The newly and massively renovated Pudge’s Saloon and Eatery and a second, adjoining supper-club-style offering — there are separate food options to be had in the two areas — have so much to offer patrons that they need to incorporate a pair of different street addresses, 302 and 304 Second St.
The renovation that draws vintage materials from multiple sources is featuring things such as a complete upstairs with two huge rooms and also a pair of large tucked-in patios, one way in back that digs into the bluffline, that you would not guess they are there from simply viewing the newly retooled venue from the street. There is a third patio just off the lower level at the venue in downtown Hudson’s south end, where you meet up with an over-the-top, decorative stairway, a centerpiece of the lengthy renovation.
The four upstairs pool tables — and who else has that many in this town? — have been rocking the house on weekends and even some weeknights since the new Pudge’s was unveiled a couple of weeks ago. There are subtle nuances of the redesign and attention to detail, such as pairs of carefully folded napkins forming an X on the tables of their new bistro, called Club 304, which is now open at 7 a.m. and provides breakfast and lunch, with dinner options coming soon. Others changes are easier to notice, such as the limestone rock walls used throughout the multi-story refurb that were uncovered during the initial phases of the months-long renovation, then added on other walls both big and small to give a continuity throughout the establishment.
You might not even know some of these features exist, when simply walking in the front door, as you have to go around to the off-sale area to catch the steps going up there, which are wide and marble. All around the upper floor is stone on walls that matches the kind that originally existed downstairs. Everything owners Michael and Candy Murphy encountered was used in some way.
Other decore also makes it different
Much of the redesign is lengths of ornate iron and other such vintage crafting, especially near the elevator in front of the southside stairwell, and some is shown through the old-style golden foil decor throughout, especially on the lower level toward the high ceilings and other places far up on the walls, or not so far up. Examples are a wine-making maiden displayed on a back door and another such bar scene played out artistically in a similar-style, circular and decorative mast-like centerpiece, much bigger than a refrigerator. This incorporates both the foil and vintage wood in the middle of the downstairs bar area, also using a round table of similar color and separating the north and south rooms downstairs. There are also antique columns leading to what is now the patio, and related Old Car Shop decore from North Hudson, as well as a bronze gate reclaimed from an old hotel in St. Paul, and an artifacts display case with bottles that came originally from the 1880s — a facet that when the whole process started, was something everyone figured was there, somewhere.
So, if you are a local and think you know Pudge’s, think again, doubly so since it now constitutes two levels and various off-shoots from them.
Built in 1866, at the 302 Second St. location, Pudge’s has been a saloon for most of the time since, according its 25-year owners the Murphys — and there have been some colorful characters as owners prior to them, like a successful old-time baseball player who kept a bat behind the bar in the off-chance someone would get rowdy. The Murphys say they used to make wine in the basement and roll fine cigars right next door at 304 Second St., which was not always an open part of the bar. But rest assured, that old-style pay phone has been kept.
The Murphys, with the help of Hudson native and nationally known designer and collector Ed Hawksford, have taken a long tradition and enlarged it, with interesting offshoot rooms, to be a one-of-a-kind destination, as people from the Twin Cities who come to Hudson as the first bar venue across the river will appreciate. The Murphys had been thinking about the renovation for years and the timing was finally right to get the old from behind the walls and make it new again, along with some other attributes both antique and modern.
“I’d had it in my head for years. And oh they love it,” Michael said about this project, especially noting the response from customers.
The prominent iron columns are part of the history, as are the horse tiles outfront. Hawksford helped the Murphys find other hidden treasures to reuse or repurpose — not just pieces of the old Pudge’s, but finds from Tibet to a walnut tree in the Murphy’s backyard. The upstairs back bar, more than century old, originally stood in Tibet, along with some columns that adorn the upstairs fireplace in a big, northernly situated room several strides away through a door that connects to the veritable pool hall. The bar on the main floor — which unlike how some of how the new Pudge’s has unfolded, will greet you right when you walk in — was built from wood Michael ran across in a targeted antique search.
On the south side are two porches, one up and one below, with that decorative ironwork and a colorful paint job. Some people say it looks like something you might find in the French Quarter of New Orleans.
And then there are the newly prominent drinks, such as signature Brandy Manhattans, ice cream drinks and a stellar line of fine scotches.
You can access the new restaurant, Club 304, with its state-of-the-art kitchen, either by cruising through Pudge’s Bar or through the eatery’s own entrance, formerly in most part a home to patrons who came in for off-sale liquor. Club 304 is serving breakfast and lunch from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and also opening for dinner soon, most likely about a week.
The restaurant is well-lighted from window openings uncovered during the renovation. One of those upstairs gives a colorful view of the neon “Pudges” sign that has letters stacked vertically on an outside wall that’s set at a right-angle to the street. The new booths toward the east side are backed with wood salvaged from the floors upstairs, and paneling that was uncovered there.
There will be separate menus for the pub’s eatery and Club 304. Where there were several apartments upstairs at 304, the space has been transformed into a room with spacious semi-circular bar rail to allow service of drinks, four pool tables that have been attracting a line of people standing along the east-west wall in the center waiting to play, various electronic games and a deck on the southwest corner, from which you can see the lights of Lakefront Park and the St. Croix River.
An informal tour offered by some longtime Pudge’s patrons made note of the nice, newly constructed smell, and that the ceiling was so much higher and beautiful than from days past. They said they are especially impressed by the patios, one looking out toward the St. Croix River and sure to be a hit, especially in summer, and a particularly spacious one tucked out in back, which required some of the east-side bluff to be dug out and even revealed a cave during construction. Also, they described the choice that exists for conversion-friendly softer music downstairs, and rockier tunes up. In that vein, bartender Whitney said that things have been “crazy busy” up there. Another patron invoked the triple-R reference, that the new place is “really, really, really nice,” and a second said he was holding back to formal completion so he could obtain a personal tour from husband-and-wife owners, after having added he has known them for years and maybe decades as a regular in the old downstairs.
Framing Furman and ‘Club 304′
Executive chef Josh Furman, obviously a key part of the refurbishing, said this supper club and American Bistro theme, among other possible descriptions, is unlike anything else in Hudson and the result of staying passionate and sticking to a concept of being “approachable.” He noted there are the higher-end places in Stillwater, but that his is a different mix of the best of several such things. Furman wants familiar food where people can pronounce what they are ordering, not have it be, say, an obscure French word. Think of going beyond the gourmet, he adds.
Which is not to say that his menu won’t have French sauces, which like so many things at Club 304, he makes from scratch and using locally sourced ingredients, such as the oatmeal, which is beyond the usual standard, having among other things, only coconut milk and steel-cut ingredients and like everything on their menu, no processed white sugar. That’s not even to mention the hoops they jump through to make their own hollandaise sauce, to go with their lobster eggs Benedict. The idea is affordable comfort food, although variety of food options and being treated special while ordering them is indeed their spice of life, and there are even “small plates” if you just want a somewhat-filling snack. And Furman says he will be a consistent presence at Club 304, especially if people have questions, and thus come out and talk to customers.
They might want to ask about the various steaks, made from Hereford beef only, other beef as in great burgers, and ala carte breakfast choices and hot dish, many of which patrons can build it their own way. Signature dishes include crispy pork belly with celery root, an inside-out Scotch egg, beer battered fried, cheese-stuffed onion rings and several dishes using their own made-in-house bacon.
All of this is creating a buzz, even across the border into St. Paul, Furman says, as people have become curious about the intentional, whole experience they are offering. Add to that the ambiance and experienced staff and you have a destination, he said. And as an add-on, so many people have already spoken glowingly to him about that pervasive limestone wall in all parts of the building, even though he spends the majority of his time in the kitchen.
Furman is a veteran of such popular Twin Cities eateries as W.A. Frost, Masu, Shanghai Bistro, the Rivertowns bed and breakfast in Stillwater, and some venues in California.
For more information about the Pudge’s Saloon and Eatery, or the accompanying Club 304, call (715) 386-9975.