Dim and Dutch—is this what downtown St. Paul needed? Your response after stepping into Amsterdam Bar and Hall, St. Paul’s newest restaurant, will likely depend entirely on whether you ever went to Fhima—the high-profile, stunningly sumptuous, white-on-white restaurant that originally debuted in this spot—or Pop!!, the pop-art-styled eatery that followed. Amsterdam is something of a shock if you were used to the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on furnishings and design by those former tenants, because at Amsterdam, the décor consists of candlesticks set in skillets and rock ’n’ roll flyers for upcoming shows. Oh, and instead of plates there are mostly small paper trays. Well boy howdy, I guess there really was a recession!
If you like rock ’n’ roll and Belgian beer, Amsterdam might be the bar of your dreams. Owned by the father-and-son team of Jon and Jarrett Oulman, who also own northeast Minneapolis’s 331 Club, the place has two stages: a small one for more intimate shows and a larger stage that can accommodate 500 audience members. Think of it as the First Avenue of St. Paul, with a Low Country focus. No, really: Dutch, Belgian, and Belgian-style ales and beers dominate the beer menu. Try the Rodenbach Original, a Belgian beer made by blending both young and two-year-old cask-aged beer. It has the charming fragrance of good furniture and rye bread, and it’s captivatingly complex and surprisingly refreshing.
Pair that beer with some broodjes, little Dutch sandwiches made with a tender roll and plain but good fillings. My favorites included the house-made sausage-patty broodje and the grilled cheese. Each sandwich was good and simple—nothing to trumpet from the rooftops, but definitely something to look forward to when you’re meeting friends for happy hour. The Belgian-style frites are good, too, especially with the nicely garlic-touched herb mayo for dipping, and some mussels on the side (even though the mussels were served in a paper tray when I had them, which was a little disconcerting).
Is Amsterdam a far cry from Fhima? Indeed. But it’s a far more affordable and, to this critic, welcome change and a much-needed addition to downtown St. Paul.
Amsterdam Bar and Hall, 6 W. Sixth St., St. Paul, 651-222-3990, amsterdam-barandhall.com