Greeted by a wall of giant wooden beer barrels as I approached the hostess counter, the anachronism of The Pourhouse struck me instantly. A cultural and technological mesh of a 21st-century sports bar/restaurant/nightclub and a 1920s speakeasy, it seemed like no square inch of the two-story establishment was left without deliciously idiosyncratic detail. On the lower level, there’s the state-of-the-art flatscreens lining the entire perimeter, which lead to a massive 24-foot big screen gracing the wall behind the performance stage. The sound system is crisp and clear as can be, and the lighting adds a rich layer of color and luminance to the environment.
But when you reach the top floor, it’s like stepping out of a time machine. Richly detailed to mimic the hidden bars of Prohibition-era America– from the velvety-patterned walls and crude wooden booth tables to flapper-themed murals and even a stage for actual “flapper girls” to dance on– The Pourhouse possessed a character that sets it apart from other party zone hotspots in the city.
Located in the Lumber Exchange Building on the corner of Hennepin Avenue and 5th Street in downtown Minneapolis, The Pourhouse was established this past June as an eclectic alternative to many of the other dance and drink venues in town. While many will surely enjoy getting down and funky on the dance floor or imbibing one of the many delicious alcoholic beverages on hand, those with a taste for history or retro architecture will have a blast absorbing the ’20s goodness on display. My favorite section was the pool room, where there was an abundance of seating, a free pool table (yes, you read that correctly, it’s a bar where you DON’T have to pay for a game of pool), framed pictures of Al Capone, and even old-old-old-school bookcases lining the walls. The attention to detail was almost overwhelming.
But it doesn’t stop there. The top floor also provides a plethora of fun features such as a giant-sized game of Jenga (seriously, the pieces are as big as bricks), a “Big Buck Hunter” cabinet (because what is a bar without one?), bathrooms designed like prison cells, and even a hidden passageway that leads you to a backroom bar area (complete with clandestine bookcase-doorway and all).
In case you haven’t read my previous articles, my mission for the “Scratch Your Niche” series is to highlight Minneapolis destinations that aren’t your everyday bar and club scene, but this time I had to make a huge exception. The gimmick of this place alone earned The Pourhouse my undivided attention, but there was one thing that led me to this establishment in the first place: karaoke.
Now anybody who knows their Bacon knows that karaoke is kind of a huge deal to me. Humbly speaking, I lay claim to the title of the Minneapolis’ undisputed karaoke champion. You name an ‘oke bar, and I’ve left it crumbling in my melodic wake. So what’s so special about The Pourhouse’s karaoke Thursdays? Oh, only the fact that your singing is accompanied by a live backing band. Yes, that’s right. If you’ve got a niche for singing your heart out in front of a bunch of drunken strangers while being backed up by a goddamned LIVE BAND, then you can scratch it here.
But for the first time in…well, EVER, I was actually nervous to do karaoke. I was nervous as shit. I was completely out of my element. For starters, there’s no MP3 track with a consistent rhythm that you can count on; with a live band going at its own pace, your attention needs to be sharper than ever. Secondly, there’s no computer screen that highlights and guides the rhythm of the lyrics; all you get is a sheet of paper with the lyrics on it, so having strong knowledge of the song is paramount. And that leads into the third and most terrifying of my problems: the song book consists almost entirely of songs from the 1990s and forward. As a karaoke hound with a retro taste in music who relies on the sweet ’70s masterpieces of Queen, Styx, and Cheap Trick–and whose knowledge of current mainstream music is dangerously low–I was a fish out of water.
I suppose that a challenge is a good thing for a competitive spirit such as mine, however. And I gotta credit The Pourhouse for picking one hell of a house band in the form of Minneapolis group Loud White Girls, consisting of guitarist/keyboardist Brandon Daly, bassist Droo Hastings, and drummer Layne Knutson. Having done this unique form of interactive performance at places such as Bootleggers and Whisky Park, the band does admit to do songs mostly skewing towards a top 40-fixated younger generation, though Knutson did assure me that the group tries to learn five to ten new songs a week to expand their songlist and accommodate old farts such as yours truly.
Around 10 p.m., the band was on stage and ready to call up the first brave soul. Trying my hardest to shake off the jitters, I brought myself onstage to try my hand at Fun’s “We Are Young.” Suddenly, a spotlight shone on me. I looked at the lyric sheets, and the melody and timing that I tried to memorize from my iPhone ten minutes earlier escaped me. To keep a long story short, I fumbled. Big time. I mean, it wasn’t an unholy trainwreck of catastrophic proportions, but being the perfectionist that I am, I felt that my performance was incredibly subpar.
Luckily, the crowd was extremely supportive, and I got a free shot out of it (as does anyone who tries their hand at singing). As I watched others onstage, I was incredibly impressed at how well Loud White Girls adapted to the singers in terms of not only timing, but helping them guide their melody as well. The sound was terrific, the energy was electric, and everyone (be they onstage or watching from the floor) was having a blast. But I didn’t feel right leaving that night with a sour mark on my karaoke legacy. Drinking up that liquid courage, I strode back onto the stage at the end of the first “set” to rebound with a piece I was much more familiar with: Radiohead’s “Creep.” Whipping back my long hair and digging deep into my rock ‘n roll soul, I belted out a cover of “Creep” that would have made Thom Yorke beam with pride. It was probably one of the most fun moments I’ve had in recent memory. I led my army of rockers into battle, and we emerged victorious. The champion had retained his title.
All in all, a night at The Pourhouse is a damn good time guaranteed. The atmosphere, the drinks, the music, the 1920s schtick, and, yes, karaoke with a terrific band backing you up: It has it all. So come on down if you want to party it up, watch the big game, throw a big shindig, or grab the microphone and have your moment in the spotlight.