First Look: Kenny's Upstairs on South Grand in Tower Grove South
Kenny’s Upstairs is set to open this month – “very soon,” said owner Kenny Marks – at 3131 S. Grand Blvd. in Tower Grove South. Located in the legendary Upstairs Lounge space, Kenny’s Upstairs bars will be a “neighborhood bar, cocktail dive that you can just count on,” Marks said.
This is the first bar Marks has owned, but their reputation in the local food and drink scene is solid, having spent years working in a variety of well-loved breweries, cocktail bars and restaurants including Side Project, Handlebar, Small Change and most recently Indo. Marks also co-founded the Save Me a Place pop-up series at Wild Carrot with Luc Michalski.
It’s an understatement when Marks says the former Upstairs Lounge space required “quite a bit” of rehab in order to whip it into shape. In addition to needing some decorative love and care, the space lacked many of the amenities a proper bar needs. “No floor drains, no mop closet, no ice machine … every pipe in this building was burst,” Marks said.
Upstairs Lounge veterans will recognize the layout of the space, and Kenny’s Upstairs contains a few intentional nods to its predecessor, but Marks is careful to assert that this is not Upstairs Lounge 2.0. There will be a DJ in the DJ booth, but the music will be supplementing the ambiance of the bar rather than getting people up on the dance floor. The dance floor is still there, but now there’s a pool table in the middle of it. “One, because of capacity reasons, and two, because it's my bar and I want to play pool,” Marks said.
The seating booths that run along one side of the room have been reupholstered, with what Marks calls the “mega booth” in the corner seating around 12 customers. The whole bar has space to seat around 30 guests, including around eight bar stools. On one wall, there’s a large monochrome mural by Marks’ friend and local artist Ashley Hohman; on the other side of the room, paintings hang from the wall and a variety of odds-and-ends sit atop shelving that runs the length of the room, including an array of small vintage televisions. “Everything's either from just stuff we had or estate sales,” Marks said. “We kind of just have the same aesthetic, everyone who's part of this.”
The bar features five signature cocktails, including an NA option, Before the Dawn. Straight off the bat, our favorite is Kenny’s World Famous Pickle Martini, a gin or vodka martini with a pickled vermouth. The vermouth takes on a savory flavor and adds depth to the standard martini. “I took a recipe that I used to do dill pickles, I just subtracted the vinegar and the sugar, and then let that sit for four days in vermouth,” Marks said. “It’s pretty subtle.” Rather than olives, the drink is served with a cocktail onion garnish. Evil Fantasises gives fans of sweeter drinks something to reach for: raspberry tequila, gin, framboise, lemon, cinnamon and club soda. The Champagne (of Beer) cocktail is essentially a Spaghett, featuring Miller High Life, Aperol, lemon and bitters.
The bar can also do whatever your favorite cocktail is, as well as offering a small selection of domestic beers, a couple of craft beers, and a number of wines. Whatever else you do at Kenny’s, order the “baby beer” shots, served in cute glasses resembling tiny beer mugs, complete with handles. There are two options: One is a “lager” featuring Spanish liqueur Licor 43 and heavy whipping cream on top. Marks compares the flavor to a Dairy Queen soft serve. The other is a “stout” made from Fernet Branca with a coffee liqueur and that creamy topping. “It just tastes like chocolate ice cream,” Marks said.
There’s no kitchen at Kenny’s Upstairs, but Marks said they hope to be able to work with food trucks once the bar gets into its rhythm. Kenny’s Upstairs will be open seven days a week, 5 p.m. until last call at 1 a.m.