Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Pi Bar

Pi Bar (2007)
Pi Bar

Location: 2532 25th Avenue South, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

Opened: February 2007

Closed: November 2008

Back in 2007, when the new Pi Bar won the Citypages Best Lesbian Bar award, it was (apparently) an unapologetic dyke place:

Don't insult the competition by pretending it doesn't exist: Lesbians won't abandon St. Paul's Town House or the moveable dance night Twilight anytime soon, while plenty of ostensibly gay male hotspots are also female favorites. But Pi is the first by-and-for-queer-women club since the demise of Club Metro and Lucy's Saloon in St. Paul, and it feels good. Located around the block from Memory Lanes in what used to be an American Legion, the hopping venue might be the first local dyke bar to establish itself (and rapidly so) as a hangout, restaurant, disco, and concert hall in one.

Though this is NOT to say that the dudes weren't hanging around Pi, because they were:

There are men here, too, and the club's "gender-inclusive" bathroom, for those in between, is both practical and suggestive of the spirit here.

Here's another review from December 2007. Similar attempt to straddle that gap between "lesbian friendly" and "friendly for everyone:"

In days of yore, the lesbian bar scene was apparently pretty sparse. Though there were various Dykes Do Drag events throughout the year, few specific locales catered to this untapped niche market. Some gay bar patrons even went renegade, hilariously hijacking ladies' nights around the city at various sports bars. But now that Pi has been on the scene and thriving for over a year, there's at least one Minneapolis pub out there that is openly lesbian-friendly. The bar hit the ground running when it opened, hosting a myriad of live music nights, film screenings, and free pool. And though the scene is lesbian-friendly, the emphasis is on friendly, for everyone.

As is typical, customer opinions could be a bit on the rough side. Here's an opening night review from yelp:

Ok, so there hasn't been a lesbian bar in Minneapolis for years and everyone is so overwhelmed by the opening of a new one that they don't notice:

1. It's opening night and there is no sign.  Just walk into this random low-slung building in the middle of a residential neighborhood.  Riight.
2. The building is a converted VFW (or somesuch club meeting house) and has not been redecorated at all.  The coatcheck is full and the bathroom signs are done in marker and taped up.
3. Inside they are serving disgusting looking hot dogs & other State Fair-esque food (minus all of the delicious fair goodness.)
4. Right next to where people are eating their hot dogs, ugly ugly women are gyrating.  Where do you people come from?  Mullets and flannel disappeared with Clinton, if not before!
5.  The place is so overwhelmed by mullet & flannel toting ladies that it takes me 30 minutes (literally!) to get a drink, each time!  I seriously ordered two drinks at once because I couldn't stand the thought of standing in line again.
6.  Did I say line?  What happened to Minnesota nice?  No one was standing in line - everyone was cutting!  Understandable when you've been wanting another drink for THIRTY MINUTES!

The highlights:
1. Genderqueer friendly bathrooms for my friend
2. They finally played some Michael Jackson, I chugged my drinks, and danced like I would never return.  Oh wait, I never would.

Seriously folks, Minneapolis is becoming a pretty hip place; you'd think it could do better than Pi.  I've lived all over and can speak to the fact that this was the worst bar experience I've ever had.  An event like this should teach the city entrepreneurs that the lusty ladies of MN are desperate for a place that will cater to them - and, sadly, are willing to settle for any crappy ol place that designates itself "lesbian."  Good luck, Twin Cities - hope Pi got better after the opening!

And so it goes, with a mix of both positive and negatives. Here are a few random comments from citysearch:

Everyone seems welcome. Haven't tried the food, but the menu looks interesting. The drinks are O.K.. I have been there four or five times, and I have always felt welcome and comfortable.

This place seems as though they are trying hard, but it really has not connected well with the community of women visiting the establishment.

worst experience ever. Okay ladies! I've been known to not give "our community" a fair shake but my experience at PI was one for the books.

Choosey Lezzies Choose Pi. I must be honest. The first time few times I met friends for a drink at Pi I found much to be desired.

Great girls night out... :) Fantastic food.... Two words: Nibbler plate! 

I love the fact that Pi is gay/ straight/ and transgender friendly. You could bring your girlfriend, your boyfriend, or both. :) Definately much more "girl friendly" than other gay bars in the city.

Pi--best bar on the planet!.

"Not" the Place to go!. My girlfriend and I finally decided to go check out this bar/resteraunt after all the positive and cliche publicity it got in the community. Not only is it not easy to find, when we did walk in the door the first thing that was said to us was, "Give me your IDS." I'm not even sure what the "IT" thing was that checked out ids.

At some point, Pi Bar began to identify as more "queer" than lesbian--as this self-description shows. This kind of "progression" is very common when there is not a clear commitment to being a lesbian space:

Pi Bar patrons
Pi is a queer bar in the broadest sense of the word. We are the island of misfit toys. It is a totally awesome magicland that appears to you if you stare at it long enough like one of those pictures that were popular in the nineties. Art, music, bands, shows, food, sex toys, love, free pool, and booze. No haters please.

By November 2008, Pi Bar was in serious trouble--seems they had some monetary problems, namely a balloon mortgage--and were going to lose their space unless they could buy the building out right. The owner set up a fund for patrons to make donations. 

That is not to say that donors could expect anything in return (like an ownership interest). This created a certain element of community misunderstanding and ill will when some fundraising appeals implied that Pi would become "a community-owned space--sort of like the Green Bay packers." $100,00 was successfully raised, but it was not enough. 

It's interesting that these articles referring to the fundraising did NOT use the "L" word. On the contrary, Pi is referred to as a "meeting place for queer women, the GBLT community, and alternative people of all stripes." 

But I guess all that groovy inclusiveness didn't save the place in the end. 

OutHistory has a post-mortem on the closing of what they call "first bar/restaurant that exclusively catered to queer women in Minneapolis." In addition to the poor economic times, they blame the poor location:

With few Minneapolis business models to follow, owner Tara Yule implemented the successful techniques of St. Paul’s old “lesbian” bars; she invited community organizations to use her space, and she welcomed a diverse clientele to the bar’s pool tables, nightly events, and spacious dance floor. 
Pi Bar exterior
Unfortunately, Pi’s borderland location between the Seward and Longfellow neighborhoods proved difficult to reach—the bar’s clientele could not reach the venue easily by public transportation. Located in a concentration of light industrial buildings, the bar was not supported by a coexisting residential community. Previous spaces for queer women used residential settlements as a primary business support—this was the case for the Lesbian Resource Center--located near Loring Park and a lesbian settlement on nearby Garfield Avenue--and the Amazon Feminist/True Colors Bookstore near Powderhorn Park.

This is a common problem with lesbian bars. Because of budgetary constraints, they are often pushed into marginal locations outside "gay" (i.e. gay male) neighborhoods or other more desirable retail/entertainment areas. And of course, this just sets them up for failure.

1 comment:

  1. It was in a lousy location. I spent some time in Mpls in 2007 and really wasn't interested in trying to get there since I knew a lot of the other bars & clubs (I went to college in Mpls in the late 80's). I preferred them even if they were male since they were easy to get to. I didn't have a car & knew some of the gay guys.


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