First Avenue's Dayna Frank and Nate Kranz look over the finishing touches underway this week at the Turf Club, which reopens Thursday with a newly raised ceiling and other changes. / Jerry Holt, Star Tribune
When the doors open tonight on the “new” Turf Club, the most common reaction among patrons will probably be how much it still looks like the old Turf Club.
“It’s kind of embarrassing, because people are like, ‘Well, what the hell have you been doing for the past three months?” laughed First Avenue general manager Nate Kranz, whose crew took over the 1940s-era St. Paul Midway area venue late last year and closed it for renovations June 1.
During a preview of the new digs Tuesday, however, First Ave owner Dayna Frank made a point of showing off all the heavy (and costly) work that did actually go into the place -- including a $200,000 sprinkler system, a similarly priced kitchen installation, new sound and air/heating equipment and a rebuilt roof. Oh, and there’s some new plywood in the otherwise unchanged Clown Lounge basement bar.
”It’s mostly things people probably won’t notice for now,” said Frank, who is confident that folks will at least appreciate the undeniably major bathroom improvements on both floors.
The club recruited local singer Maggie Morrison (Votel, ex-Lookbook), a mosaic artist by day, to create some special tile flourishes in each of the restrooms based on the club’s '40s-style horsetrack-themed logo. They mosaics will be joined by the posters of an indisposed Frank Zappa and a large-reared woman, which previously greeted users of the upstairs bathrooms.
“The Zappa poster dates back to the Rob Rule era, so we had to bring that back,” said Kranz, referencing the club’s well-known booker during the late-‘90s and early-‘00s. Other posters promoting gigs from that era have also been rehung in the bar’s main room, where the tables now fold in and out of the wall to provide more legroom when the 300-capacity venue fills up for a show. The ceiling was raised in the roof reconstruction, which -- along with the opening of the back crorner near the new kitchen -- also gives the room a more open, spacious vibe. A new 20-beer tap rack was added to the bar, the front part of which was rebuilt but otherwise looks just like before.
The new Turf crew did not have to hire an artist to paint the new mural behind the stage, which was actually hidden behind curtains throughout the bar’s history as a rock club. But plenty of work was done around the rebuilt/enlarged stage, including installment of a new Electro-Voice sound system that is essentially a smaller version of the one at First Ave. Delay speakers were added on the other side of the room to offer better sound to patrons standing back near the front door or Clown Lounge staircase.
Speaking of the front door, St. Paul’s unofficial music mayor Martin Devaney was hired to work the door on opening night as a nod to the club’s own unique, non-Minneapolitan identity.
The food service – including lunch, dinner and brunch – is the one new addition that will most discernibly mark the beginning of a new era for the venue more than anything else, but it’s not scheduled to begin until Sept. 5.
Seated in the club’s new downstairs green room Tuesday – which is actually painted green (but so are the upstairs walls now, too) -- Frank and Kranz looked over the final draft of the menu with Turf manager Josh James, who’s one of several holdovers from the club’s prior ownership. The food will be heavily Southern-flavored, with such highlights as Carolina shrimp with grits, crawfish- and bacon-filled mac and cheese and a fried-chicken sandwich. The bar’s basic burger is apparently something to brag about, too.
“A lot of people told us that -- even with the huge variety of food in this area -- you can’t get a good burger in the Midway,” said Frank, who’s otherwise happy to have not messed too much with the good thing that was the Turf Club before its renovations. “It was all about making it a place that will be around for a long, long time.”
The music calendar for September is already crammed with the likes of JD McPherson, Benjamin Booker, the Jayhawks, Nick Waterhouse, Shonen Knife, Hawkwind, Lee Bains III and Mike Watt’s new band. Here’s the lineup for this weekend, including the Saturday show just announced yesterday:
THURSDAY: Dead Man Winter, Frankie Lee, Erik Koskinen, plus a likely surprise guest (9 p.m., sold out).
FRIDAY: Reunited Amphetamine/Reptile noise-rockers Hammerhead with Comb Boats (10 p.m., $10).
SATURDAY: P.O.S.’ and Astronautalis’ duo Four Fists, plus Solid Gold and more surprise guests (9 p.m., $20).
SUNDAY: Cosmic pop twangers Night Moves with Carroll, Rupert Angeleyes and the Chambermaids (9 p.m., $12-$14).