// The iconic neighborhood bar drops the Polish accent, keeps the rock-and-roll — and the urinals //
Don’t let the hubbub over the urinals fool you. Yes, after sitting vacant for more than a year, Stasiu’s is back — but not as you might remember it.
When news broke late this summer that the Polish rock palace, an iconic dive known to hold equal appeal amongst neighborhood old-timers, skinny-jeaned hipsters and frat-boy pub crawlers, would be reborn as Stanley’s Bar Room, the enthusiasm surrounded all that wouldn’t change. They’re keeping the famous urinals! The local rock shows are coming back! They’ve got Christy Hunt booking bands again!
But step inside Stanley’s today — the bar enjoyed a series of quiet, soft openings beginning on Oct. 8 — and you’ll hardly recognize the place.
The cramped darkness of the old venue is now flooded in natural light, pouring in through a suite of large windows installed in the eastern and southern walls. The coolers of tall boys have given way to an impressive line-up of 32 tap beers, almost every one crafted in a local microbrewery. The worn wood interior has been gutted, replaced with fresh brick facings. And a cramped driveway on the north side of the building is now a spacious, 45-seat concrete patio, a roaring fire pit at its center.
For those who knew Stasiu, meet Stanley: the old Polish guy’s suave American nephew.
The space: less Terminal Bar, more Cause
New owners Steven and David Benowitz, a father-and-son team that also runs a bar called the Rail Station in South Minneapolis, have spent the summer remodeling. The result is a much more polished watering hole than the area is used to — a divergence from the frozen-pizza-and-darts vibe that reigns at nearby joints like Grumpy’s, the Northeast Palace and Tony Jarro’s.
“The urinals and the ice machine are the only two things we kept,” said David Benowitz. “And that’s because every single person we talked to about this project, people we didn’t know, said, ‘Tell me you’re keeping the urinals!’”
The antique porcelain urinals, in case you were wondering, date back to 1940, when they were rescued from the West Hotel before it was torn down. At near shoulder height, the urinals’ walls curve dramatically outward to ensure privacy. Each comes equipped with a special indentation designed to cradle a pint glass.
When asked about the aggressive remodeling, Steven Benowitz spoke about making an investment in the neighborhood and raising property values. “This neighborhood is changing. For the better. I figured if we came in here and did this, not only would it help the neighborhood, but it might attract more businesses to come in and do the same thing.”
But the Benowitzes say the biggest attraction of the Stasiu’s building was its location, namely the visibility afforded by the intersection of Lowry and University Avenues. Once the Lowry Avenue Bridge opens, in 2013, the already brisk traffic there is expected to increase.
Stanley’s will be the Benowitzes’ fourth bar. In addition to the Rail Station, the duo operates the Hopkins Tavern in Downtown Hopkins and a bar in Hastings called simply The Bar.
Both father and son admit to having little personal experience in the original Stasiu’s — a fact that’s fueled some worries that the new décor might clash with the old bar’s dirty rock vibe.
The music: less rough, more tough
Urinals aside, the Benowitzes have kept one other key Stasiu’s feature: the live music programming.
The bar became a rock-and-roll destination in 2007, when Christy Hunt, the spitfire front woman of punk bands Ouija Radio and Pink Mink, began booking local acts there.
At the time, Hunt already had a reputation for converting blue-collar bars into music scene hotspots, having done precisely that at the Hexagon Bar in the Seward neighborhood. She says the Hexagon inspired her to do Stasiu’s.
Soon, hard-driving, experimental bands like Gay Witch Abortion and Unicorn Basement began packing shows at Stasiu’s — and occasionally offending regulars. The bar opened its upstairs “parlor” in order to have staggered sets. If guests were willing to brave the rickety stairs, they could move from upstairs to downstairs and avoid any lull between bands.
The new owners learned of Hunt after they had committed to the space. Like the urinals, they found out they couldn’t tinker with such a popular feature.
“We knew that it was a successful establishment for music,” David said, “so we contacted Christy right away when we figured out she was the booker.”
Asked if she was concerned about the bar’s squeaky-clean facelift, Hunt sounded unfazed.
“I’m not going to change,” she said. “I told [the Benowitzes] straight up. If they want to have me book cover band nights or jazz — I can do jazz, but it’s going to be more on the indie rock level.”
Hunt suggested that modern restaurants that book bands are becoming the new vogue.
“Places like Nick and Eddie, that’s a pretty posh place, and they’re making a scene. I think modern restaurants [with live music] are going to be everywhere. I think it’s just a new time. It’ll be the first one for Northeast.”
She added, “I do have the greatest sound team here.”
Hunt’s first show is Oct. 15. Gospel Gossip, an old Stasiu’s regular, will headline, along with local bands His Mischief, Young Pretenders and a fourth band from Los Angeles. The next night, Kruddler — a band that features a bartender from nearby Grumpy’s — will headline.
David Benowitz said that the upstairs will eventually reopen. But it will be used mostly for private events. The old staircase has been replaced; the Benowitzes have guaranteed a safer ascent.
On Monday nights, Ian Rans, the toe-headed host of local TV show “Drinking with Ian” (and Northeast resident), will mount a version of the old “$100,000 Pyramid” game show. Two local celebrities will attempt to get their contestants to the top of the pyramid where they can win a $50 bar tab.
On Wednesday nights, longtime Northeaster Joel Stitzel — whose great-grandfather ran the old Worwa’s Bar where Gasthof’s is located today — will host a karaoke night.
And every Thursday, Stanley’s will host a craft beer event. Representatives from one of the local beers on tap will conduct tastings and launch parties for new draft lines. Events for Schell’s and Crispin are already in the works.
The menu: less brats, more brisket
Contrary to rumors, local super chef Steven Brown will not be working for Stanley’s. The menu has been designed by another local chef, Andy Weber. David described the food as, “a little bit more upscale, but it won’t be high-end by any means. All of our entrees are going to be under $15.”
A smoker has been brought in for barbecue, and the Benowitzes expect a brisket to be the bar’s signature item. The menu even features a daily fresh fish. The bar also employs three mixologists, who will create monthly cocktails.
And as for the bar’s name — Stanley is an English equivalent of the Polish Stasiu — that too is just a coincidence.
“I told my mother-in-law the next time, and if, I purchased another business, I’d name it after my father-in-law,” said Steven. “And his name was Stanley.”
Reach Gregory J. Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org.