New eatery hopes to bring sizzle to St. Paul's Como Lake

Lake Como pavilion
The Como Dockside restaurant and bar will open its doors Friday with limited hours before a grand opening on May 31. The establishment is located in this historic pavilion.
Liala Helal | MPR News 2013

St. Paul officials last year tapped a Twin Cities restaurateur to open a place in Como Park, hoping a destination eatery would draw new crowds and create a buzz.

The first meal is close at hand.

The Como Dockside restaurant and bar will start Friday with limited hours before a grand opening on May 31. Operated by the owners of the 331 Club in Minneapolis and Amsterdam Bar and Hall in St. Paul, Como Dockside will focus on New Orleans-style dishes, including etouffee, po' boys and beignets.

"It's going to be one long soft opening for the next couple weeks as we tweak and tone," said owner Jon Oulman. "We want to get lunch and dinner and evenings dialed in before we open for breakfast and coffee, but we will be open."

The new operation at the Como Lakeside Pavilion will include a concession stand carrying grab-and-go food like sandwiches will open by Memorial Day.

St. Paul officials want eateries in St. Paul parks to be more like popular Sea Salt and Tin Fish, restaurants that draw throngs of customers to Minneapolis parks during the summer. The previous tenant at the Como pavilion, Black Bear Crossings on the Lake, was a cafe and coffee shop with a limited menu.

At Como Dockside, Oulman said customers will be able to sit in the pavilion, take their food and drinks out to a 200-person picnic area or eat and drink while they watch a show outside.

Officials said they expected upgrades of about $200,000 in the pavilion by June 1. Oulman said he gave the space a throwback sort of vibe since moving in this winter.

"Two out of three people who live in St. Paul will tell you a story of a memory they have, of going to a pavilion in Como Park," Oulman said. "We heard the stories and wanted to build something into the decor of the place that will hearken back to a more classic and traditional old St. Paul."

Como Dockside built a full bar and restaurant on the main level, renovated the mezzanine and updated the third-floor banquet facility.

"Everything is darker so that your eyes focus outside these huge windows," Oulman said. "So when you're inside, you're really focused on the flora, fauna of the park — the waterfall, mature trees and the lake."

The stage will also continue to play host to music and other cultural events, although Oulman hopes to book a more diverse group of musicians to sometimes bring in a younger audience.

"At Como, there's an opportunity to engage the neighborhoods, the families," Oulman said. "Because the demographic is so broad in this park, the challenge is going to be a little bit of something for a lot of people."

The opening comes almost a year after the city of St. Paul agreed to pay an $800,000 legal settlement for breaking a contract with owners of the previous vendor, Black Bear Crossings on the Lake. City officials said late rent payments were behind their efforts to terminate the contract.

The new operation at Como Lake is expected to bring in about four times the rent for the city as the previous tenant, with a guaranteed minimum of $500,000 in payments to the city through 2020.

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