Legendary bar launched the careers of many area artists, hosted national acts
By Harry Colbert, Jr., Managing Editor
It’s the end of an era for a storied and historic Twin Cites nightclub that launched the careers of many and; on several occasions counted Prince as one of its patrons.
After 25 years in business, Arnellia’s Bar and Restaurant is shutting its doors at 1183 University Ave. W. in St. Paul. The declining health of the club’s pioneering owner, Arnellia Allen, is cited as the reason for the closure, which is set for April 30. Allen is credited as the first and only African-American female to hold a liquor license in the state of Minnesota. For most of Arnellia’s 25 years in business she was the only African-American to hold a liquor license.
News of Arnellia’s closing and of Allen’s declining health has hit the Twin Cities arts community hard, especially those of the R&B/soul/blues music scene.
“I’m truly sad to hear that the place is closing,” said Ricky Kinchen, member of the grammy-nominated group, Mint Condition. “I stop in there at least a few times a years just to say ‘hi’ and listen to some music. I always made sure to stop in there. I’d talk to her (Allen) every time I was there and let her know that I appreciate her for all she’s accomplished.”
That sentiment was echoed by Jeff Cryer, founder of the nationally touring Jeff Cryer’s Tribute to Motown.
“Arnellia’s is historic. It’s like B.B. King’s in Memphis. All the national acts came through there … Zapp, Ronnie Laws, Cameo … Karen White. She (Allen) is a legend. She’s irreplaceable. That place is irreplaceable. She’s done so much for this community,” said Cryer.
Cryer credits Allen with getting his touring show off the ground.
“She took a chance on me and gave me a place to try out my concept (for his Motown tribute show) when no one else would,” said Cryer.
“She gave us (musicians and fans of soul music) a place to go, to play … to eat,” said Kathleen Johnson, a musician and owner of Whole Soul Mobile Kitchen. Ms. Arnellia has been such a wonderful support to Black musicians. We were able to launch there. As a Black band, it’s not easy to find places to play. Arnellia’s was the only one really willing to give Black bands a shot. She risked big on us all because that’s how big her heart is.”
In addition to launching Johnson’s music career, Allen said Arnellia’s also launched her cooking career.
“When I launched my mobile kitchen I went to Ms. Arnellia and asked could I go into her kitchen to launch and she gave her kitchen to us for four months for free,” said Johnson.
A celebration of the legendary venue was announced via Facebook and is slated to take place April 27 – April 30.