The new scenes: Two recent clubs shake up Minneaps

Sara Nicole Miller

Pi fills the gaps in the gay scene, opening up a lesbian club in Minneapolis

In April of 2006, Tara Yule was stocking groceries at Linden Hills Co-op with Amber “Benny” Benson. “Hey, I have this idea,” Yule said to her longtime friend. “Let’s open a bar!”

Then one day in July, as if it was sketched out in the stars, Yule was riding her bike through Seward when she happened upon a sign in the window of an abandoned former American Legion. The building, smack in the middle of a light industrial neighborhood with an old railroad hub nearby, was for sale.

“I was called, like Moses, to open a dyke bar,” Yule laughs.

But the place didn’t exactly have club appeal. The dilapidated warehouse had wretched carpeting, moisture was rotting out the walls and the ceiling was exposed. Years of old cheese sauce and deep fryer grease were left to fossilize in the kitchen, leaving much yet to be done.

Now, almost 9 months later, the place has a low-lit, urban lounge atmosphere, with a spacious dance floor and restaurant area, a hallway art gallery and a large pool room with a giant machinist dreamscape mural by local artists Kim Thompson and Chamindika.

Gay nightclubs geared toward women don’t come easily in the Twin Cities. Minneapolis has largely been void of any type of venue primarily for queer women. For years, St. Paul was the place to be for lesbians lookin’ to boogie-woogie. But then, like a black hole, the city began swallowing up popular lesbian watering holes like Over the Rainbow, Lucy’s and Trixx. St. Paul’s lesbian scene has since been reduced to still-steaming rubble, leaving a huge void to fill.

The boys continued to mingle in their staple hotspots downtown, but the lesbian scene was pretty much kaput. But on opening night, a total of 909 people went in and out of Pi’s doors – putting to rest any doubt that the local lesbian scene lacked willing scenesters.

Pi – who gets its name from the delicious euphemism that pop culture has attributed to the sacred feminine – wants to be a place in which queer women and the queer friendly can come, eat dinner, sing karaoke, play pool (which is free from 4-8 every night), dance and be merry.

Pi is by no means your average dive bar; the owners want to promote an illustrious, versatile appeal. The kitchen – called the Pi Hole and headed up by executive chef Stephanie Hedrick – serves up everything from miniature burgers to Gaysian Wraps to, most appropriately, pie by the slice. Pi also employs entertainment director Shannon Blowtorch, a dancer for local goth/glam rock band All the Pretty Horses. She fills their calendar with acts such as Bitch (formerly of Bitch and Animal) and Old School Vinyl Night with Lori Barbero of Babes in Toyland. Different nights employ different themes, to entertain a medley of musical flavors.

The ladies at Pi continue to be amazed with the sense of community that has arisen out of the club opening. As gay culture continues to become more accepted in mainstream society, the GLBT community has become increasingly absorbed into dominant culture, fracturing the ties that bound them together. Many GLBT people have been left at the fringes.

“It still can be fun to be queer and different,” Yule said.

Pi already has large plans in the works: Grover, a bartender, has brought in instruments for the formation of a house band. Come spring, once the weather is warmer and their liquor license is upgraded, Pi plans on building a smoking patio and bringing in burlesque and cabaret acts – including drag performances, an important part of GLBT culture.

But at the end of the day, what queer women in the metropolis really needed was a place to jiggle and giggle. And now, they’ve got it. With a smile on her face, Chef Hedrick recalls two elderly women who recently came in, dressed to the nines.

“They got all dolled up, came in and were dancing together. We all watched them and our eyes welled up,” Hedrick said.


Welcome to Miami – a new restaurant approved by Tubbs and Crockett

The fusion of electric palm trees, “Miami Vice” fashionistas and artificial DayGlo makes a perfect contemporary case for ambient kitsch-in-a-can. Many-a species of indie kids would cheer on a fusion of this flavoring. Kitsch culture, too, would surely rejoice; not many can take an often misunderstood cultural obscurity and twist it into something collapsible, aesthetically packaged and digestible.

But the newly opened Restaurant Miami, a club and eatery modeled after the “Miami Vice” and “Scarface” style décor and excess of the 1980s, might just be as flashy and mind-boggling as the decade itself.

The ambience is bold and two-toned – teal and Jazzercise-pink cover the vinyl booths. Neon lights line the perimeter of the walls and each table comes equipped with a phone that connects to other tables and the bar of the restaurant, taking the concept of the “Dream Phone” game to a whole new level. One caller, using the phone line as disguise, asked a table nearby, “Do you like anyone here more than a friend?”

The VIP room, sectioned off by translucent glass bricks, has clusters of plush red couches and an exact replica of a sunset mural from “Scarface.” The film plays nonstop on the plasma TVs behind the bar, and bottles of hairspray perch in the bathrooms. The only things missing are countless mounds of cocaine.

Each cocktail is named after a line in “Scarface.” One drink is named “Who the fuck you calling a spic, mang? You white piece of bread. Get outta the way of the television.” Another, “Her womb is so polluted.”

Co-owner Robert Seer decided to open the restaurant after years of burnout in the downtown club business. The Brit ex-pat from Leeds cites Tony Montana as his idol, and the stars of “Miami Vice” have acquired from him a demigod status.

“I’m not gay, but I’d fuck Don Johnson. That’s how good-looking he is,” he proclaims.

The food is spiced, bold and essentially delicious, as the menu offers a new spin on seafood fusion and frippery.

“Ahi tuna – yawn. Everyone’s done that,” Seer said.

The owners’ retro creativity extends into the dishes, with names such as Rico Tubbs Risotto and Linguine del Elian Gonzales.

“As long as everyone is in on the joke, it’s a great place,” commented Scott Schneweis, a guest at the restaurant.

But the joke – whatever it might be – is too complex for many restaurant-goers to make much sense of, even in the afterglow of their own sensory excitement.

So don’t expect to swallow Restaurant Miami in one gorged mouthful; it’s about as hard to figure out as a Rubik’s Cube and as bewildering as the Great Cabbage Patch Shortage of 1983. It makes more of a metacritical case for post-ironic kitsch than it does for a fun-loving fluorescent eatery. All the florid ornamentation creates a nostalgic carnival of sensory overload and mass culture references. But, like the ’80s-as-decade, when paranoia rocked the corporate world and society’s ills were glossed over with a fetishized nudge or two towards crass materialism as cure-all, Restaurant Miami seals the deal in fun and fancy-free pop culture reductionism.

“Excess. The ’80s is all about excess,” Seer explains. Like Seer, many of us speak of the decade of decadence as if it were a tangible object, one that we’ve captured and stashed in our fanny packs for safe keeping. What is glossed over, then, is not a question of whether or not Scarface was packing a Soviet-manufactured AK-47, or whether the ghettoization of consumer-tinged individualism falls more heavily on Bill Cosby or Ronald Reagan’s shoulders, but how our society continues to be seduced by the same beloved follies.

Nonetheless, in Restaurant Miami, the ritualized act of conspicuous consumption never goes out of style.

Maybe while you’re there, it’s best not to engage your more gnawing subtextual instincts; god forbid, they might spoil all the fun next time you plug into Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.