Terry Kellerman is a modern-day builder with a yen for throwback industrial fixtures, important wood, and labyrinthine spaces with big doors leading to mysterious spaces. His property in White Bear Lake housed his high-end upholstery business for 30 years, but the time has come for a second act.
Kellerman's Event Center/The Alchemist is a Willy Wonka's factory for partying, with bartender extraordinaire Johnny Michaels acting as intoxicant slinger and dapper host. It's delightfully strange and wonderful.
When he secured the liquor license for the event space, Kellerman says it was a natural decision to add a bar, and when he added that bar, it was a natural decision to get the best in the business. "I sought [Michaels] out," says Kellerman. "I knew he wrote that book [Northstar Cocktails] and I thought it would be a natural fit."
"He lets me bring in my gargoyles and we're going to have a slow slideshow on the screen," says Michaels, who has his own vision for what a drinking emporium ought to be, and the collaboration between the two minds feels like these first few weeks in business will just be the tip of a potentially fascinating iceberg.
Michaels has always been one of the few bartenders one can trust with an order like this: "No brown liquor, pile on the dry, and hold the girly," and he'll completely deliver, rather than leave you there, staring forlornly into your medicinal cup, wondering how you'll ever get to the bottom of it. He takes his time with every glass, pausing to tell a tale or to draw one out of you. It all goes into a truly adult drinking experience. This is no beer and a bump.
The place is lit primarily by candlelight and hospitality, and while Kellerman's fixtures come off as steampunk, there's also a French Quarter vibe that puts you in a mindset to drink like they do in New Orleans. A second round feels more requisite than optional. Delightfully, prices are more White Bear Lake than Minneapolis, and you can get in and out of one of these glasses for around $10, rather than the standard city $15. And thanks to grandfathering laws in this municipality, no food is served here. This is a drinking place only, and we like it that way — nothing to distract from the serious business at hand. How serious? One of Michael's new hires is a chemical engineer by day.
For next year, they're planning an upstairs bar and deck area with fetching views of the little town, and if your imbibing tastes lean more toward populace, you can check out the adjacent Big Wood Brewery, a more casual drinkery sharing this broad and sweeping property.
2222 Fourth St., White Bear Lake