Go to seminary or open a bar?
Tara Yule was at a crossroads. “It was either go to divinity school or open a bar,” she said. She chose the bar. “I wanted to open a queer bar for women,” she explained. “Most of the queer bars in the Twin Cities are for boys, which is great, except if you’re a queer woman wanting to socialize with queer women.”
2532 – 25th Ave S., Minneapolis
Tucked in an industrial park in Minneapolis’ Seward neighborhood, Pi bar occupies a former American Legion building that was in poor shape and had been vacant for over two years when Yule, who’s general manager, and her two co-owners purchased it. The floors were covered with vinyl, the walls with wood panels and the ceiling had suffered extensive smoke damage. But it had a great location, a stage, large dance floor and industrial kitchen. “This was the only property where the bar was even possible,” said Yule, who researched costs. “If we were downtown, our clients would have to pay for parking and higher drink prices. Women don’t make as much as men,” she explained.
Learning on the job
“This whole thing has really been a serendipitous miracle,” Yule continued. Volunteers helped renovate the space that she and her co-owners purchased on a contract for deed, which meant they didn’t have to secure a loan through a bank. This was a good thing. A bank would have required a business plan, and Yule didn’t have one of those. She didn’t have a liquor license either, though she did get one of those; Pi’s license was granted just two weeks before the bar opened. “The application itself is humongous,” she exclaimed. “It’s over 200 pages long. I laugh at Ph.D. dissertations now-and I used to be in academia!” The process included neighborhood approval and appearances before city officials, Yule said. “We didn’t know what we were doing and we were very humble about it. People really seemed to respond to that,” Yule said.
Pi opened to an eager crowd. Even though Yule relied strictly on word-of-mouth advertising, the bar was filled to capacity on its first night. Whatever could go wrong, did: Cars got towed, toilets broke, credit card machines went down and the emergency exit doors were opened and sounded alarms. Yule can laugh about that night now. Experience, she said, is a good teacher. “I’m drawing from every pool I have,” Yule confessed. “This is a huge challenge.” Concerning the path not taken-divinity school-Yule pointed out that religion and bars have something in common: “[Both are] about bringing people and cultures together and understanding how that happens,” she said. “Our clientele is really mixed and I’ve had lots of different kinds of people tell me they feel comfortable here. I consider that the highest compliment.”