Since 1946, the giant namesake cup sign has welcomed drinkers to Tin Cup's Bar in St. Paul's North End neighborhood. The Rice Street landmark may soon change hands, but its retro signage isn't going anywhere. Well, it might not be going anywhere.
“If somebody is not going to keep it as Tin Cup’s, we have requested the sign" says owner Gidget Bailey, who just listed the building and business for $1 million. The reason for the sale is twofold: Bailey wants to devote more time to her other bar, Old Clover Inn in Vadnais Heights, and downsize as she begins eyeballing retirement.
Tin Cup's is being offered as a turn-key operation, with all your bar essentials included. “It’s the whole shootin’ match," says the current proprietor at 1220 Rice St. That means pull-tab booth, flattop grill, deep-fryers, ice maker, three walk-in coolers, commercial kitchen, and most of the barroom furnishings/fixtures are included, though the barstools might be exported to Vadnais Heights. The roof, furnace, and electrical have all been recently updated, Bailey adds.
Our St. Paul tavern expertise is limited, so we asked local dive laureate Bill Lindeke for a historical Tin Cup's scouting report.
"I used to go there when I moved to the North End way back in 2004, but it was different at that time," says Lindeke, co-author of 2019's Closing Time: Saloons, Taverns, Dives, and Watering Holes of the Twin Cities. "A large mural of people fishing up north dominated one wall, with huge hauls of lake trout of the kind you can never find anymore. It gave the place a nostalgic vibe, synonymous with 'old Rice Street'—aka the era when Rice Street was the most racist place in the city (a fact confirmed in Melvin Carter Jr.'s memoir). Back in those days, Rice Street was synonymous with white working class identity, though the street itself and the neighborhoods around it had already begun radically changing."
In 2018, Tin Cup's made all sorts of headlines when Bailey threatened to close due to gun violence in the neighborhood. Scandal-plagued Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher told Bailey that he'd open a police substation in the bar's basement, but the department eventually settled on a vacant Dairy Queen nearby at Rice & Sycamore. “It’s going to be a safety net,” Bailey told the Star Tribune at the time. Today it appears the substation no longer exists.
Tin Cup's powered through the pandemic without the aide of PPP loans, Bailey says, and crowds have reportedly returned to full strength. The place is a neighborhood bar-food favorite, having racked up numerous best burger nods from the Pioneer Press. According to Bailey, the fried chicken is "the big seller" and that decades-old secret recipe will included in the sale. She says the basement's commercial kitchen, which is currently rented by food truck operators for food prep, is yet another revenue stream.
“You’d definitely be buying a good piece St. Paul history," Bailey says. "We hope whoever takes it shows as much love and interest in it as our family has for almost 13 years.”
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