The History of the Fireside Lounge
The history of the Fireside Lounge began back in 1962 when it was initially being built to be a two-story family home. Apparently somewhere along the line, plans were changed and what was suppose to be a family dwelling turned into a saloon and a barber shop. Yes! You read this correctly, a barber shop! The Fireside was the only bar in town where you could get a beer, bump & trim all at the same time! Let’s hope the barbershop staff wasn’t allowed to consume alcohol while they were on the clock! Though it would explain some of my old-timers hair styles : ) The structure was designed for a second story so maybe someday the construction project will be completed and a hotel will be constructed above the bar & restaurant for your late-night convenience. Oh, by the way please hold off on making any hotel reservations anytime soon : ) The inaugural Fireside owner was Wally Nelson.
In 1972 Wally Nelson grew tired of the bar scene and sold the business to Dick Henniger! Dick made some major changes to the Fireside Lounge shortly after taking over. The first change was taking out the barber shop and putting in a kitchen! The west side of the building, which was a game-room, was transformed into the new dining area! New tables were brought in and placed similarly to where they sit today, all enjoying a wonderful view of the warm and inviting fireplace! On weekends the downstairs became a piano bar where patrons would sing along as Dick played the piano! Rumor has it one of the favorite sing-a-long songs was, “Cab Driver once more Around the Block”. An oldie but a goodie! The conception of “Karaoke” took form long before the name was used. If only Dick had patented this wonderful, gimmicky invention! The Red Garter Girls also joined in on the fun and sang and danced the nights away! The old-timers swear there were never any rules broken and everyone was always out of the basement at closing time! Uh Huh! The next 6 years were a lot of fun with the Red Garter Girls, Dick wailing on the piano and this exciting new invention, which later became known as “Karaoke”!
Change was brewing once again in the horizon! It was 1978 and rumor had it that Dick Henniger, who owned the business, wanted to buy the building and property from the original owner, Wally Nelson. Little did Dick know but Wally was angry, very angry that Dick had, without permission, cut down an apple tree on the Fireside property! It was Wally’s property and Wally’s apple tree! It turned out, because of this indiscretion on Dick’s part, Wally refused to sell the property and building to Dick. Dick wasn’t happy and wanted out! He found a bar for sale in downtown St. Paul and put the Fireside Lounge up for sale.
In the fall of 1978, a trio of buyers stepped up and bought the Fireside Lounge. The new owners were Bob Johnson and brother’s Warren & Ron Miller. Bob and Ron ran the day to day operations because Warren was playing professional hockey in the NHL. Warren’s illustrious career ran from 1976 – 1984 with both the Hartford Whalers & New York Rangers. The Fireside went through more changes during this time, including the major expansion of its kitchen. It went from a burger and sloppy hot dago joint, to a full Americanized menu. In 1997 Bob bought out the Miller brothers and ran the Fireside’s day to day operation by himself. About 5 years later Bob felt it was time to retire and word on the street was that the Fireside was for sale.
In 2002 current Fireside owner, Michael Udovich, was bartending in St. Paul Park at Park Place Sports Bar for former S. St. Paul resident and hockey player Tim Decker. Michael had always dreamed of owning his own bar and restaurant and knew from the moment he first walked in the front door of the Fireside that this was it. The search was over! It is hard to explain why he knew, but he just did! Maybe it was the hard-working blue collar cliental, maybe it was the physical set up of the Fireside, maybe it was a feeling that he felt or maybe it was all of the above!
It has now been 20 years (12/17/2022) of ownership for Michael at the Fireside. Wow, where does time fly!?!? It has been an amazing journey for Michael. There have been ups and downs, much like any job or new adventure one takes in his/her lifetime! The pros greatly outweigh the cons! The friendships and relationships made have been wonderful. They will last a lifetime.
Here is a brief bio about current owner Michael Udovich: Michael grew up in Duluth, MN. He went to high school at Denfeld. He is a 1992 University of Wisconsin- Superior alumnus. (He was never a Packer fan). He is a single father who shares custody of his wonderful son, Samuel, who will take over Fireside operations, if he wants, after graduating from college in the year 2028. Michael is incredibly appreciative of his last 18 years at the Fireside Lounge. The friendships and relationships forged have been terrific and will last a lifetime! He is a current Inver Grove Heights resident. He is deeply appreciative of his staff who are devoted to him and the Fireside Lounge. He is also deeply appreciative of the clientele who make the Fireside Lounge what it is today!
Our motto: “A place where everyone knows your name and are always glad you came!” -Stolen from some dive pub in Boston. The Fireside is as close to the fictitious bar “Cheers” that ran on our airwaves from 1982 - 1993!
The personalities, staff, and patrons truly make the Fireside the “Cheers” of West St. Paul!