Long live the King & I Thai

CHRISTINA SCHMITT | Updated 12/12/2012

Thai bastion closes Sunday; nightly DJ sets sending it off.

The King & I Thai lounge

Monday night, the King & I Thai restaurant (1346 LaSalle Av., Mpls., www.kingandithai.com) was buzzing, with a stylish crowd eating spicy curry and listening to Japanese punk. But the party came with a twinge of melancholy: After 32 years, the family-run Loring Park business will close its doors this Sunday — a day earlier than previously announced. Bar manager Geoffrey Trelstad said inventory is now bare-bones due to overwhelming last-minute patronage from the restaurant’s fans.

On most nights since the King & I moved to its current location on LaSalle 12 years ago, you’d see the 6-foot-5 Trelstad in the restaurant’s swanky lounge, pouring a passion fruit martini, his head almost hitting the low ceiling. He says business has been good for husband-wife owners Gary and Bou Haanpaa. However, their lease of the space  is ending, Haanpaa said, and they were unable to negotiate a new one. So they’re retiring , Trelstad said, although he has a tough time imagining a retired Bou. “She is a passionate, creative and profound force in the kitchen,” he said.

The restaurant’s take on Thai cuisine (No. 3 on Vita.mn’s 2012 “Best Thai: list) was great, but there was more to the King & I’s allure. It’s like a warm cave: There are no windows, and candles are the dominant light source. Carved elephants and Thai goddesses gaze upon you. Corners throughout the space absorb large parties — and there always seems to be a party.

Trelstad says a decade ago, he and co-worker Christa Robinson and general manager Andrew Riebel envisioned the place like a cool Lower East Side bar. Trelstad said the DJ booth is an installation; the DJs, music curators.

Many DJs have shown up to play their music over the years, mostly vinyl on two turntables. You’d see folks from Treehouse Records, Radio K and the Current alongside other music fans, playing anything from international music to electronica, hip-hop to jazz, soul to punk. Last Friday, it was DJ Father Time (age 50) vs. his daughter DJ Soul Mama Maria (21), who proudly cued up her 45 of “96 Tears.”

The King’s final DJ sets continue all weekend (7 p.m.-1 a.m. nightly), with Sara Jean Hanson, King Otto, Buck K.A.C. and Croix Clayton on Thursday; Dean Vaccaro, Joseph Pettini, Jesus Juice, Al Davis and Chuck Love on Friday; and New York City’s Fun Boys on Saturday.

And for Sunday’s closing night? “Expect an amazing night of music,” Trelstad promised. Will do.