Saloon Blues

Lucy's has neighbors in Frogtown clamoring for closing time

Many residents of the area immediately surrounding Lucy's believe that nothing short of closing the establishment will suffice. A petition calling for the bar to be shuttered has garnered about 100 signatures and will eventually be turned over to the City Attorney's Office. "To tell you the God's honest truth, I'd like to see 'em put her out of business," George Mitchell says. "I've traveled to a lot of bars in my life, I've drank with the best of 'em, and I've never in my life seen a crowd like they have today. Ever since it's been Lucy's, it's just been murder."

The modest brick building at the corner of Thomas and Western has a storied history. It has been a saloon of one form or another since the late 19th Century. Coale took over in the mid-Eighties and transformed the space into one of the premier blues clubs in the country. Legends such as John Lee Hooker, Willie Dixon, and Etta James passed through its doors. Blues singer James "Thunderbird" Davis died on its stage after suffering a heart attack.

"They had a bunch of people who enjoyed blues music, and the crowd was pretty decent," Mitchell remembers. Commander Harrington adds, "It was pretty quiet when it was Blues Saloon."

The bar's financial status, however, has always been precarious. In a 1995 Star Tribune article highlighting Blues Saloon's tenth anniversary, Coale lamented what she saw as excessive regulation and higher taxes. "It's squeezing the life blood out of live entertainment," she told the paper.

Blues Saloon finally closed its doors early last year. The club quickly resurfaced as Lucy's, and in an attempt to boost business began advertising its clientele as "GLBT & Friends" and featuring gay country dancing. Over time Lucy's added hip hop to the mix.

Lucy's is not the only bar in central St. Paul to run afoul of neighbors and the police. The area is dotted with corner bars wedged into otherwise residential neighborhoods. Willard's Liquors, at the intersection of Thomas Avenue and Grotto Street, for example, was a problem spot for years. But according to Harrington, since the bar took steps to curtail crime, such as installing video cameras and hiring security guards, it hasn't been a serious concern. "We have almost no calls at Willard's anymore," he notes. (Police records show that officers have been dispatched to the saloon 31 times this year.)

Harrington believes that if Lucy's took similar actions it could placate the neighbors. So far, though, the cops have received little cooperation from Coale. "We think that there is more that could and should be done by the owner to resolve the problems," Harrington says.

Robert Jones survived the August 4 shooting outside Lucy's, but is now blind in his left eye and deaf in his left ear. His alleged assailant was charged with attempted murder and has pleaded not guilty. For Lucy's, though, the wound may turn out to be fatal. "It's been there forever," Harrington concludes. "But it needs to make some major changes in the way it does business if it's going to continue to operate in that neighborhood."

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