Music in the cafes at night and revolution in the air

St. Genevieve bartender Erin McIntosh and owner Steven Brown. Photo by Jim Walsh

The winter air was warm in my lungs and on my face as I walked all over South Minneapolis last Tuesday, that historic night of March 1, 2016, when a majority of Minnesotans stuffed the ballot box for Bernie Sanders and put the “socialist” back in the Democratic Socialist party.

Kingfield especially turned out for Sanders, but even before the results had been tallied on caucus night, the change in the air could be felt in a neighborhood whose embarrassment of riches continues to bloom and boom.

The night before at the Xcel Center in St. Paul, Bruce Springsteen reminded 20,000 politics-weary rock fans that “it ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive,” and so, after doing my civic duty at Barton elementary school Tuesday night, I took my time and lingered at the scene of the vote and at the sight and sounds of groups of neighbors and strangers excitedly heading into the school. Then I took off and took my time, enjoying a long quiet walk amid the dark streets and glowing storefronts.

The screens, loudmouths, pundits and politicians could wait. No particular place to go, I savored ducking down Bryant Avenue to Lake Street and over to Lyndale Avenue and back to West 50th Street, all the while taking it all in and feeling the electric hum of a small-big town that these days regularly lives out Bob Dylan’s romantic “music in the cafes at night and revolution in the air” meme and then some. For sure, if the “rise of Donald Trump” is a product of these times, so, too, then is the phenomenon of well-heeled and hard-working South Minneapolitans making spirits bright and making small businesses go.

Thanks, Obama.

“I bought my house in this neighborhood nine years ago, and this neighborhood has changed so much in that time,” said Erin McIntosh, the friendly and chatty barkeep at St. Genevieve, the latest entry in the many watering holes, bistros, diners, brew pubs, and restaurants that have launched around these parts in the last decade, and where I landed late caucus night. “It’s amazing what’s happened, because I remember when there was absolutely nothing happening.”

In my lifetime, the corner of 50th & Bryant has been the site of a record store, barbershop, coffee shop, an international-themed restaurant and a drug store. Now it’s a welcome dinner and late-night anomaly in East Harriet—open until 1 a.m., and fast becoming a budding hotspot for post-gig musicians and bar and restaurant workers.

“I’m really stoked to be here, but what I’m really excited about is seeing neighborhoods becoming vibrant and not just life-support systems for convenience stores, or garages. I think it creates community,” said Steven Brown, founder of St. Genevieve and Tilia in Linden Hills, whose restaurant career started up the street at the Malt Shop. “What I’ve come to realize is that I may have done all this for my own personal motivation, but what I’ve gotten out of it is way, way bigger than that.

“I think there’s been a return to people living in their neighborhoods. There’s this pride in living in the city, and in what’s there and around it. So people say, ‘Hey, there’s this great little tavern down the street where you can get…’ And they’re proud of that and I think that’s awesome.”

With it’s old-world décor, chill music mixes and ridiculously delicious everything, landing at St. Genevieve can feel like beaming down to another place, another time, sequestered off from the modern world. An escape from the madness, to be sure, and a Trump-free zone of the highest order.

“The restaurant has been well-received critically and by the neighborhood, and we’re going to be really busy,” said Brown. “Do I think it’s going to be like Paris, and we’ll be smoking hash and pouring out into the streets at midnight? Probably not, and I don’t know necessarily that we’ll have throngs of people in here at 1 o’clock in the morning, but I do know that the people coming in at 10 o’clock will feel comfortable, like they’re not about to get kicked out.

“They’re not imposing. We’re open ‘til one, and if you want to hang out, we’re here. And when the summer comes and we can open all these doors…”

Jim Walsh lives and grew up in East Harriet. He can be reached at [email protected]