St. Augustine inspires new St. Paul bar’s name

| November 18, 2016 | 0 Comments
From left, Sarah Robinson, Andria Kroona and Alex Sanchez eat lunch at Augustine’s Bar and Bakery in St. Paul Nov. 15. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

From left, Sarah Robinson, Andria Kroona and Alex Sanchez eat lunch at Augustine’s Bar and Bakery in St. Paul Nov. 15. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

 

Late-night TV played a serendipitous role in a new St. Paul restaurant taking the name of a fourth-century saint.

Restaurateur Tony Andersen was preparing to do the legal paperwork to open a bar and bakery in Merriam Park, but was struggling to find a name. He “tossed around hundreds,” he said, but nothing seemed to stick.

“The last thing I wanted to do was another cute little adjective and animal, like the Muddy Pig, the Red Cow, the Cheeky Monkey, that sort of thing. I think it’s just been overdone,” said Andersen, who also owns the Happy Gnome near Cathedral Hill. “I wanted just a single word, something classy.”

While deliberating monikers, he found himself up late with insomnia, the TV on in the background.

The show’s topic turned to patron saints in the Catholic Church, and it mentioned St. Augustine of Hippo, describing him as a patron saint of brewers. Andersen’s ears perked up.

For Andersen, 54, “that kind of tied in to the whole craft beer thing,” as well as his childhood in St. Paul, where he grew up in a “strict” Catholic home, attending Mass and going to grade school at Nativity of Our Lord, and, later, Cretin-Derham Hall High School.

He did a bit of research to learn more about St. Augustine and liked the connection he discovered between the saint’s life in the Mediterranean and the kind of dishes and décor he envisioned for the bar and bakery.

And so the restaurant was christened “Augustine’s.”

Augustine's Bar and Bakery sign on Selby Avenue in St. Paul. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Augustine’s Bar and Bakery sign on Selby Avenue in St. Paul. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Its logo is a rotund hippo holding a beer mug — a play on St. Augustine’s home in the ancient north African city of Hippo, now Annaba, Algeria.

The wink to St. Augustine continues throughout the restaurant’s interior, where hippo figurines are scattered along ledges and a framed hippo print adorns the dining room wall. In the bar, the nod to St. Augustine is not so subtle: Just above the door to the kitchen, there’s a 4-foot-tall chalk drawing of the saint — haloed, holding a book and with a hand raised in blessing.

Augustine’s (Andersen pronounces it AUG-gus-tine’s) opened appropriately on Halloween — All Hallows’ Eve, the day before All Saints Day.

Born in 354, St. Augustine earned his role as patron of brewers because of his pre-conversion lifestyle, often summarized in a “prayer” he recalls in his autobiography: “Lord, make me chaste — but not yet.”

“To put it bluntly, he was kind of a party boy in his early years, and his mom kind of put him on the straight and narrow,” Andersen said. “And I just like the way he was so progressive. For 1,600 years ago, it was kind of amazing, some of the things he was preaching, like abolishing slavery and [supporting] women’s rights.”

St. Augustine’s conversion to Christianity is attributed to the preaching of St. Ambrose, a bishop of Milan who baptized him, and the prayers of his devout mother, St. Monica. St. Augustine had a brilliant mind and played a key role in the development of Western Christian thought; his best known works, “Confessions” and “City of God,” are still widely taught in college classrooms. He became a priest and then bishop, and was an ardent defender of the faith. He died in 430, was popularly canonized, and declared a doctor of the Church in 1298. His feast day is Aug. 28. In addition to brewers, he’s the patron of printers and theologians.

Located at 1668 Selby Ave., near the street’s intersection with Snelling Avenue, Augustine’s is open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., attracting those interested in both early morning coffee and a late-night beer. Its kitchen serves lunch and dinner. Calling it the Gnome’s “hippie little Macalester brother” — a nod to Macalester College six blocks south — Andersen is aiming for the place to be vegetarian and kid-friendly.

Tony Andersen, owner of Augustine's Bar and Bakery. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Tony Andersen, owner of Augustine’s Bar and Bakery. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Business has been good, Andersen said, and people are curious about the name.

“I was kind of surprised … [patrons] know more about him than I do,” he said. “I think that [for] anybody who’s had philosophy or those classes, Augustine has come up with his writing.”

Asked if he may have found a new patron saint for himself, Andersen said, “I think so.”

St. Augustine’s story reminds Andersen of his own mother, Audrey Andersen, a devout Catholic who worked for the Society for the Propagation of the Faith.

“Not that I was a wild party boy,” he added, “but just having that similar mother figure that Monica was. … Mom was real active in the Catholic Church.”

Audrey died in 2009, but Andersen thinks she would have loved that he named his newest business endeavor after a saint.

Andersen said he no longer practices the Catholic faith, but he still feels a connection to St. Augustine’s conversion because of the lifestyle change he made a year and a half ago. Years of drinking led to acute pancreatitis, which put him in the hospital and near death, he said. Doctors advised Andersen — whose Happy Gnome is one of St. Paul’s great craft beer bars — to give up drinking, and he did.

“Since then, I’ve been sober, and I’ve been just energized,” he said. “If I were still drinking, there’s no way in heck that this would have happened.”

Drawing a parallel to St. Monica’s role in St. Augustine’s conversion, Andersen said with a chuckle, “Mom wasn’t around to witness mine, but I know she approves.”

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