Two weeks ago, Moisha Lipshitz over at “Here’s Margie” blogged about the latest in the Twin Cities’ gay and lesbian bar scene. It pissed me off. Her comment was this unsolicited side-thought stating that the former bartenders at the Brass Rail weren’t getting their old jobs back once the bar re-opened. Perhaps citing the source would have been helpful. But, I was unnerved. I was one of those Brass Rail bartenders and let’s just say: Unemployment Insurance isn’t doing much to keep bread on my table. So, I left a snot-nasty comment for Ms. Moisha’s bitter-tasting coffee time to read the following morning.
Last Wednesday, I had lunch at the Palomino Club with another former Brass Rail bartender. Obviously, the topic du jour was about; a.) our future jobs at the Brass Rail, and b.) what happened in the past that caused the Brass Rail to close in the first place.
Peter Hafiz, the current owner of the building located at 422 Hennipen Avenue, Minneapolis, MN, took over ownership of the Brass Rail (the business) on January 28, 2009. Hafiz (heteroafter referred to simply as “Pete”) also owns DreamGirls and Sneaky Pete’s on Fifth Street, as well as the Gay 90’s and Deja Vue on Washington Avenue.. Three weeks ago, the Star Tribune noted in a laundry list of bars and nightclubs opening up in the Minneapolis downtown scene, that Pete was also opening an upscale sports bar called “The Office Pub & Grill” next to De ja Vue, a popular strip bar there on Washington Avenue.
My former colleague and current lunch-buddy said:
“Oy… Fruit – Let’s run down and see if Pete’s in and see if we can’t get face-time with him. Too many unanswered questions, ya know?!”
This of course, was after I explained to him what Moisha was babbling about on that “Here’s Margie” joint. I had a phone visit with another former Brass Rail bartender who was at a private party just a few days earlier. I explained to my lunch-mate that the other bartender had all of these people at this party running up to him saying: “Ohh… tough break! I heard you’re not getting your job back!”
I said to my lunch-buddy: “We concluded that Here’s Margie is pretty popular…and everybody had read the same blog entry!” Which, in my books – is just plain raw, ya know?!
Thanks for the rumor-mongering, Moisha! We love ya!! ….Not!
So, we finished up our lunch and headed on down Hennipen Avenue towards Sneaky Pete’s place. (Only this time, I wasn’t trying to get picked up for a $5 handjob.) Arriving, we bought cocktails and my buddy began asking for Pete and for Tony. Both were at the back of the room pouring over a notebook computer and a small stack of papers.
My buddy left me behind to sign the Visa receipts and thank our bartender. I caught up and was introduced to my new boss Tony and Pete. Well, Pete… I’ve met him a half-dozen times before, so it was a re-acquaintance more than an introduction. Tony, an import from Kentucky, has been tagged as the new Senior Manager for the bar – when it opens.
(For the past couple months, Tony has been pulling manager duties on every three to four nights a week at the Gay 90’s, learning the ropes and getting his OJT. Unlike the previous Brass Rail manager, Tony’s a gay man, he’s very professional and he’s a no-fuss no-muss kind of guy. I repeat – He’s a professional: He’ll shake your hand and he’ll look you right in the eye. If you’re a flake – he’ll know it before you’ve let go of his hand-shake.)
So, you’re looking for details?! Better details than you’re going to get from the the rumor-mongers over at that “other place“?!
The bar is expected to open by June 19th, a week before Gay Pride. But, as Pete pointed out; “I’m nervous that my contractor will finish in time.” The Happy Hour bar over at the Gay 90’s is expected to open at the same time.
I had to ask the loaded question: “Last year, you had this HUGE advertising spread in Lavender magazine’s Gay Pride Issue. Have you placed your ads for grand opening of the Brass Rail and the Happy Hour yet?” Pete grinned at me and said sheepishly: “No…I’m too nervous that my contractor’s not going to finish on time and then I’m up a shit-crick.”
Valid Fruit Fly point: It whispered “Confidence” and screamed “I Hope We Open on the 19th!”
What else will be going on? The name will change. Instead of The Brass Rail, it’ll be called “The Rail Lounge”. Pete said: We’ll keep “The Brass Rail” marker over the front of the building…But we’ve already received the business licenses and the business will be called “The Rail Lounge”.
The back bar is gone. Zapped. The main bar was also removed. In fact, the floor was replaced along with all of the floor joists beneath the original floor. The complete overhaul of the main bar is evident because we also got to peek in from the back door and could see all of the work that’s going on inside. Outside is overhauled as well.
There will be a five to six foot wall around the front of the bar and a door will be added on the north side of the eastern-facing wall. The idea is that you will have to come into the bar in the main door, (like everybody always had to for the past forty years) and you will be able to go out onto the patio in the front by the other door opposite side of the same wall. (Mental Image: Check out the picture above. Now, add an exit-door under the “L” in “Brass Rail” that gets you access to the patio, now surround the entire area with a five to six foot fence. Think privacy, without lame-ass rope lines and bums begging for cigarettes. You’ll enter the bar like you’ve always done, but you’ll get to the patio by going out the door on the opposite side of the same wall.)
I said to Pete: “You’re going to repeat what you did at the Happy Hour bar, then. You have to go inside the bar and then exit out the same wall to join your friends on the patio area.” He stopped a minute and said – “Yup! You’re right! …Same idea.”
In the back, where everybody used to smoke their weed, it will be a covered patio that extends from the back of Sneaky Pete’s bar to the rear doors of the Rail Lounge. This is the extensive smoke-area for both areas, as well as the foot traffic for food deliveries, security teams and management staff.
Rail Lounge customers will have a full menu gratis of the professional chefs in Sneaky Pete’s kitchens. Rail Lounge bartenders and servers will access food and snack orders from the kitchen via radio and computer network systems. Pete’s staff will use that back-space area to run piping-hot delectables to our very comfortable “loungers”.
On the interior… With the back-bar missing – Pete has purchased a 60″ plasma screen on the very back wall. The space where the back bar used to be will be replaced with tables and big fat barrel stools covered in black leather. The black-leather trim will be synonymous throughout the entire lounge complete with black-leathered sofa that will stretch the complete length of the north wall of the bar.
Pete’s hanging a half-dozen satellite dishes on the roof of the building and he’s installing some 26 large-screen plasma monitors that will be hung on the walls throughout the club; each of them playing whatever the patrons want to watch and see. It’s a “lounge”, and Pete plans on seating-cozies clustered around each of the screens so folks can relax, watch music videos, old movies, sporting events or whatever they want.
Think “comfy pajama party with friends on a warm Saturday night.”
“If folks over there want to watch music videos, they can lounge around and enjoy, and if the folks over there want to watch classic movies, they can. And if the folks at the bar want to watch the game – the bartender can make that happen too! There are three satellite dishes that are being mounted on the roof of the building.”
One thing that bears noting: The basement has been completely overhauled. That means everything has been cleaned out, including that rickety old stairwell that used to be a terrifying nightmare for every drag queen in heels. Everything has been sheet-rocked out, cleaned up or thrown-out. Now, if you’ve ever been in the basement of that bar – trust me…that’s huge news!
The main bar has been completely overhauled. Think of the shape of a tear-drop, now cut it in half, and that’s the shape of the new bar. From the easternmost side (closest to Hennepin Ave), the bar-design swings way out into the room and slopes inwards until it curves into the wall right in front of the stairwell.
I told Pete: “When the bar closed last January, I was the Featured Bartender in Lavender Magazine, and I used that issue to visit every gay and lesbian bar throughout the Twin Cities area!” I said: “I used that issue as my resume… “Hire me! I ‘m worth it!”.
But when I finished,” I said, “I whined: ‘Oh my gawd…! The Brass Rail was the shittiest dung-hole of a gay bar in the entire metropolitan area! It was a dive! All of the other bars were so much nicer than the ‘Rail..! The carpet was disgusting, the place smelled like ass!
Pete grinned and nodded: “…It was in pretty bad shape.”
Pete said to the both of us: “I’ll have to tell you.. The Rail Lounge will be a pretty classy place! This isn’t a low-brow hole-in-the wall now. It’ll be pretty classy!”
I said: “You know, that whole lounge-theme is a pretty good idea. One thing most all of the regulars and the staff would agree: The Brass Rail was never a night-club, it’s really a neighborhood bar! The Brass Rail has always been surrounded by nightclubs and it’s been this little tuck-away place for folks to just sit and visit and have a great time. And that’s what made the ‘Rail such a great place, ya know?!”
Everybody agreed. Pete said; “I’m glad you made that connection because that’s what we’ve tried to create. It’s a great place to just hang out, enjoy some time with your friends and relax with a great drink!”
Two days ago, another former Brass Rail bartender called me and said he had his own face-time with Pete. He walked away with the exact same perspective – at last three of the seven bartenders are getting their jobs back. Pete told him what he told us last week; Pete’s been talking to the GLBT’s “Party Pack” about the bartenders who used to work at the Brass Rail. He’s cherry-picking bartenders to be recalled based on feedback from that group.
Then Pete told me and my lunch-buddy something that I never knew. Peter Hafiz said to us:
“I got my start with my Dad’s place over at the Faust Theater over in St. Paul. I used to manage the projection room when I was only 13 years old.”
I was stunned by that news. My lunch buddy was just as shocked and insisted on clarification: “You’re kidding!!”
What strange worlds we live in. Thirty years ago, I was sitting in the dark at the Faust Theater looking to hook up a $5.00 hand-job. Fast-forward a few decades and I’m standing in a st8-nightclub talking to the owner who will probably be my new boss at a gay bar on Hennepin Avenue where I continue to look for $5.00 hand-jobs!
Sluts Unite! Whores Rehabilitate!!