I got this text last night: Why does everything close early on Wed? Need a St. Paul late night cool place and there is NOTHING.
I giggled because I got this text when I was driving home from a sneak peek of St. Paul's new jazz club that was certainly still hopping when I left.
Or should I say "newish?" Vieux Carré is the reincarnation of downtown's The Artists' Quarter, which closed a bit back. This new version is brought to you by Lowell Picket and The Dakota, which is good news for all because they know a thing or two about running a jazz joint.
If you haven't been there, it's in the basement of the historic Hamm Building, tucked around the corner from Meritage and Great Waters. It's still dark and small and clubby, but there have been some improvements (like ditching the carpet). The biggest imporvement, the addition of a kitchen. Now you can enjoy your jazz with a stiff drink and some snacks. The small menu pulls from both New Orleans and the Mediterranean. Dakota chef Derik Moran came up with the menu that keeps it light, but brings the flavor. Smaller bites include oysters Rockefeller, slow marinated apricots with tomato, feta, and prosciutto, and a big fresh salad for two. Larger plates include a stacked Muffaletta, a non-fried shrimp and lobster po' boy, plus a really nice gumbo with pheasant, quail, smoked sausage, and rice. There's also a crab macque choux and a glazed short rib that looked tasty.
I didn't see the King Cake on the dessert menu, but there's King Cake! And with Katie Elsing as pastry chef, we know she brings game. Also: ice box cake!
The bar menu breaks down into Aperitif, Craft, Classic, and Digestif. The Heart of Glass aperitif made of Aperol, bittersweet vermouth, and a bit of bubbly was very refreshing. A classic Sazerac was well-balanced, and the Cork & Cleaver with cranberry shrub was fun. The signature Vieux Carré was dead-on, a silky and rich libation. There are about a dozen craft beers and a nice wine bottle list that pours everything by the glass as well.
The group that was playing while we were there was loud, but good loud. They're going to try to keep the good loud stuff until later in night so that if you want to come early for nosh, you're still able to chat a bit over dinner.
The joint opens officially next Tuesday at 4 p.m. and is closed on Sunday and Monday. But if you want to get a taste of what they're planning to bring to the scene, check out the Bastille Day party they're throwing in St. Paul on Saturday. Enjoy some New Standards, a little Meritage crépe stand, some citröen rides, a mime and more from 2-8 p.m., and then head down into the club for the after party.
Why is St. Paul getting all the good stuff this summer?