Places where live music is a matter of course, where a dashing gent in a serious suit leans over a glamor puss brandishing a cigarette holder and whispers some sweet nothing before leaning into a dramatic dip on the checkerboard dance floor, and where a tall flute of bubbles leads to a fine aged steak leads to a night of dancing leads to a nightcap, and then, naturally, another?
It's all so breathtaking, this glamor, and then you come back to reality and contemplate scuffling down to the dive bar for 2-for-1 whiskeys in your tattered Chuck Taylors.
Well, no more.
Set foot into St. Paul's restored Commodore Bar & Restaurant, and the period precise, pitch-perfect 1930's retro vibe is enough to make your skin tingle. Nowhere else in town will you be so thoroughly convinced you've stepped back in time, or at least through the picture machine and into one of those classic flicks. If ever there were destination dining and drinking around here, this is it.
Originally built in 1934 as a celebratory response to the repeal of Prohibition, today's investors responsible for bringing the space back to life say "if it was going to be a place to drink in public again, we wanted to do it right."
Did they ever. The deco finery in every joist, ceiling inlay and bar top practically begs you to raise a glass. They've done the restoration equally right for coming generations.
Around every bend is another, more impossibly sumptuous space, so attentive to detail that you might be inspired to believe a theatrical production company was somehow involved. Nope. Just co-owners Stephanie and John Rupp (Rupp is CEO of the Commodore’s parent company, the St. Paul based Commonwealth Properties Inc., developer and current owner of among other local Saint Paul landmarks: W.A. Frost, The University Club, the Saint Paul Athletic Club, and a soon to open Watson’s Manor, a boutique hotel located at 344 Summit Avenue.)
The design intricacies go far and beyond even the most impressive build-outs of today, all coming together as if to confirm: they don't make them like this anymore.
Except that they do! And it's here, now, for you and for me to make like those glamor pusses of yore, and I can't think of a better reason to raise a toast.
Five things to know about the place (beyond the stunning, knee-buckling, pucker-up-your-lips-and-whistle beauty):
The Commodore plans to host not one but two live music performances every Friday and Saturday night. A dinner set, with a live pianist or violinist, maybe a jazz trio. And then, for a $10-$15 cover, a more raucous band might erupt in the back room, for dancing and swinging the night away. Really. How cool is that?
The menu, by chef Chris Gerster, will stay as true to 1920s and 1930s sensibilities as is practical, with classic items like braised rabbit, lobster deviled eggs, veal scallopine, ham and cheese croquettes with French onion jus, toasts with burrata and speck, a couple of serious steaks and the like. Naturally, they'll be using locally sourced product wherever possible, as all serious restaurants are expected to do these days without too much fanfare. Gerster is calling the menu "New American with a little bit of world influence."
The cocktail menu will be equally thoughtful, designed by bar manager Christa Robinson, with an obvious emphasis on Prohibition and pre-Prohibition cocktail culture. Additionally, they're making a concentrated effort to support distilleries that are a day's drive away or less, or as Robinson put it, "a bootleggers distance." She said that if someone has spent seven or eight years on getting a whiskey to taste right, the cocktail will honor that craftsmanship. Booze-forward drinks are the name of the game here. Wine and beer lists are equally well thought out and local beer will be the emphasis, from Hamm's to Steel Toe.
The same menu will be served throughout the building, and while the dining room is so swank it's almost intimidating, it only occupies about half of the space. The remainder of the roughly 200-seat space includes the original cocktail lounge, the new lobby bar, and lounge areas that are little drinking alcoves each more gorgeous than the next. Just when you feel like you've seen all your heart can handle, turn a corner and be wowed anew.
5. How much is all this finery going to cost? Best of all, the Rupps insist that they are working very hard to keep price points "affordable" with small plates falling into the $7 and $8 average range, entrees at the tippy top range around $30, and cocktails around $9. They say if people perceive the place as a "special occasion only" designation, it will mean "death" to them. And, that's probably correct, considering the back-to-back closing announcements of La Belle Vie and Vincent A Restaurant within days of each other. They promise that the place is going to be "young and fun," and somewhere you'll be inspired to return to again and again.
Opens Tuesday, October 27
79 Western Ave. N., St. Paul