501 Club opens on Washington Avenue
Bartender Zhauna Franks serves up libation and casual conversation to Downtown residents Tohn Kracun and Ken Hughto.
501 Washington Ave. S.
The 501 Club is open daily, 11 a.m.–2 a.m., with happy hour weekdays 3 p.m.–6 p.m. A grand opening is scheduled for the evening of Friday, May 1 — or “five-oh-one” as Jarret Oulman pointed out — with music from Lookbook and Retribution Gospel Choir.
With the same simple naming philosophy, mirrored bars, scrawled-on chalkboards and live music with no cover charge, the Downtown 501 Club has a lot in common with its Northeast Minneapolis cousin, the 331 Club. But the new venue — more than twice the size of the 331 — is more than just a chaser to the Northeast mainstay. The larger bar means more food, different types of music and space for a pool table, arcade video game machines and two televisions.
Jarret Oulman and his father Jon Oulman own both clubs, and Jarret said when they found out last fall that the former occupant of 501 Washington Ave., the sports bar Matty B’s, was closing its doors, they started working on their latest venture. They saw it as a chance to expand their menu and music, and the larger venue was attractive because of the 331 Club’s popularity. “Sometimes it’s too busy,” he said.
Relief came when the 501 Club opened in early April.
While bartenders double as cooks at the 331, the 501 has a dedicated chef, Rick Truax (who directed the kitchens at as chef at Nye’s Polonaise Lounge and JD Hoyt’s), and their menu has expanded to include healthier foods like vegetarian chili, salads, black bean and soy chicken patties and less-standard fare like shrimp burgers and chicken livers, along with more typical bar food.
Chris Larson was visiting the 501 for the first time one mid-April night, at a fashion week event after-party. He had finished the shrimp burger, which he said was good, and unexpected, but had a few sweet-potato fries left on his plate. “They’re delicious,” he said. Larson lives in Uptown, but said since he’s in the neighborhood a lot and does yoga on the same block as the 501, he could see himself stopping by in the future.
To wash down that shrimp burger, customers can choose from one of two bars in the split-level club — one on the upper portion and one in the lower showroom. Along with a bar, dining tables and booths, video arcade machines and a pool table and occupy the upper portion of the club, which opens for lunch at 11 a.m. Downstairs is the showroom, with its own bar and a stage, slightly larger than the 331’s. While it can be hard to hear anything but the bands during 331 shows, the separate upstairs seating area at the 501 means patrons can listen to the music and carry on a conversation.
Along with the folk, country and indie music the 331 is known for, the 501 will also be able to host acts that like to “play a little harder,” Jarret said. In addition to music, they offer the adult spelling bees they started holding monthly at the 331 a little over a year ago, and they’re looking at starting a trivia night.
The club will also serve as a rotating art gallery. Jon Oulman was an art dealer for a several decades and used to run a Downtown gallery, said Jarret Oulman, and this is a way for Jon to use his background and artist network. Local artist John Grider’s paintings were the first on display; by press time, a new round of art had gone up.
The elder Oulman is also the club’s design guru, or “aesthetic director,” as Jarret called him. After Matty B’s closed in January, “we gave the whole place a facelift,” Jarret said. They’ve replicated some of the 331’s distinguishing features, including the red bar overhang, velvet curtains, built-in bar mirrors that reflect its spirits.
“There’s a lot of design continuity between the two,” he said, but it’s aesthetically set apart by the concrete floor, pipe-ridden industrial ceiling and large pillars.
Oulman expects some 331 customer-carryover, along with people working and living Downtown. So far, Jarret said, they’re getting a mix of Northeasters, people who live or work in Downtown and others in the area for Twins games.
He’s been trying to get people to tell him what to do better, he said, but “people have been really … digging the food and space and everything.”
last revised: April 28, 2009