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The Black Hart combines soccer, LGBTQ+ and neighborhood hangout

Posted on 12 May 2019 by Tesha Christensen

Town House Bar revamped by Midway resident and soccer fan as Minnesota United move into Allianz Stadium nearby

Wes Burdine purchased St. Paul’s oldest LGBTQ+ bar, the Town House Bar (1415 University Avenue West), four blocks from his house last year. He’s rebranded it by adding a soccer component as the Minnesota United FC move into the recently completed Allianz Field nearby. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

By TESHA M. CHRISTENSEN
tesha@monitorsaintpaul.com
Wes Burdine felt like something was missing when he moved into the Midway area three years ago. It needed a neighborhood gathering place.
With Allianz Stadium going up, Burdine also believed that the Midway needed a soccer bar.
So one day he called up Holly Monnett, owner of St. Paul’s oldest LGBTQ+ bar, the Town House Bar (1415 University Ave. W.) four blocks from his house, and shared his idea with her.
“I want to take what exists in this bar and add soccer to it,” Burdine said.
She told him, “This is the phone call I’ve been waiting for,” Burdine recalled.
CULTURE YOU CAN’T RECREATE
The Town House began as a fine dining restaurant in the 1940s and stayed that way through the 1960s. In 1969, it was rebranded as a gay bar, albeit subtly. Monnett began working there in 1974, became manager in 1980, and bought the place in 1987.
The bar has been well-known for its burlesque and drag shows, as well as weekly karaoke and piano lounge.
“It has a culture that you can’t recreate from scratch,” observed Burdine.
And he didn’t want to. Rather, he wanted to build upon it and bring more people, both gay and straight, soccer fans and neighbors, through the door. “It is important to me to keep something that is really vibrant and interesting here,” said Burdine. “This is a great space where a lot of things have happened.”
TRIBAL SOCCER WORLD
His goal is to continue to serve the queer community and to offer a soccer bar that serves a distinct fan culture, one he knows through his work as a soccer writer, blogger, and podcaster.
Burdine is part of team that launched FiftyFive.One, an online magazine focused on soccer and its culture, that grew out of Northern Pitch in 2016. Its name comes from the average high temperature of Minnesota, and the site seeks to be the singular source for regular coverage of professional soccer in Minnesota.
“The soccer world is mostly ignored by the media. People like me took it upon ourselves to write about it the way we wanted to,” explained Burdine.
Through that work, Burdine is familiar with the Minnesota United, its owner and players, and its fans.
Located a thousand feet from the new Allianz Field, the Black Hart aims to be the new spiritual home for soccer in the Twin Cities, and a place to catch matches from around the world of soccer.
“Soccer culture is very niche and DIY,” remarked Burdine. “It’s a little bit tribal.”
Part of that means that soccer fans enjoy watching games together, and if a game isn’t on at Black Hart patrons are encouraged to just ask.
NOT GENTRIFYING BUT
FIXING IT UP
A year and a half ago, Burdine started asking people what they loved most about the bar and what else they might want to see there. Burdine didn’t make any quick changes as he got to know the regulars, and he hung onto the existing staff members. He knew as a cis-gender straight male buying a queer bar that he needed to listen first and use those ideas to shape what came next.
The Town House hadn’t been the only place he had considered purchasing in the Midway. At one point, a property owner had encouraged him to raise the prices and push people out in order to get the right kind of clientele.
That advice didn’t sit well with Burdine, who has no intention of gentrifying his neighborhood.
He appreciated The Town House and didn’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable there, although he had also identified some things that needed to be fixed and updated.
“This is a working class bar,” said Burdine.
Burdine officially took over on Aug. 31, 2018 and held a grand re-opening of The Black Hart, named for an iconic black-tailed deer at the heart of the Minnesota wilderness, on March 2, 2019.
With the help of a $100,000 Neighborhood Star matching grant, Burdine spruced up the place. He painted the outdoor of the building and the ceiling, installed new vinyl flooring, added some wallpaper, and put up new signage. There was also a great deal done that isn’t noticeable, such as electrical work.
He tried to buy the empty lot next door to build a patio, but the current owners seem to be hanging onto it until they can get $500,000 for it, Burdine remarked. All of the empty storefronts along University Ave. that have been purchased by out-of-state investors set on hanging onto them until the prices reach exorbitant amounts frustrates the neighborhood resident, and he’s working with local officials to do something about it.
Burdine also converted the former dart area into a seating space, and added a large window to bring in light. He added more craft beer and liquor options in response to patron suggestions.
A giant 143-inch screen and projector went in on the stage. It allows patrons to view soccer games and rolls away during drag shows.
Catch the longtime Pumps and Pearls show on Wednesdays, and other burlesque and drag shows on the weekends after 9:30 p.m.
There’s karaoke every Tuesday night beginning at 8:30 p.m. and again on Fridays in the lounge at 9 p.m. Sunday is Cheapie Night with free pool and darts after 8 p.m. Monday night is Trivia Night with Trivia Mafia.
Check the online calendar for which soccer games will be shown (www.blackhartstp.com).
Hours are Monday to Thursday, 3 p.m. to 1 a.m. Friday 3 p.m. to 2 a.m., Saturday noon to 2 a.m. and Sunday noon to 1 a.m. Black Hart opens at 9 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays August through May for European soccer games.
“The idea is to get to be the place of choice for Midway residents,“ said Burdine. “It’s not just the drag shows or the soccer. It’s their space, as well.”

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