Stella Blues bar in south St. Louis plans comeback after fire damages building

When a kitchen fire broke out and shuttered the doors at beloved Tower Grove South bar Stella Blues at 3269 Morgan Ford Road in early April, the owner and staff vowed the closure would be temporary. But if we know anything from the rash of kitchen fires that have closed local restaurants in the last few years, there’s no such thing as a sure return. 

Yet things are looking up for Stella Blues — thanks to strong community support and good insurance coverage.

“We're very fortunate to have been not only an industry bar, but just a very prominent community bar,” said bar manager Zoe McKelvie. “So when the fire happened, it wasn't only the staff that was affected, but it was the community at large that considered that a home and a part of their day-to-day life. I mean, we've had engagements at Stella’s. We've had family reunions at Stella’s. So a lot of people were deeply impacted by it.” 

McKelvie said that insurance has covered the major damage, which was thankfully relegated to the kitchen area. The bigger concern has been helping keep the bar team together while the business is closed and getting the supplies needed to do the cleanup of the space.

Friends of the bar and businesses along Morgan Ford and beyond stepped forward to help keep the bar’s employees afloat, offering to plan events (like the one held on Saturday at Electric Mayhem Tattoo) or contributing sales, prizes and donations.

“I just want people to know how thankful we are,” McKelvie said. “This is the kind of thing that we couldn't do without people standing behind us. It can feel really intimidating and daunting to look at this kind of situation and not know what your next steps are. But when you have all of your favorite people in your corner, it makes it so much easier to push through and get things done.”

Right now, the bar’s owner, Paul Choe, is working through the process of making sure the building is safe to go back into, as well as getting appropriate permitting. Once that’s done, hopefully in the next few weeks, McKelvie and the other staff will go in and start cleaning up the smoke and water damage.

Then, all that will be left is to reopen. McKelvie doesn’t have a firm date in mind but anticipates it being around the time the fall semester starts.

“So many businesses have tragic fires like this, and no one even bats an eye,” she said. “So being able to say that we experienced something like this, and we do have a comeback story … I do not take that for granted even a bit. As overwhelming and discouraging as all of it was at first, I feel more hopeful every single day.”