There are several ways to view the Palace Theater, the 101-year-old St. Paul venue that reopened in March after a $15 million renovation.
It can be seen as the cultural capstone for outgoing Mayor Chris Coleman, long a champion of the arts. Or a key component in the revitalization of downtown St. Paul’s largely moribund-after-dinner nightlife scene. Or a major foray into St. Paul by First Avenue, Minneapolis’ landmark nightclub and ever-expanding promoter.
Or you can view the Palace simply as a great new place in which to experience live music. There is no other venue like it in the Twin Cities — an expansive, multitiered main floor for standing, a long balcony for seating, and good sightlines from almost every one of the 2,800 spots.
The inaugural year’s lineup was deliciously eclectic, from local heroes (the Jayhawks and Atmosphere) to rock gods (Beck and Wilco), cult figures (St. Vincent and Conor Oberst) and rising stars (Gary Clark Jr. and Fleet Foxes). Working with its partner, Chicago-based Jam Productions, First Avenue couldn’t have had a more successful launch, with sellout after sellout.
The fact that First Ave is taking over Wild Tymes, the adjacent bar/restaurant that’s undergoing a renovation (with a planned reopening in the spring), will enhance one of the things we like most about the Palace. Located on the pedestrian-only 7th Place, it has a clubhouse-like feel. Unlike any other music venue in town, you could hang out on the plaza — have a smoke, kibitz with friends, enjoy ethnic food from the nearby Afro Deli or bar grub and a beer from the Wild Tymes. It all feels a bit private without being privileged or pretentious.
In short order, the Palace has become the Twin Cities’ own rock ’n’ roll clubhouse. And membership is open to anyone who buys a ticket.