Stairgate: City of St. Paul wants to take away Strip Club's spiral staircase

A very sexy shot of the staircase in question's nether regions

A very sexy shot of the staircase in question's nether regions

Sigh. The things you don't think about when you're dreaming of opening a restaurant. The things you do dream: legions of adoring fans and guests swooning over your turtle soup, your perfect touch with a vanilla latte, your precise flair at being the consummate host. 

The things you don't dream of: leaking bathroom ceilings, peeling exterior paint, the hood going down mid-service, duct cleaning, and persnickety fire codes that have you either shelling out thousands for expensive updates or closing up shop. 

East St. Paul's Strip Club on Maria Avenue is owned by Tim Niver and J.D. Fratzke, and has been a neighborhood favorite for almost 10 years — long before the current wave of new restaurateurs set their sights on the area. Niver and Fratzke credit the beautiful old classic building, built in 1885, for their decision to take a chance on the place. "We just fell in love with the building," Niver told me in an interview way back when. 

And how could you not? The place, awash in hues of charcoal black and cherry red, brings to mind an old-timey saloon where you half expect a girl in a hoop skirt to come dashing in, pursued by a chiseled cowboy, six-shooters swinging on his hip. The grand old staircase, spiraling toward an upstairs mezzanine that seats 16, adds much to the drama of the space. 

But perhaps more importantly, Niver says those 16 seats are the difference between keeping his doors open and shuttering — restaurants operate on a strict square footage-to-seat ratio. Any disturbance in that ratio interrupts the already thin line between staying in the black and getting in the red. 

And a disturbance is what Strip Club is experiencing, reports the Pioneer Press, as the city has reportedly demanded the restaurant cease use of the mezzanine level, and thereby the staircase, until they finish an expensive buildout that brings the upstairs level, and its egress, up to current fire codes. 

Niver and allies like Bob Parker who owns nearby restaurant Ward 6 say such an expense is unreasonable for a small business, and that the city should have brought up these issues before the restaurant opened, rather than now, when business is in full swing and they stand to lose a lot of money, and indeed, perhaps even go out of business. 

The city has responded by saying it will revisit the issue in a month to allow discussions with the Department of Safety and Inspections to continue.

Until then, the mezzanine, and the dramatic walk up that old staircase, will not be a part of your steak dinner at Strip Club.