Restaurateur Jim Ringo's first visit inside the Art Deco wonder that is the former Forum Cafeteria made a lasting impression.
"It took my breath away," he said. "It was supposed to be a 15-minute walk-through, and I stayed an hour." He went away thinking it wasn't right for Ringo -- the global cuisine restaurant that opened earlier this month in St. Louis Park -- but the space most recently known as Goodfellow's lingered in his brain, and before he knew it, the first-time restaurateur found himself with a second property, one that opened to the public Friday.
Now simply called Forum, the space has a past as colorful as its mint-green walls and ceiling. Its story starts in 1930, when the Forum Cafeteria chain converted a former movie theater into a restaurant. During its peak in the 1950s, the popular downtowner served its Salisbury steak, lime Jell-O and prune chiffon pie to a reported 8,000 customers a day.
After Forum pulled the plug in 1975, the building enjoyed a brief life as a disco and restaurant called Scottie's on Seventh before being demolished to make way for City Center, but not before its interior was carefully dismantled into 3,500 pieces and stored.
The reassembled interior returned -- as did Scottie's -- in 1983, roughly 100 feet from its original location, but the nightclub didn't last long. The old-new space played host to several restaurants until Goodfellow's took over in 1996 for a nine-year run.
For the past five years the city's giddiest interior has been sitting empty, in an unnaturally dark and forlorn state.
Enter Ringo. His Forum -- the name is a reflection of the word's meaning as a public gathering space -- is decidedly less highbrow than its fine-dining predecessor ("I never imagined I was good enough to go to Goodfellow's," he said with a laugh). Ringo's hope is that his more proletariat approach, with its emphasis on American comfort food, will coax a whole new generation of Minnesotans into experiencing the setting's playful splendors.
What they'll discover is an effervescent glitz -- all mirrors, cast plaster, etched and painted glass and nickel chrome -- peppered with images of pine cones, pine trees, sailboats, waterfalls, Viking ships and arrowheads. It's as if George B. Franklin, the room's original architect, had designed a backdrop to suit both Jean Harlow and an Iron Ranger.
When he signed the lease, the space was in relatively good shape, but Ringo enlisted architect David Shea to make a number of fixes. "We didn't want to screw around with the essence of the place," said Shea. "The vitality and the energy are back. It's a cacophony of sights and sounds."
Beige acoustical wall panels, installed during the Goodfellow's era, have been removed, revealing glistening Bakelite tiles in cream, gray and celeste green ("It's a trade-off, noise vs. visual," said Ringo. "We chose noise."). New banquettes have been upholstered in colors derived from the room's original palette, and seats were added at the edge of the balcony to take advantage of the breathtaking views. ("I challenged my group to find a bad seat somewhere," said Ringo. "There isn't one.")
A new bar has been placed in the room's center -- the spot where Forum Cafeteria customers once queued up in a double service line -- and constructed of walnut to match the original woodwork. ("When Scottie's went in, they used oak," said Shea. "I guess they forgot that everything else was walnut.") Goodfellow's chairs have been refurbished and an elaborate sidewalk cafe acts as a much-needed welcome mat on soul-sucking 7th Street.
Some missing historic materials were miraculously matched during the renovation, but many cracks, holes and other imperfections have been left unrepaired. "They're part of the Forum's character, its patina," said Shea. "I haven't seen anything in the country that equals this space. I look around this room and my heart races."
Rick Nelson • 612-673-4757