While the “official” grand opening hijinx will pop off September 23rd-25th, this weekend’s soft opening of St. Paul’s newest music venue, The Amsterdam Bar & Hall, will surely be a doozy. The old POP! Restaurant space in Downtown St. Paul has been reimagined by music venue magicians Jon and Jarret Oulman (331 Club, 501 Club), who have transformed the space into a hip, modular club and restaurant, which can expand for larger shows and national acts, but will typically maintain a more intimate setting–thanks to a dividing wall. The father-son duo have linked up with Eclipse Records and Big Table Studio, who will add a fresh retail element to the adjoining and adjacent spaces–a move we’re betting will inject some major pizazz into the area and foster creative culture at the same time. This Thursday night kicks off with the Red Pens, BNLX, and Lilian & The Harveys; Friday brings The Goondas and Ghostmouth; and Saturday rounds things out with The Bitter Spills, Germaine Gemberling & Rich Mattson. Stop down and support the St. Paul scene!
This week, we chatted with co-owner Jarret Oulman about the club and how it came to be…
We’re so excited about the Amsterdam! How did you come to the decision to open a new bar in St. Paul?
The inspiration for Amsterdam as a concept came from first the fact that Amsterdam for centuries has been an international village with diversity of culture and peoples in a tolerant, inclusive, and social community with its history as one of the earliest of adventuresome commercial hubs for Europe and the New Worlds. Rembrandt, VanGough, and the Amsterdam School are a few cultural influences that drove our interest. Their “Brown Cafes” are warm, intimate, and cozy. The interiors invite mingling and close contact conversation. They serve simple small portioned sandwiches (called broodjes) of the highest quality prepared meats, cheese, cured fish, tartar, hamburger, and croquet at prices that invite you to have more. And the Belgian Frites have sauces from around the world. Genever, the Dutch distilled spirit predated English gin and it’s smooth finish is often compared to Saki, is served cold to the brim in small French tulip shaped stemware. The local custom known as “opentopf” is to bow and sip the top before lifting your glass. Holland and Belguim are famous the world over as the home of the now so popular “craft beers”, and beer snobs love them. This is the most important trend in beverage.
Personally, we’re hoping that the Amsterdam brings the “shot in the arm” that downtown St. Paul needs as far as nightlife. What has been the local response for the club so far, from both the standpoint of the public and city officials?
We originally were looking for a site in st paul when we were looking to expand 3 years ago. Martin Devaney and Sean McPherson would prod and urge me to get into St. Paul, the mayor’s office even called to let us know about available sites. Then last year, we were contacted about the Amsterdam site and we took a look and began thinking about how and if we could make something work there. Thus far we are very happy that we have decided to do so. St. Paul city officials have treated us like guests and partners. We are honored to have had the opportunity to work with them. They are interested and excited about our involvement and have supported us with enthusiasm and attention. The city officials not only support us, but also our culturally complimenting neighbors (McNally Smith, Eclipse Records, Big Table Studios, The Current) to help build a diverse cultural environment. Public response has been great. especially those who live or work in st paul who are happy that they will have an opportunity to access a new venue whose focus is on building a community centered around arts and interesting activity. While there has been a few people from Minneapolis who have said that they don’t like going to St. Paul, most have said that they are excited to have an extra reason to go there from Minneapolis. Remember, we are not making a 331 Club in St. Paul. The Amsterdam Bar and Hall will be a different experience entirely from anything you will get in either city.
The old POP! space seems to be cursed. Are you worried about that?
The space has changed and so has the block since the previous 2 establishments were active. The Banquet room is now the home of Eclipse Records and Big Table Studios is now in the next storefront. Fhima’s and Pop!! who were open for 5 and 2 and a half years respectively had very different models, culture, financial structures and offerings than we are producing. Furthermore, the neighborhood itself has sustained many complimenting businesses for long periods of time (Kinkaids, Pazzaluna, Meritage, Great Waters, Barrio, Bulldog, Alary’s, Fitzgerald, The Artist Quarter, etc). Further more, both Pop! and Fhima’s had success for a period of time and they each had different reasons for closing. Pop! had issues with personal injury to the operator. Some say that Fhima’s had internal issues, however they did capture a successful business for about 4 years before their business could no longer support the associated expenses. All of these reasons give us confidence that we have an opportunity to achieve our goals at the Amsterdam Bar and Hall.
You’ve brought on an all-star staff to book and work at the Amsterdam. Who can we expect to see?
In regards to programming, you can expect to see us build an entertainment, arts, and music community in Downtow St. Paul. Our staff understands how important it is to build and support artists and people. This goes for not only for Dave Wiegardt, Holly Newsome and Martin Devaney, but also for the rest of our staff as well. A large piece of the entertainment programming will be investing time and commitment to the right artists who can build something with us. We do have the capacity and direction to host national acts and larger local shows as well, and this will be an important part of what we do as a destination venue, however, our goal is to involve artists for longview relationships and mutual growth.
We hear the food menu is going to be pretty spectacular. What would you suggest we try?
Our offerings and bill of fare is like no other in the twin cities. I would urge folks why they should “Go Dutch” by trying our broodje sandwiches and our specialty Frittes. otherwise, make sure to try the Dutch Appelgebak for an amazing Dutch version of apple pie.
The Amsterdam opens for its preview weekend this Thursday, September 1st, with a solid lineup of musical tastemakers. Thursday night kicks off with the Red Pens, BNLX, and Lilian & The Harveys; Friday brings The Goondas and Ghostmouth; and Saturday rounds things out with The Bitter Spills, Germaine Gemberling & Rich Mattson. The bar and venue will have its “official” grand opening celebration the weekend of the 23rd, so keep your eye on their Facebook page HERE for ongoing updates and calendar listings!.