When Black Dog Cafe first opened in 1998, St. Paul's Lowertown neighborhood looked much different.
Underutilized buildings and artists made up the area that is now filled with condos, high-end apartments and few parking spaces. And for more than 23 years, Black Dog Cafe (308 E. Prince St., St. Paul, blackdogstpaul.com) was a Lowertown hub, a place to grab coffee, maybe some jazz, or find a good corner to work on the next great novel. Now, the cafe turned full restaurant and music venue will close. Co-owner Sara Remke posted a notice on the door and on its Facebook page that the cafe has closed. On Jan. 15, the cafe will be open for a final night so guests and friends can say goodbye.
"We are grateful for each and everyone of you that has walked through these doors," the cafe's post said. "We have loved you as best we could."
Sara, along with siblings Andy and Stacy Remke, first opened Black Dog Cafe as a coffee shop in the Northern Warehouse Artists Cooperative. It soon became a gathering space in a neighborhood that had few other restaurants. The demand for food led the Remkes to build a makeshift kitchen that began serving sandwiches and pizzas.
A relationship between Sara Remke and a French music producer had a hand in the cafe's segue into music. "You could do music here," he told her. And they did. The first group to perform was a French jazz trio, and music has been part of the cafe ever since.
Once relatively easy to access, parking at Black Dog Cafe became an issue as CHS Field was constructed and the light rail went in nearby. Rather than bow out, the Black Dog doubled down on the area, eventually taking over the space next door. In 2016, it launched a grand reopening with an expanded kitchen, chef and table service. Still a vital part of the community, the cafe served takeout during the pandemic and made the return to in-person dining last year.
"To some people, we're that hippie place, which I actually don't mind," Sara Remke told the Star Tribune in 2018 as the cafe celebrated its 20th anniversary. "But I feel like the Black Dog is my art project and my dharma. It's where I meet the world, reflect, work on myself and constantly try to make things better."
The cafe is encouraging friends and fans to stop by in the upcoming weeks for a bite or drink before it takes its final bow.