Mobsters in 1930s Saint Paul

In St. Paul, we earned our reputation for “Minnesota Nice,” with our “aw, shucks” attitudes and kind people who still hold the door open for each other.

But this city also has a bit of a sinister history (which only adds to our intrigue and charm, right?). St. Paul boasts some strong ties to Prohibition-era gangster activity. In fact, there’s a whole book about gangster goings-on in the city, called “John Dillinger Slept Here: A Crooks’ Tour of Crime and Corruption in St. Paul 1920-1936.”

 The Commodore Bar & Restaurant, 1920s

The Commodore Bar & Restaurant, 1920s

The book highlights dozens of sites around St. Paul that can claim a slice of gangster lore. Among them: The Commodore Bar and Restaurant (known as the Commodore Bar and Hotel in the 1930s), located at 79 Western Avenue. 

The Commodore reportedly operated a speakeasy during Prohibition. It attracted the likes of literary celebrities such as  F. Scott Fitzgerald, who lived upstairs with his wife Zelda and was, perhaps unsurprisingly, a fixture at the bar. The Commodore also attracted gangsters, including Fred Barker of the notorious Barker-Karpis gang and his mother, “Ma Barker.” Reportedly, Fred introduced his girlfriend to “Ma” at the Commodore.

 The Commodore Bar & Restaurant, 2017

The Commodore Bar & Restaurant, 2017

While many places on the “John Dillinger” tour have been extensively renovated or even torn down, the Commodore retains much of the same elegant charm that it held in the 1930s. In spite of renovations, the original Art Deco bar has been painstakingly preserved, so you can belly up to the bar and transport yourself back in time (presumably without the accompanying fear of gangster activity).