The Rail Lounge – Opening Delay

I just recieved text message on my cell-phone from a fellow bartender:

“Rumors all around that (the Brass) Rail will open on Friday.  I wrote to Pete (Hafiz) but he says not until mid-July now”.

There’s another fellow-bartender who’s headed on downtown this afternoon to see what’s up.  I’m guessing owner Pete Hafiz doesn’t have his liquor license and he’s run into a few delays with the construction crews.

…Good thing I get an extension on my unemployment benefits!

Chillax At the New “Rail Lounge”: A Short Essay

Myself and two other bartenders had lunch at Sneaky Pete’s.  The owner, Pete Hafiz was there busy with far too many people wanting time with him both on the phone and face-to-face.  Once we finished our meal, we started on telling war-stories of bartending at the Brass Rail.  After a bit, we decided to leave and poke our noses into the back-door of the old Brass Rail.  Perhaps we might get lucky and the construction crews would let us take a look-see.

You may already know.  But in case you don’t: The Brass Rail closed last January 09, for failing to pay their rent to the owner of the building: Peter Hafiz.  Pete, owner of Sneaky Petes, Dream Girls, De Ja Vu and the Gay 90’s is a multi-million dollar mogul in the adult entertainment industry.  While the business license for the Brass Rail was owned by Johnny Vu Vu (Florida), the building that housed the bar was owned by Peter Hafiz.  Since the bar closed, the courts awarded the business license to Hafiz, and I was the last bartender to be on-duty when the bar closed on 1/27/09.

Before leaving Sneaky Petes; The three of us agreed that we should be courteous and say “Hi” to Pete.  It ws just “lunch” f or chrissakes!  We paid and headed to the back of Sneaky Petes, passing by when it all fell into place.

He (Pete) was talking with someone, and then spotted us.  With a broad grin on his face he jumped up and greeted us with a warm handshake.  Within minutes, his phone rang, so we stood quietly amongst ourselves while he did business.  Off the phone, he stood up and turned to the man he was talking to and finished up with him by pointing to the three of us saying: “And I want to talk to these three…Look at em!  They’re my new crew for my new bar and they’re here to get their jobs back!”

Pete pulled out a magazine and flipped a page and pointed to a picture on it saying: “There!  That’s what the new Rail Lounge is gonna look like.”  Each of us peered closely at the picture and this is what it looked like:

Lots of black and dark chocolate colors.  The lighting is a faint vanilla color illuminating the room full of conversation pits.  Long black leather sofas running along the walls with tables and adjoining chairs dotting throughout the room.  The bar was low, chrome with beautiful single yellow-lit lamps dangling from the ceiling like stars.

The bar looked like an aluminum space-craft floating in a vacuum of pale-yellow solar-systems.  I missed my trichorder.

It looked like the insides of a Snickers bar:  Warm, dark and the smell of chocolate.  The only thing missing was a giant-sized fire-pit in the middle of the room and it would have gone from “Fabulous” to “Looking Damn Fabulous”.

Pete said; “You wanna tour?!”  We nodded like school children and followed him into the back door of the bar and this is what we saw:

There’s no carpet right now.  It’s all hard sub-flooring.  The women’s restroom is gutted, the door accessing the restroom next to the backdoor exit was an archway of cement block.  That doorway will be gone.  Access to either sex restrooms will be from the hallway that you used to get to the mens room at the end.  Both restrooms have been completely gutted all the way to the exterior walls.  I got to the doorway of the mens room and decided I had enough once I realized the room smelled like ass.

The room on the left as you go down the hallway was almost completely re-finished.  It had been completely gutted and there’s fresh smelling spackling and sheetrocked walls.  It looks like he’ll make into an office space, or perhaps dry goods storage.

The skeletal frame of the bar itself has been installed.  The ribs with holes cut through them where tubing has been pulled through where soft drink syrups, juices, tonic water will flow through.  The floor behind the bar has been completely refinished with a common red-tile has been laid.

Here are the realities about the bar…  Pete wants to open by June 19th.  But there are a number of problems with that.

  • He doesn’t have the liquor license for the Rail Lounge from the city.  The city council meets regularly, except on the third Wednesday of the month.  If all other order of business is complete  – they address the issuance of liquor licenses.  Since he doesn’t have his liquor license, he’s hoping that the city will give him an extension to the license applied to Sneaky Petes so he can be open in time for Pride.
  • He doesn’t have a firm commitment with his contractors that they’ll be finished by the 19th.  Remember; he has both the Happy Hour bar at the Gay 90’s and the Rail Lounge he wants to open at the same time.

Pete pointed to the wood wainscoating along the walls and said; “You see all of this wood?  I have to get rid of all of it.  It’s beautiful wood too!  The wood panels and even the wooden “ledge” that runs all along the entire lenght of the bar is a really classy look!  But, it’s been so beaten up over the the years that its become unsightly and unrepairable.  So, I’m pulling all of it out and I’m replacing it with granite.  Granite is cheaper than a woodworker and a cabinet maker to reconstruct all of this wood – I’ll use the granite instead.

While we were there, construction workers were coming and going throughout the place, cleaning, sweeping moping  – and the dust was just everywhere.

I said to Pete: “You said you were going to hang a 60″ plasma screen on the wall the last time we talked!  Where’s that going to be?”

Pete pointed: “Between the stage and the exit door!  You see that big purple square on the wall?  That’s where it’ll be.  And people will sit around six tables with black leathered barrel chairs and they’ll get to watch whatever they want.  I’ll have these conversation groupings everywhere and each grouping will have a monitor to look at and watch whatever they want while they visit with their friends.

Aside from the stage, the only other thing in the room was the bar itself.  It’s shaped like the letter “C”  – but in a thin modern Euro-style curve.

Pete pointed at the front wall facing Hennipen Avenue and said: “On the sidewalk, I’m going to put up a really high privacy fence and make it completely enclosed all the way around.  So, when you come into the bar in the main door, there’ll be my fence on your right-hand side.  Once inside, you can turn to your right and all of those big glass windows willl be gone.  What I’m going to do is sliding glass doors that will collapse into a snigle pane.”  Sweeping his arms out; “So the bar will be completely open to the sidewalk outdoors and the privacy fence will keep everything else out.   The whole bar in the summer will be open to the outdoors for coming and going.”

I recalled memories of quiet bars when I lived in Guam and Japan where they were  completely open to the outdoors. Warm tropical rains would cool the hot and humid breezes that plagued you all day, or the room was flooded with the sound of night crickets and the surf.   I wondered if Pete thought much about plant-life.  “An coconut  or palm tree would be fitting..” I mused.  “But I’d be happy if he’d let me have an orchid.”

“Everybody has access to a full menu” Pet continued.  “And the food will be prepped in the kitchens by my chefs at Sneaky Petes.  We’ll have runners going back and forth with food and supplies between both places.”

I said; “It may be premature, Pete.  But have you thought about the second and the third floors?”

He grinned and said: “We’ve thought a lot about the second and the third floors, but right now, we’re only thinking about the first!”

We talked about his beer menu, wine menus.  He caught up with our lives.  Pointing to me he said; “…And you – this was your only job, wasn’t it?” Nodding, I said; “Yeah – there were a couple of us who had this gig as our only source of income.”  He grimmaced and said; “Well, I’m sorry about that.  We’re probably going to start calling all of you sometime next week to come down and meet with Tony and talk with us.  And let’s hope we can be open by Gay Pride.”

We thanked him for his time, trotted over to the Gay 90’s and had a beer.  We took bets whether or not we’ll be working on Gay Pride.  I’m the skeptic… It ain’t gonna happen until the following weekend (before the Fourth of July) at the earliest.  With the City Council’s wacky schedule – it might not be until the first week until August.

Yesterday, a friend of mine called me and heard that we had face-time with Pete.  I mentioned Lush and Glaxius opening soon.   He laughed and said; “Glaxius won’t open for a long time…and I’m guessing it will never open.”

He said: “The owner at Glaxius was using his boyfriend’s money and his boyfriend’s mother’s money to build that bar and the “mother-in-law” just shut her purse.  He doesn’t have any money and his boyfriend’s all tapped out!”

That makes Lush to open sometime later this summer.

I’m going to repeate a common thread throughout this entire conversation about the old Brass Rail and the new “Rail Lounge”:  People who think the Rail Lounge is a night club are wrong.  The Brass Rail, since 1974 has been a neighborhood gay bar far more than it being a gay nightclub.  There’s a huge difference!  In spite of late night entertainment of strippers, piano players and karaoka contests, the Brass Rail was a neighborhood haunt first.

Pete is painting a direct contrast to his super-nightclub with the Gay 90’s.  Continuing with that history between the two establishments that has spanned well over thirty-five years, Pete is setting up the Rail Lounge as a complimentary polar opposite to the Gay 90’s.

Pepper; Meet Salt!  Honey; Meet Jalapeño.

The Rail Lounge going to be a place where you can chillax with that new boyfriend you just met at the Gay 90’s in the Men Only room in the back.  …Quieter, far more intimate…  And while you’re surrounded by the warmth of dark chocolate colors on the walls and vanilla-yellow lighting – The Rail Lounge will be perfect place for that first romantic kiss with the smell of leather between yourselves those warm tropical breezes —  Minus the giant sized firepit in the center of the room.

Naked Fruit: The New (Brass) Rail Lounge

fructose_boostTwo 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!”

brassraildoorway1What 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.

fruitfly21There 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.”

Pete said;

“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!

fruitfly21The 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.

Lavender Magazine

Lavender Magazine

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!!”

Paul Oakenfold: Starry Eyed SurpriseWhat 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!!