Photos by Eric Best

It’s all fun and games at the Basement Bar

Drag queens, meat raffles and jazz bands are all at home in one North Loop basement.

That would be the Basement Bar, a bar beneath Nolo’s Kitchen & Bar that doubles as a music venue, dance hall and event space depending on the night. A typical week sees the bar go from a trivia spot to a bingo parlor with drag performers or a stage for local bands.

“Depending the day of the week it really varies what the vibe is down here,” said Pam Wubben, Basement Bar’s general manager.

The Basement Bar occupies the basement of the Maytag Building, the former Gardner Hardware building on Washington Avenue, and Wubben said they’ve kept a lot of its historic touches, from metal pipes and cement walls to an original floor. The venue opened late last year following the opening of Nolo’s on the main level of the four-story building.

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basement bar 4 webWhat isn’t original in the basement is often exaggerated and larger than life. Local artist Jeff Troldahl has created several art pieces, such as a car-sized license plate with the bar’s address behind the stage, giant darts along the entrance and a food truck lining the kitchen.

Co-owner and chef Peter Hoff said him and partners Brett Johnson and Marty Collins were trying to create a place with the laid-back nature of a northern Minnesota bar that could fit in with the trend-conscious North Loop. The answer is a dive bar minus the “stickiness” where patrons are “willing to be silly.”

“How do you get it all in more of a polished, yet casual environment where it’s a little bit more relaxed?” he said. “We wanted it to be a little stupid, where you can’t take things too seriously.”

basement bar 3 webBeyond its giant décor, Basement Bar has its share of fun and games. There is a wide array of options, from “Galaga” to a claw crane game, darts to foosball, arcade games to pull tabs that benefit the Aliveness Project. More than a dozen TVs line the walls for sporting events. The bar has even been rented out for Flip Cup tournaments.

basement bar 2 webUnlike its sister concept upstairs, there isn’t a focus on specialty cocktails, but it still has its specialties. Wubben said the place is one of a handful of establishments in the city with Tito’s vodka on tap because the bar’s patrons will drink hundreds and hundreds of vodka drinks each week.

“They want to get their drink on, but they don’t want the calories,” she said.

The bar has roughly 16 taps with an emphasis on local craft beers, including many from breweries right in the North Loop neighborhood. There’s bottled beer, a few wines available by the glass and plenty of rail drinks to choose from.

The kitchen serves a limited menu with bar-friendly fare. There are tacos, fries, burgers, as well as pizza and buckets of broasted chicken. The team is now looking into reconcepting the menu into a food truck-style operation that will change seasonally.

“Now it’s time to get a little weird down there and have some fun with the concept,” Hoff said.

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The bar’s current schedule includes Tuesday trivia, drag queen bingo on Wednesdays, alternating events like ‘80s-themed Neon Nights, live band karaoke and country western nights on Thursdays, DJs on Fridays and live music on Saturdays. There’s an industry night on Sundays and its closed Monday.

Wubben said the bar’s balance of music, games and dancing fits the local nightlife scene.

“I think we’re the cool kid in town,” she said.

The Basement Bar, at 511 Washington Ave. N., is open 4 p.m.–10 p.m. Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday and 4 p.m.– 2 a.m. Thursday through Saturday.