Local Current Blog

First Avenue buys the Turf Club

Brett Baldwin/MPR

It’s been a dramatic week for news about St. Paul music venues. On the heels of the Artists’ Quarter’s announcement Monday that they will shutter at the end of the year, Minneapolis institution First Avenue has revealed that they are in the process of purchasing the Turf Club from owner Tom Scanlon and will take over operations on October 15.

First Avenue has been booking occasional shows at the Turf Club since 2000, and as general manager Nate Kranz tells it, the club’s staff have a long history of not only working with the club professionally but also frequenting it as patrons.

“I love that place,” he says. “It’s one of my favorite places to hang out. I was just talking to [current Turf Club owner] Tom [Scanlon] one day, and it kind of came up that he was ready—he said he owned one too many bars. I told him we were in the market, and we were able to work out a deal. We do a lot of stuff, but this is one of the things that is personally really exciting to me.”

Kranz says that he and First Avenue owner Dayna Frank just filed the majority of the paperwork for the purchase at St. Paul’s City Hall yesterday, including applying for a new liquor license, and that the purchase agreement will be finalized around the end of the year. But the club isn’t waiting to make their mark on the University Ave. space; they’re already meeting with existing staff (who will stay on board through the transition) and will begin managing the Turf on Tuesday.

Lovers of the Turf Club needn’t fear, as many of the most notable aspects of the club will stay the same, including the name, the general aesthetic, and the beloved basement bar known as the Clown Lounge. But Kranz says First Ave is ready to invest capital in the club to make some serious improvements, too.

“We do plan on cleaning it up,” he says. “We want to make the bathrooms better, and we’re going to put in a kitchen so we can do some food service, things like that. Essentially, it’ll be the same vibe, but we want to put money into the sound system and do everything we can to make it the best 350-person room that we possibly can.”

The purchase should put to rest any fears that were raised when the Turf announced a few months back that it would only be open Wednesdays through Saturdays rather than seven days a week.

In a press release issued by the club this morning, both the mayor of St. Paul and former owner Tom Scanlon had good things to say about First Ave’s big move.

“I’m really excited to see the next era of the Turf Club with the team coming in from First Avenue. While I am looking forward to some new investment, I’m confident it will carry on the tradition of the Saint Paul Music Club started by Rob and Leah Rule that made it such a treasure” said St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman. Rob and his late wife Leah Rule were largely responsible with the Turf Club’s revitalization in the mid-’90s, and oversaw the Turf as it transitioned from a University Ave. dive that occasionally hosted country shows to the bustling live music hub that it’s known as today.

“After eight years of owning and operating this club I wouldn’t just hand it off to any buyers. I’ve worked closely with First Ave over the years and have seen firsthand what they’re capable of,” said current owner Tom Scanlon. “I haven’t flinched in entrusting the club to First Avenue and I’m excited to see its continued success. “



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