the last real link to the city's burlesque past, when downtown was seedy and catered to the debauched, as it did since its days as Pig's Eye. 

Along with the Har-Mar Mall, Alary's has the best amalgamated moniker in the East Metro. It's a mashup of Al Baisi and his partner Larry [something]. Baisi was born in West Virginia and became a lineman for the Chicago Bears int he 1940s, playing in '41, '41, and '46. Alary's has been a local Bears bar ever since. 

[The original Wabasha location. after a fire.]

Alary's c. 1956.

It all started with Larry and Al took over a Wasbasha club called the Drum Bar in 1949 and rebranded it, adding a burlesque strip show. This was back in the day when such things were commonplace in both downtowns, and St. Paul needed something to compete with the likes of the Persian Palms in Minneapolis' Gateway. It was located about where the Children's Museum is today.

Here's a review of the place from 1979, penned by now-legendary food critic Jeremy Iggers, then writing for the Minneapolis Star:

“The only strip joint that hasn’t lost its charm… a dark and dingy, almost seamy looking place. The two-story white walls are bare except for few vintage photographs of 40s football teams. Many Alary’s customers look like survivors from another era, middle aged men with slicked-back hair and weather faces. Drifters with week-old beards who walk with a limp. Dozens of single men all slip in to watch severely overweight women jiggle their flesh. There are no glass-enclosed cages at Alary’s, but then the dancers never take it all off, a real burlesque. One stripper wears a towering red bouffant and the kind of feathers and fans that make Gypsy Rose Lee famous. Her legs are wrinkled. You can count the rolls in her stomach, but boy, she sure knows how to twirl her tassles one at a time and strut her stuff with class.”

(See also the press clipping below of a brief political run by a former Alary's stripper.) 

The great irony of the strip shows was that, by the end of his life, Baisi was blind. He lost his sight in an East Side shotgun attack (!) in 1970, but he had a special stool at the back of the bar where he held court and listened to the strip tease. 

An Elvgren.

Urban Renewal marked the end of the old Wabasha bars. Mayor Latimer wanted to take down the old buildings and replace them with the new World Trade Center that still stands at Wabasha and (new) 7th. Like any good lineman, Baisi stood his ground, and simply moved the place up the street to an old paint shop that also has an interesting history. The current Alary's which moved in 1998, is in an old paint supply shop that was run by the parents of Gil Elvgren. You've probably seen Elvgren's work, because he was one of the most famous pinup artists in US history. A MIA art graduate, he painted scantily clad women throughout World War II for Brown and Bigelow, the local calendar company. 

Perhaps channeling Elvgren's lewd spirit, Alary's moved into the old downtown paint shop, and used the high ceilings. Al Baisi's kid took over the place, and retained the sexploitation vibe. Not too long ago, the evening bartenders were all scantily clad women, and there was a live video feed. Then there was the infamous Vulcan groping incident of '05, which is horrible. 

It was also a cop bar, and there was a nightstick proudly displayed on the wall, along with other cop paraphernalia. Not my politics, that's for sure! It makes it all the more ironic that, in 2015, a drunk Forest Lake hockey dad jumped into the Alary's hockey game shuttle and drove it a mile without realizing someone was inside the whole time.

Farewell Alary's! It was a real link to St. Paul's less upstanding history.

Cool, something to beat people up with.

Elvgren's Art Deco paint shop.

The dreaded Alary's shuttles.

Cop and Vulcan stuff.

The Royal Defillibrator certificate.

How it felt to go to Alary's.

I loved the history wall: lost St. Paul.

It's hard out there for an arthritic stripper.