Arnellia’s, a go-to St. Paul venue for R&B, blues and jazz fans since 1992, will shut its doors at the end of April.
The University Avenue bar’s namesake owner, Arnellia Allen — who endured as much in her 25 years running the bar as the characters on the soap operas she often watched there — is undergoing chemotherapy for cancer and will no longer be able to run it, according to her goddaughter, De’Monica Flye.
“She’s putting up a strong fight, but [the bar] will be too challenging for her no matter what,” said Flye, who is planning a four-day finale at the club with music and more April 27-30.
The closure is another tough blow to the resilient Allen, who has been running bars since 1988 when she opened the Metro Bar & Grill in downtown St. Paul.
“She’s not happy about it,” Flye said. “She’s proud she has given a home to live entertainment for as long as she has, and her heart is still in it.”
Allen’s attorney, Bill Tilton, said a few interested buyers already have expressed interest in keeping the music tradition alive at the venue, which is also known for its chicken wings and other fried food, at 1180 University Av. W. Regardless, he said, it will be the end of an era when Allen is no longer involved in the club.
“She has been a dedicated champion and asset to the community,” said Tilton, who described Allen as “the black Joan Collins of a modern-day ‘Dynasty’ ” and claimed she was the first African-American woman to get a liquor license in St. Paul.
“For most of the time she’s been in business, Arnellia’s has been the only place dedicated full time to African-American music. It will be a huge loss.”
Allen put Arnellia’s on the live music map from the get-go after she opened in 1992. She went on to host the likes of Bobby “Blue” Bland, Alexander O’Neal, Zapp, Sounds of Blackness, Denise LaSalle, Shirley Murdock, Junior Walker & the All-Stars and Cornbread Harris. Prince also crashed the stage there on at least a couple of occasions.
Recent mainstay acts included the Maxx Band, Original Best Kept Secret and Hot Smash, some of whom will likely be part of the farewell weekend.
Sometimes more than a music joint, though, Arnellia’s was also known as a trouble spot.
The bar’s liquor license was suspended for 10 days last year after an event called Smack Fest — a contest consisting of women slapping each other in the face — not surprisingly resulted in a brawl. Also, one man was fatally shot outside the bar in 1992, and another died from a fractured skull after he was run over by a car in another altercation in 1999.
Flye, also a singer, said she hopes the final weekend will emphasize the positive role Arnellia’s played.
“Hopefully, people can come out and remember all the good times here,” she said. “A lot of us don’t know where we’ll go once we lose this place.”