Support Local Journalism. Join Riverfront Times Press Club.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Tu Tien Tran, Who Made Upstairs Lounge an Underground Hub, Has Died

Posted By on Tue, Jan 30, 2018 at 1:43 PM

click to enlarge Tu Tien Tran.
  • Tu Tien Tran.

St. Louis is mourning the loss of an iconic figure in the city's music scene: Tu Tien Tran, owner of the Upstairs Lounge (3131 South Grand Boulevard; 314-358-2004), has died.

News of Tran's passing has been circulating on Facebook since early this morning. No details as to the cause or circumstances are currently available.

Called by some "the Godfather of St. Louis EDM," Tran was best-known in the South Grand community for creating the Upstairs Lounge and making it a place welcoming to musicians and music fans who felt they had no other place to go.

"Now, you look around and see so many different music scenes, but when he was in his teens and early twenties back in the '90s, places didn't exist," says Rachel Witt, executive director of the South Grand Community Improvement District. "He felt like he needed to do something to change that. He was one of the pioneers who provided a place for people who were interested in underground music to go to."

Tran was the son of Tai and Chi Kim Tran, Vietnamese immigrants and owners of the South Grand mainstay Mekong Restaurant. His sister, Bay Tran, later opened Tree House, which has earned acclaim for its vegetarian dishes.

An avid music lover, Tran took over Mekong's upstairs space, naming it the Upstairs Lounge and turning it into a small club and bar. More than just a venue, however, the Upstairs was a platform for musical self-expression and a place for up-and-comers and young artists to explore their craft in a welcoming and inclusive environment. It frequently played host to underground events, allowing EDM to continue to flourish in the city.

Tran held court over the Upstairs Lounge for more than two decades. He is remembered for not just for his contributions to the St. Louis music scene but for his willingness to open up his business, and even home, to anyone who needed a place to go

Alexis Tucci, an event producer, promoter and DJ, recalls Tran's influence on the city's music community. "He provided the first opportunities for so many people and he never said no to anybody," Tucci says. "His biggest contribution was that he passed no judgment on people's musical preferences or their lives."

She continues, "He never encouraged mainstream, and he never told anyone to play something outside of their personal interests. You were always welcome to be who you were in that space."

Witt echoes Tucci's sentiment on Tran's welcoming and open-minded spirit.

"What I loved most about him was his passion and his energy for the community," says Witt. "He was so filled with life and possibilities. He was the biggest dreamer. We need people like that."

click to enlarge An impromptu memorial to Tu Tien Tran was set up outside his family's restaurant on South Grand today. - COURTESY OF NATASHA BAHRAMI
  • An impromptu memorial to Tu Tien Tran was set up outside his family's restaurant on South Grand today.

We are always hungry for tips and feedback. Email the author at

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Riverfront Times Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Riverfront Times Club for as little as $5 a month.

Read the Digital Print Issue

December 1, 2021

View more issues


Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

Best Things to Do In St. Louis

© 2021 Riverfront Times

Website powered by Foundation