One year to the day after the Artists' Quarter in downtown St. Paul closed, the beloved basement jazz club will reopen under a new name and new ownership just in time for New Year's Eve — but with old acquaintances at the helm.
The operators of the Dakota Jazz Club & Restaurant in Minneapolis are taking over the space and calling it Vieux Carré. Their first order of business will be "A Room With a Vieux" party on Wednesday night, which was announced Tuesday afternoon.
Keeping the opening gig a surprise might help generate buzz, but it wasn't exactly intentional.
"We literally just got our liquor license today," Dakota co-owner Lowell Pickett admitted with a laugh Tuesday.
Wednesday's event is the first of several "pop-up parties" the new staff intends to stage at Vieux Carré through late February. The 150-person club will then likely go dark for a couple of months for renovations.
New Orleans-flavored jazz ensemble the Southside Aces will perform Wednesday, and Louisiana-style muffuletta sandwiches will be served. Tickets will be available for $12 when doors open at 9 p.m. (21 and older only).
Vieux Carré is also a name for New Orleans' historic French Quarter, and thus the intended translation is "old quarter" — a nod to the old AQ.
Don't expect much else new in the space yet, though. Plans for an ambitious full-menu restaurant like the Dakota had to be scrapped because of the historic space's structural limitations, but modest food service will eventually be offered.
"We still have to sort through some things and get the work done, but it'd be a shame to let this space sit unused any longer," said Pickett, who pointed out "our roots are in St. Paul" [where the Dakota originally opened in 1985 in Bandana Square]. "We seem like a natural fit for this space and are very in line with keeping its legacy alive."
Pickett credited help from city hall for getting the liquor license and other necessary permits in place in time for New Year's Eve.
When the AQ's owner since 1995, drummer Kenny Horst, closed the club last Dec. 31 following years of barely breaking even, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman all-out promised that a jazz club of one kind or another would remain in the Hamm Building basement, on the corner of St. Peter Street and 7th Place.
"We're really thrilled to have it open again a year later," said Joe Spencer, St. Paul's director of arts and culture in the mayor's office.
"It was an important piece to that part of downtown, and really a sacred space for music lovers. We think it's going to return to being a cornerstone of the Twin Cities jazz scene."