First Avenue to buy St. Paul's Turf Club

CHRIS RIEMENSCHNEIDER | Updated 10/11/2013

The pending sale will bring St. Paul’s most beloved rock venue under the growing wing of Minneapolis’ legendary club.

Polica played at the Turf Club in 2011.
Photo by Leslie Plesser

The most legendary rock club in Minneapolis is taking over the most beloved rock club in St. Paul.

First Avenue’s owners are preparing to buy the Turf Club, a vintage watering hole near the corner of University and Snelling avenues that dates to the 1940s and has been a mainstay of the music scene since the mid-1990s.

First Avenue staff has regularly booked concerts at the Turf for several years. When general manager Nate Kranz heard that the smaller venue might be for sale, he said his team “came to a pretty easy conclusion.”

“We’re going to make some improvements on the place, but not too many,” Kranz said. “We’ve all spent many, many nights there and love it just the way it is.”

First Ave’s team will take over management of the Turf starting Tuesday, with most of the bar’s staff expected to stay put. The final sale is expected within a few months, pending licensing approval and other issues.

The Turf Club’s current owner, Tom Scanlon — who also owns the Dubliner Pub a few blocks away on University — said he has been proud to operate the venue for eight years but is ready to pass it on.

“One bar is enough at my age, and a neighborhood Irish pub is a lot easier to maintain than a rock club,” said Scanlon, whose 2005 purchase was met with trepidation by some musicians and patrons. In the end, he kept the Turf’s musical legacy alive and well, and he kept that heritage in mind with his decision to sell to First Avenue.

“I had lots of people interested in buying the place, but [First Avenue] just made perfect sense,” he said. “They know the place and the business very well. I’m confident the future of the Turf Club is absolutely safe in their hands.”

Under the direction of Kranz and talent booker Sonia Grover, First Avenue has become a powerhouse in the local concert business since an ownership dispute that temporarily shuttered the club in 2004. It’s now owned by First Ave’s longtime accountant, Byron Frank, with his daughter, Dayna Frank, as hands-on proprietor.

Not only do an impressive number of shows sell out each week at the club and its adjoining kid-sister venue, 7th Street Entry, but the team has increasingly booked concerts at other venues. Besides the Turf, they include the Triple Rock, Cedar Cultural Center, Fine Line and Cabooze.

Having total run of the Turf “makes it a little easier” to book shows there, Kranz said. Its capacity of around 300 people offers a little more room than the Entry (with 250), and its location across the river can attract a partially different customer base — although First Ave staff hopes more Minneapolis residents will frequent the place when light rail service begins next year on University Avenue, right outside the Turf.

Kranz said the First Ave crew will promote rootsy/twangy rock acts and local bands there, as is the norm now. He also said the staff will explore more programming in the Turf’s basement bar, the Clown Lounge.

One of the Turf’s most storied regulars, piano rocker Mark Mallman, said the deal is welcome news to local music lovers, considering the announcement earlier this week that another fabled St. Paul nightclub, jazz haven the Artists’ Quarter, is going out of business at year’s end.

He likened the union of the two clubs to “the ‘Brady Bunch’ parents getting married.”

“If anybody can keep the Turf floating, it’s First Ave,” he said.