Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Chocolate, Jazz and a Vintage Venue on The Third Floor

Chocolate Chateau, and soon Third Floor jazz venue on Selby
  © Andrea Canter

Dancing to Lila Ammons at The Nicollet
I enjoyed the relatively short-lived Nicollet Coffee, just south of downtown Minneapolis. The corner has seen a parade of businesses, mostly cafes and coffee shops, so perhaps it was not a great location for yet another go at coffee and café fare. Jeremy Konecny was determined to bring some beans and bop to the end of Eat Street. And for a good six months he made a valiant effort to host some good music, particularly jazz. Maryann Sullivan and Rhonda Laurie brought in the talent on Tuesday nights, and it was a cozy place to hang and hear some good vocals and small ensembles that generally were not getting enough attention elsewhere. And with a hardwood floor begging for dancers, it was not long before the local swing dance community started turning up on Tuesday nights. Unfortunately, not enough of the jazz community, or the general neighborhood, turned up at all. Some blamed the lack of a liquor license. Hard to know. The Nicollet closed in spring 2012.  But Jeremy had more ideas. And one of them involved chocolate. 

Remember the Vintage restaurant on Selby in St. Paul? For years it was considered a dining destination, more for the elegant Victorian architecture than the kitchen. After it closed, it was home to an Italian restaurant for a year or two, even boasting some Happy Hour and weekend jazz with the likes of Irv Williams and Peter Schimke. A couple years ago, it closed. The next tenant was, and is, the Chocolate Chateau, purveyor of all things chocolate, including some you can’t eat. There’s a small café and outdoor patio, so you can have your chocolate and coffee on site.

Enter Jeremy Konecny, looking for a new venue for his next jazz and food venture.  “After starting some jazz at The Nicollet I found myself so into jazz music and knowing what was happening with the growth of jazz and the price some places are charging...I just really felt compelled to find another new home for jazz,” he said, explaining why he was again taking the plunge, this time with The Third Floor. Which of course is on the third floor of the old Vintage. “The space,” he says, “although weak on staging, is beautiful in looks and sound, and the location is pretty fantastic as well! It has a lot of history [the building is on the National Register of Historic Places] and a 4th floor, which is very rare in this area. The winter views from the mezzanine should be amazing.”

Amazing indeed. I stopped in to pick up some chocolate the other day and was treated to a private preview of the Third Floor. It’s an elegant mix of hardwood floors and exposed brick walls, a very cool bar (with totally cool bar chairs—the kind with backs for us middle-agers), and large windows overlooking Cathedral Hill. And perhaps best of all, it is two flights above the Chocolate Chateau which should figure significantly on the menu. Not wanting to create a real dining room, Jeremy explains that “I will be bringing back (and making better) our pizza from The Nicollet,” and he has some other menu ideas as well, including, of course, dessert.

Maryann Sullivan
For now, jazz will reign on Thursday nights, with plans for some ambient music options on Fridays and perhaps later, some vinyl spinning on Saturdays. The idea is to make it an early evening, starting at 7:30 and going til 9:30 on Thursdays with small jazz ensembles. Things will kickoff next Thursday (October 18) with Maryann Sullivan hosting an opening party with “special guests” (surely including hubby Doug Haining); Charmin Michelle and Joel Shapira are slated for October 25, and so far November has JazZen on the schedule (11/8). JZ’s flautist Bobb Fantauzzo checked out the room recently and declared it one of the best for his arsenal of flutes. I can imagine the that sound soaring up through the open rafters to that fourth floor “mezzanine” and beyond, under the roof.  Jeremy plans to keep covers low, $5 will get you in the door as well as $2 credit toward your first drink. And yes, this time there is a liquor license and an array of wines and microbrews.

Says Jeremy, “Between the location, my desire and passion for jazz, the local jazz community getting behind us, keeping ticket prices very low, and all the free parking...we just got to make this place special!” The Third Floor isn’t even open for another week, but already it seems like it will be a special destination.

Chocolate and jazz, in historic St. Paul? It’s the Rebirth of the Cool.

Come out October 18th for the opening night on The Third Floor, 579 Selby in St Paul;

Photo of the historic Vintage building from the Chocolate Chateau website. Other photos by Andrea Canter.