New 1970s-style piano bar in St. Paul’s lowertown aims to replace Nye’s

November 7, 2018

The closing of Nyes original piano bar a few years ago has left a gaping hole in the hearts of many a Twin Citian who loves a singalong from another era.

Trying to fill that hole is the new Barrel House, in the lower level of Birchs Lowertown (289 E. 5th St., St. Paul, 651-432-4677, birchslowertown.com). The 1970s-style cocktail lounge and cabaret opened last weekend.

If having a complicated entrance is the requirement for being a speakeasy, then thats what the Barrel House is. At least, thats what owner Burt Joseph (in partnership with Tim McKee and Shane Oporto of Market House Collaborative co-tenants Octo Fishbar) was going for. Go through the brewery, down the stairs and through the doors. You walk in and have that wow factor, Joseph said.

But thats where the 1920s end and the 1970s begin. I didnt want to do what other places had done with speakeasies, Joseph explained. I wanted to try a time that was more fitting for myself and a style of music I enjoy.

Though he wouldnt give his age, Joseph said he was riding my tricycle in the 1970s. Ive got memories of the paneling in our lower level and some of the furniture my parents had back then.

The Barrel House is styled after a subterranean crooners lounge from that era, complete with crushed velour swivel chairs and acrylic tables. Where Elvis meets Liberace, Joseph described it. With a little Studio 54.

For music, think early Billy Joel. Singers Erin Schwab and Jay Fuchs, and Jenny and Donnie La Marca, currently headline around the piano, but on opening weekend, guests were doing a lot of the singing. And thats all right with Joseph. If you ever went to Nyes and sang along, thats what Im looking for, he said.

Guests can order off the Birchs menu till 10 p.m. Otherwise, the focus is on drinks, with more than 90 scotches, bourbons and ryes, more than 21 tequilas, and a Tattersall cocktail menu, plus a few throwbacks like the Harvey Wallbanger.

For now, the lounge is open Thu.-Sat., starting at 8 p.m., with some same-day reservations available if you can procure a secret number (hint: check social media). Sunday drag brunches are coming soon. The Barrel House can also be rented out for private events.

Just be ready to sing your heart out.

Theres not a lot going on in Lowertown St. Paul, so we are trying to help uplift that area, Joseph said. Its a destination.

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