The venerable music bar at 1601 University Avenue near the corner of Snelling hasn’t always been known as the “Turf Club.” As early as the 1920s, it was Hove Food Market, Inc. Groceries. Next door, however, two men were operating a pool hall named for themselves—Kirch and Gillis. At some point after Prohibition ended in 1933, they took over the food store and converted it into a bar with the same name.
Perhaps the most notable event in the bar’s history took place during this period, a three- alarm fire in November 1942. Its cause was mysterious, though officials thought it wasn’t of “incendiary origin.” A local newspaper report did note that the fire was difficult to extinguish because of exploding liquor bottles. No one was injured except for 79-year-old Mrs. Julia A. Kehne, who tripped over a fire hose the next day. By 1945, the bar had re-opened as Kirch & Gillis Beverages. The two men were its proprietors until it became Kirch & Gillis Café, serving lunches and dinners with dancing, entertainment and new owners.
About 1950, the bar changed hands again, and a new name emerged—the Turf Club, a name thought to derive from the stables, racetrack, and clubhouse built nearby in 1881 by Norman Kittson, merchant and one-time mayor of Saint Paul. “Kittsondale,” as this racing empire was called, was demolished in 1942. The bar was a community meeting place during the 1950s, with a meeting room called “The Lion’s Den” reserved for meetings of the Midway Lion’s Club.
According to the website tcmusic.net, the Turf Club had a “reputation as the Twin Cities’ foremost place for country two-stepping long before line dancing became a pop-culture phenomenon.” It’s known today as the “best remnant of the 1940s,” and one of the Twin Cities’ most popular venues for live music.