Two new restaurants, more live music envisioned for former 501 Club space

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January 31, 2011 // UPDATED 10:00 am - February 9, 2011
By: Gregory J. Scott
Gregory J. Scott
DOWNTOWN EAST — The 501 Club is gone, but the live music may make a comeback at 501 Washington Ave. S., if Mario Cocchiarella has his way.

Cocchiarella, who owns the building that Jarret Oulman's venue vacated last January, has plans to resurrect the space as not one but two new bar/restaurants. And both will likely have live bands.

Cocchiarella made an appearance at a Downtown Minneapolis Neighborhood Association (DMNA) meeting on Feb. 7, seeking a recommendation for a Class B liquor license. His plan? Split the spacious club into two autonomous bars, both with successful antecedents in other Twin Cities neighborhoods: St. Paul's Twisted Fork Grille and the Crooked Pint, an offshoot of South Minneapolis' Town Hall Tap, which is itself an offshoot of Seven Corners' Town Hall Brewery.

Twisted Fork, which opened last summer at Grand Avenue and Hamline, is owned by the same people that operate the Green Mill dining chain. The restaurant bills itself as specializing in "farm-to-table freshness."

Town Hall Tap, which builds on Town Hall Brewery's craft beer and gourmet pub fare, recently opened at 48th and Chicago Avenue in South Minneapolis.

But "the most important thing," Cocchiarella said, is the return of live music.

"The 501 had some great success with live music," he said. He wants to keep the shows going, with a focus on "higher end local acts, and maybe even regional acts." But having a place where new bands can get gigs is essential, too, he said, and he hopes to work out a balance. He also said he would like to employ a "real, full-time booking agent."

Details are still in the brainstorming stage, but Cocchiarella's "two levels, two bars" approach could allow him to create seperate, intimate musical settings, with acoustic sets in Twisted Fork and a more boisterous venue in the Crooked Pint. His ideal capacity, presumably for each room, would be 200.

Of course, the space suffers from a recent trend of short-lived bars.

"We do have a little bit of a challenge in front of us," he told the DMNA. "New restaurants in that area haven't done well."

After cycling through a number of bars — 501 lasted less than two years; it's predecessor, Matt B's, lasted less than three — Cocchiarella said he decided to intervene personally. He hired Maxfield Research to do a demographic study of the people who haunt the area. What he found — an impressively diverse crowd, but not a wealthy one — directed his decision making.

Referencing both bars' food menus, he points out, “There's really nothing over $10."

All plans aside, Cocchiarella stressed he would proceed deliberately. "We're going slow" at this point, he said.