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West Duluth bar scene adding Boreal House

Katie Fast, left, and Julie LaTourelle stand outside 330 N. 57th Ave. W. The two women purchased the former home of RJ’s Coffee Den and plan to open a new bar in West Duluth. (Photo by Mark Nicklawske)

Two women plan to open a new bar later this fall in a West Duluth neighborhood that boasts some of the oldest drinking establishments in the city.

Katie Fast and Julie LaTourelle, operating as K & J Industries LLC, recently purchased the former RJ’s Coffee Den at 330 N. 57th Ave. W. The century-old building is being remodeled and is expected to reopen as the Boreal House in late November.

The Spirit Valley neighborhood in West Duluth features several historic bars clustered between Grand and Central avenues. The Boreal House will be located next to the Kom-on-Inn, which was established in 1936.

The new bar will feature 16 taps and offer a wide variety of local, state and regional craft beers. The interior will have a northwoods cabin theme and a patio will be constructed outside the front entrance. Pizza, nachos and homemade dips will be served.

“We’ve always been into breweries,” said Fast. “Our idea for this place was that there are so many good breweries here but you can only drink the beer at that brewery. We want to showcase all those beers and more. Minnesota has so many great breweries.”

Fast and LaTourelle, who both work in procurement at Cirrus Aircraft, said they have been looking to get into the bar business for about two years. Finding the right place to open their first establishment led them to West Duluth.

“This end of town is really growing,” said LaTourelle. “We just want to contribute to how nice the storefronts are getting.”

St. Louis County property records show K & J Industries LLC purchased the building for $120,000 in July. LaTourelle said another $180,000 will be put into building updates and remodeling.

The City Water and Light Building as photographed circa 1915 by Hugh McKenzie. (Photo from the University of Minnesota Duluth Kathryn A. Martin Library, Northeast Minnesota Historical Collection.)

Originally an office space for the Duluth Water and Light Company, the building was used for many things over the years. It served as home to the Diamond Employees Credit Union in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s. The Erbert & Gerbert sandwich shop franchise operated at the address for about 10 years. The most recent business, RJ’s Coffee Den, opened in 2013 and closed in 2018.

A new bar operation should fit in well with the neighborhood.

The Duluth Alcohol, Gambling and Tobacco Commission recommended a full liquor license approval for the property at its Aug. 7 meeting. The Duluth City Council is expected to finalize the license at its next meeting.

“It looks like a pretty neat space,” said Commission President Pat Stolee. “We’re kind of excited to see the continued growth and new businesses bringing services to that community.”

The Zenith Bookstore renovated a former liquor store and opened on Central Avenue in 2017. Across the street, the West Theater reopened this summer after a nearly three-year renovation that topped $1 million. Beaner’s Central coffee shop celebrated 25 years in West Duluth with a name change to Wussow’s Concert Cafe and a building facelift.

Older Spirit Valley establishments like the Gopher, Mr. D’s, the Rustic and the Kom-on-Inn all have their own historic style and long-time clientele, said LaTourelle. The Boreal House will offer something new to a younger generation.

Katie Fast, left, and Julie LaTourelle are remodeling the former RJ’s Coffee Den in West Duluth and will reopen the space as the Boreal House bar. A November opening is planned. (Photo by Mark Nicklawske).

“It’s going to be something nice and bright and fun to go to,” she said. “Young kids are moving into West Duluth and we want to have a place for them.”

Live music, bingo and trivia nights will be part of the entertainment schedule. The bar will be open on Sundays for football and close at midnight.

Fast and LaTourelle worked with Swim Creative, a Duluth consulting firm, to select the Boreal House name. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, boreal means “of the north or northern regions.”

“We’re just going with that ‘Up North’ theme,” said Fast, who will manage the business. “Both of us like living here and like the outdoorsy things so that ‘of the north’ thing kind of resonated with us.”

West Duluth was also developed a strong bohemian background when it was settled in the 20th Century, said LaTourelle. The bar’s nickname — “Boho” — will reflect that history. “We want to be a neighborhood bar,” she said.

2 Comments

toyota200x

about 4 months ago

Great news! Thanks for the article. I really enjoy PDD for finding out what is new/changing in Duluth.

Paul Lundgren

about 4 months ago

There are some comments on Facebook suggesting West Duluth has too many bars and the alcohol market might be over saturated. I would point out that in the past 13 years three West Duluth bars have closed -- Charlie's Club (2006), Clubhouse Bar at Stadium Lanes (2014) and the North Pole Bar (2014).  

The latter two seemingly closed due to slow sales, but they were away from the shopping district. Charlie's Club would likely still be in business if it hadn't been destroyed by fire.

So, it's not like there are suddenly more bars in West Duluth than there have been historically ... there are actually fewer. Whether there is room for a new one in 2019 will depend on a number of factors. 

Those who object to excessive availability of alcohol have every right to say so, but again I'll point out that there are not more bars now than there used to be.

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