St. Paul's "40-plus"-only bar: Bad business? Illegal? Or brilliant?

Louie's age policy, posted in the window of the bar.

Louie's age policy, posted in the window of the bar.

When it comes to the bar scene, there are few perks to being over 40. Nightlife seems all but created for the youthful, the nubile, the fresh of liver. 

That is, unless, you head over to Louie's Bar on Payne Avenue. There you're not allowed to drink at all unless you're 40 or older.

Sort of. 

Bill Lindeke, creator of Twin City Sidewalks Tours, was doing research for an upcoming tour of bars on St. Paul's East Side, when he stopped at Louie's Bar. 

"Louie's is an interesting bar because Payne Avenue is a beautiful historic street that is struggling economically and is in a revolution of 'foodie food': places like Tongue in Cheek, Ward 6, and Cook St. Paul," Lindeke said. "It's interesting that these two cultures — old working-class neighborhood and rebirth of high-end foodie culture — are sometimes across the street from each other." 

So he and a friend ducked into Louie's to check it out for the tour, and right as they began to take off their coats, they were approached by a bartender who told them: "Before you get too comfortable, you know we're a 40-plus bar. We were 30-plus, but now we're 40-plus."

Don't forget to pack a valid ID, with a birthdate no later than 1976 if you're planning to visit Louie's Bar on Payne Avenue.

Don't forget to pack a valid ID, with a birthdate no later than 1976 if you're planning to visit Louie's Bar on Payne Avenue.

Lindeke was a bit stunned. He inquired as to whether such a policy is legal. The bartender replied, "This is private property, we can do what we want."

He says the bartender then told him that Born's, a Rice Street bar, has also instituted a similar policy. (We called Born's and they said they only serve customers 25 and over after 9 p.m., but otherwise serve anyone 21 and older.)

So Lindeke, 36, and his buddy kept their coats on, saw themselves out, and took photos of the policy, clearly posted in the bar's front window. He says he'll just have to wait four years to go back to the bar. 

Tony Carlson, general manager of Louie's, has been managing bars for 22 years, three of them on Payne Avenue, including the long-gone notorious strip club, the Payne Reliever.

She's from the East Side, and says she's pretty much seen it all. She's been working at Louie's for about a year, and according to her, last summer was nothing but trouble at the bar.

"We had over 350 phone calls to the police — fights, drug-related calls. Yes, people get drunk and do stupid things, but this was above and beyond that." She adds that the bar is paying steep fines to the city and has to appeal at city council meetings in order to make penance for all the trouble surrounding the bar. According to her, security cameras from the bar are linked directly to the St. Paul Police Department for surveillance purposes. 

Thanks to all the crime, longtime regulars were no longer coming in to drink, and Carlson was searching for a way to halt the crime and bring regulars back. She made the decision to card every person who came through the door, and, in October, to institute a 30-and-over policy. And for a time, things were calm again. But then this month, "The shit hit the fan again." 

"We couldn't control the crowd. We had people sitting around and not purchasing anything. A lot of homeless people, and a lot of drug dealers. The outside of the bar was intimidating with people hanging out." 

She says that in an effort to "control the crowd," they took away hardcore rap and took away the karaoke. But still the trouble remained and the regulars were staying away. So they instituted a 40-and-over policy. And since then, she says, things have been calm again. 

"We have new customers. People don't feel like they have to sit with their purses in their laps. People feel comfortable again." 

But there's a loophole to the nobody-under-40-rule. Regular customers who the staff knows well have been issued "VIP" cards, and are welcome to use the bar regardless of their age (over 21, of course). Carlson says that VIP cards have been issued to some new customers, too. 

"We're not trying to put out people based on age. It's about putting out the ones that come in here and wait for their drug deal, and the two of them go into the bathroom together. If people come in here for the appropriate reasons, we are more than happy to have their business."

Carlson says she recently issued VIP cards to a group of patrons in their 30s, and all of the bartenders have been told that they can issue VIP cards at their discretion as well. 

Asked whether she thought the service policy at Louie's was a legal gray area, she says no. They aren't discriminating by age, she says.

"Technically we're discriminating against a bad crowd. It's more of a safety issue than it is an age issue. We just want everybody coming in here to feel safe." 

And, according to at least one law firm we spoke to, Minneapolis-based Nichols Kaster, she may be correct. "The business discrimination law doesn't include age," says attorney David Schlesinger. However, he added, "Discrimination tends to lead to problematic circumstances." If the bar begins discriminating based on gender or nation of origin, for instance, they may find themselves in some legal hot water. 

At least for now, Carlson feels like the bar has found a sweet spot. "Not everybody from the East Side is a drug dealer or a thug. There are a lot of good, family-oriented people who need a comfortable place to go."

For his part, Lindeke says he doesn't have any hard feelings toward Louie's, and in addition to being willing to wait four years to drink there, he wishes them all the best.

"I hope Louie's can stay open in a neighborhood where a lot of different people can cross paths." 

Louie's Bar

883 Payne Ave., St. Paul