By JILL BOOGREN
The Turf Club, St. Paul’s legendary music venue, got back in the saddle again when it reopened Aug. 28 to a sold out show with Erik Koskinen, Frankie Lee, and Dead Man Winter on the bill.
The crowd was upbeat, some people happy with their place at the bar, but most roaming to check out the new digs. A few ducked into the photo booth. One t-shirt summed it up: “Turf Club. Established 1945. Reborn 2014.”
Koskinen — in a polka-dotted shirt, cowboy hat and scarf — and bandmates kicked off the night with a friendly vibe and a country groove, keeping the club true to its roots.
“Hi everybody…welcome to the Turf Club,” he called to loud applause.
The club had been closed for renovation by First Avenue, who took ownership of the establishment last fall. When they took the reins, First Avenue promised to invest significantly in improvements to the venue while keeping the charm of the club. No doubt the keenest regulars will notice the changes, but how about everybody else?
“I’m interested to see if the casual customer can actually pinpoint some of the stuff we’ve done,” said General Manager Nate Kranz before the opening. “Which was sort of our goal.”
Renovations involved a lot of not-so-sexy behind-the-scenes stuff: renovating up to code; installing new plumbing, a new sprinkler system, and new lighting; and upgrading equipment — what Kranz called a whole lot of “audio-nerdery” — to improve sound throughout the venue.
Drop ceilings were removed, raising the ceiling two feet and making the space feel a lot roomier. The art deco pieces still run along each side.
Really noticeable is the mural on the back stage wall of race horses that had been hidden for decades behind a curtain.
“That was pretty cool,” said Kranz. They discovered it the day they got the keys and began inspecting the site for needed cleaning and repairs. “Behind that old curtain was a horse mural of horses racing right at you. Right away we realized that’s super cool and that curtain wasn’t going back up.”
Bathrooms have also been spruced up—they’re a little bit bigger and are now handicap accessible. And, you can’t miss the Turf Club mosaics. The Clown Lounge is still downstairs, complete with vintage jukebox, new furniture, and Clown Lounge-inspired art.
There’s also a new kitchen, which replaced an old one that had fallen out of use. Plans were to begin food service the week after opening with a menu of southern American comfort food — red beans ‘n’ rice, grits, crawfish mac ‘n’ cheese, and tacos — as well as burgers, cheese curds, and other popular fare from First Avenue’s adjacent eatery, The Depot Tavern in Minneapolis. Kranz hopes to build up a really good brunch service for the neighborhood.
In all, they’ve nearly quadrupled the number of people on staff, a hiring process Kranz said was as “easy as it gets.”
“[We had] a lot of really good people that seemed excited about the Turf Club opening,” he said. “I’m excited for the concert, but almost more excited to get fully open for the neighborhood.”
The Turf Club (1601 University Ave.) will be open 11am-2am, Mon.-Fri. and 10am-2am Sat.-Sun. The Clown Lounge will be open at 5pm daily. The Club is located at the Snelling Ave. station along the Green Line. Off-street parking is also available on the north side of the building off Sherburne Ave. You can find more information and schedule at at http://turfclub.net.