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The closing of Nye’s original piano bar a few years ago has left a gaping hole in the hearts of many a Twin Citian who loves a singalong from another era.

Trying to fill that hole is the new Barrel House, in the lower level of Birch’s Lowertown (289 E. 5th St., St. Paul, 651-432-4677, The 1970s-style cocktail lounge and cabaret opened last weekend.

If having a complicated entrance is the requirement for being a speakeasy, then that’s what the Barrel House is. At least, that’s what owner Burt Joseph (in partnership with Tim McKee and Shane Oporto of Market House Collaborative co-tenants Octo Fishbar) was going for. Go through the brewery, down the stairs and through the doors. “You walk in and have that wow factor,” Joseph said.

But that’s where the 1920s end and the 1970s begin. “I didn’t want to do what other places had done with speakeasies,” Joseph explained. “I wanted to try a time that was more fitting for myself and a style of music I enjoy.”

Though he wouldn’t give his age, Joseph said he was “riding my tricycle” in the 1970s. “I’ve got memories of the paneling in our lower level and some of the furniture my parents had back then.”

The Barrel House is styled after a subterranean crooner’s lounge from that era, complete with crushed velour swivel chairs and acrylic tables. “Where Elvis meets Liberace,” Joseph described it. “With a little Studio 54.”

For music, think “early Billy Joel.” Singers Erin Schwab and Jay Fuchs, and Jenny and Donnie La Marca, currently headline around the piano, but on opening weekend, guests were doing a lot of the singing. And that’s all right with Joseph. “If you ever went to Nye’s and sang along, that’s what I’m looking for,” he said.

Guests can order off the Birch’s menu till 10 p.m. Otherwise, the focus is on drinks, with more than 90 scotches, bourbons and ryes, more than 21 tequilas, and a Tattersall cocktail menu, plus a few throwbacks like the Harvey Wallbanger.

For now, the lounge is open Thu.-Sat., starting at 8 p.m., with some same-day reservations available if you can procure a secret number (hint: check social media). Sunday drag brunches are coming soon. The Barrel House can also be rented out for private events.

Just be ready to sing your heart out.

“There’s not a lot going on in Lowertown St. Paul, so we are trying to help uplift that area,” Joseph said. “It’s a destination.”

More restaurant news

Gluten-free eaters don’t have to miss out on classic Thanksgiving dishes, thanks to two Minneapolis eateries serving up takeout for the holiday. Brim (2919 Knox Av. S., Mpls., 612-261-0506, is cooking up gluten-free and organic sides and pies, and Sift Gluten Free bakery (4557 Bloomington Av. S., Mpls., 612-503-5300, is baking desserts and breads, and many of the options are also dairy-free, egg-free or vegan. Place orders in person, by phone or online.

Lift Bridge Brewing Co. is releasing this year’s 500-bottle batch of the Commander at a release party Sat., noon-10 p.m. Those who have preordered the English-style barleywine ale, which is aged in bourbon barrels, through Lift Bridge’s website ( or in person (1900 Tower Dr., Stillwater) can pick up their bottles while enjoying a tipsy pie-eating contest, hairy chest contest, minnow racing and live goats.

The Minneapolis Passport Winter Edition is now out. Through April 15, those who purchase a $20 “passport” get two-for-one drink deals at bars and coffee shops throughout the city. Among the 52 participating venues are 4 Bells, Grand Catch, Hai Hai, Parlour and St. Genevieve. Passports can be purchased at

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Come Pho Soup in the Medical Arts Building in downtown Minneapolis (825 Nicollet Mall) has closed. Owner Alain Lenne says his two-year lease was an experiment to “study if the concept works.” It did, so much so that it was hurting his other business in the same building, La Belle Crêpe. Now, he’s looking for a skyway location to reopen the pho shop. In the meantime, the tiny crêperie is serving pho and bánh mì.