It was opening night in drowsy downtown St. Paul, but the bar was packed shoulder to shoulder. It felt like another W Hotel had come to town.
No, it was just the Bulldog, a no-nonsense beer bar. At the peak hour, a local beer guy named Corey Shovein jumped on top of a bar stool, yelling to get the crowd's attention. It was time to christen the new Bulldog -- the third location after its two Minneapolis counterparts. Shovein rallied his fellow beer fans, pointing to the bar's prized tap line -- 40 drafts, glistening in one long row.
"This is a real beer list," he shouted, "so when you come here you won't be drinking no swill!"
The crowd roared in approval. Then he popped a $40 bottle of Deus -- the beer geek's equivalent to Dom Pérignon.
The Bulldog isn't any old neighborhood bar. It's become a Twin Cities favorite because it keeps things simple: Great bar food, even better beer. Two weeks after the St. Paul location opened, the crowds haven't let up. Happy hour can be SRO.
"I knew it was going to be busy, but it's been busy every night," said owner Matt Lokowich.
This is good news for downtown St. Paul. While there have been a few additions to its Lowertown area in the past year, few come with the Bulldog's name-brand recognition. The condo dwellers are excited and so are nearby bar owners.
"We were in there the other day, and I said 'Where did all these people come from?'" said Dawn Ledin, owner of the rock club Station 4.
The new spot looks similar to the Northeast Bulldog -- call it neighborhood posh. A large granite, octagon-shaped bar anchors the room. The bar has a great view of Mears Park through crystal-clear floor-to-ceiling windows. There's a long shuffleboard table, too.
Lokowich fell in love with the space minutes after seeing it in July. "I heard about it on a Friday, saw it on Saturday, had the deal signed by Tuesday," he said.
With each Bulldog, Lokowich has increased the tap-beer offerings. This time he has a $22,000 tap system, supporting 40 draft beers. Most are reasonably priced between $4 and $7.50 a glass. He also has 60 bottles.
So many beers, so little time, right? Luckily, this Bulldog is introducing beer flights -- an awesome idea. There are nine different ones, each containing 4-ounce pours of five beers. They range in price from $5 to $11.
Lokowich has perfected his vision for the Bulldog with this St. Paul location. And he's definitely committed to making this one a success -- he even bought a loft across the street.
But he's already seriously thinking about the next Bulldog. He'd like to open one in Richfield of all places. Why Richfield? It reminds him of St. Paul.
"They need help, too!" he said.