Turf Club
1601 University Ave.
St. Paul, MN 55104

QUA MEANS AS. IT'S A FANCY Latin term that philosophers are enamored of, usually using it to mean slightly more than just "as"-- something closer to "in its identity as." And that's qua simple qua it gets. You just learned Latin.

But that's neither here nor there. The Turf Club now has music seven nights a week, which means that after 9 p.m., there's going to be a band happening, and thus you might steer clear of it if you're not in the mood for a good rocking, but that'd be a mistake, because the Turf, much like the Triple Rock Social Club, afford you the opportunity to escape the hubbub in the Clown Lodge, formerly known as the Clown Lounge.

But let's step back in time first. The Turf Club's been on the scene since the 1940s, and there are even pictures hanging behind the bar to prove it. I first got to know it as a divey and dank joint that just happened to host great live music, and its reputation for hosting great local and national acts continues to be its calling card. Renovations undertaken in the wake of its purchase by Dubliner owner Tim Scanlon have stripped away the false ceilings and grime, revealing a twinkling and ever so slightly kitschy gem of a bar. Gone is the peeling paint on the western wall that used to have the word "Curtains" imprinted on it, as if the very suggestion of a wall hanging would suffice. The majestic wooden mantle behind the upstairs bar has been restored, the false entrance has been broken down, as has the ad hoc counter that used to dish out Raleigh's Texas Tacos on Tuesdays. Damn, though, I wish I could have had one of those tacos last night while waiting to get onstage. Raleigh's slinging 'em over at the 331 Club now, just in case you get nostalgic/hungry.

As a venue, it's a great place to play: they treat you right (get your drink tickets from the soundguy, in case you didn't know), the sound is generally very good, the stage is of a decent size and it just feels great to play there. The one downside is that its cavernousness can amplify casual conversation to a band-drowning din, and I've seen quieter acts like The Get Up Johns and Haley Bonar suffer as a result. As an audience member, you get the benefit of great sightlines from all over the bar and copious seating, including up on the Old Stage, which runs along the western wall.

If the band that's up isn't your cup of tea or you're just looking to have a conversation at a reasonable volume, most nights of the week Dave Wiegardt mans the downstairs bar in the Clown Lodge. Where formerly you'd find clowns all over the walls, you now get fake wood paneling and the kind of bland, washed-out nature paintings you'd see in the background of a John Waters movie or in a hotel. If you really need to get your clown on, they're still on the walls in the downstairs bathroom. I've also heard that the ladies' room downstairs has photos of Turf Club patrons; I've never screwed up the courage to duck in there to check. Mondays the Clown Lodge plays host to the resurgent Jazz Implosion series, which is hosted by local jazz lions Fat Kid Wednesdays. The intimate quarters down there are a far cry from the upstairs venue, and it's great to see music return there after a long hiatus.

Oh man, this is already running long but there are so many things to talk about when it comes to the Turf. The photobooth is hit and miss: sometimes it's full of toner or fluid or whatever it is they use to make the photos and they look great. Other times, not so much. Other basic requirements are met: darts, jukebox (which has Bad Brains' Rock for Light-- I meant to play "Sailin' On" last night before they went to the house music, but forgot), pool table and a vending machine with salty and sweet snack. The drink selection is pretty garden variety Midwestern bar-- no Campari or anything crazy like that, but you can get your shots of Jameson and they have Premo and Old Style on tap, I believe, along with your Summits and the usual stuff. If you're looking for a hot martini, don't come here; if you're looking for good shows and a convivial atmosphere, this is the place. (McPHERSON)

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