Ex-Fhima's goes Pop!!

The corner of 6th and Wabasha Streets in downtown St. Paul won't be dark much longer. Clark Knutson, chef/co-owner of Pop! (2859 NE. Johnson St., Minneapolis, poprestaurant.com), has leased the former Fhima's, which has been empty for more than a year. When it opens in mid-August, Knutson's new enterprise will be Pop!! (6 W. 6th St., St. Paul). "We're using two exclamation points because it's the second one," Knutson said with a laugh.

He and spouse Leslie are familiar with the area; they've been living in downtown St. Paul for several years. "We feel we can fill a niche," he said. "Right now there's the higher end -- Pazzaluna, Kincaid's, Meritage -- and there's the lower-priced places like Red's Savoy and Cossetta. But we're right in the middle. We want to be a neighborhood restaurant; that's important to us."

Knutson is planning to replicate his eclectic signature dishes (let's hope that includes his exceptional Swedish meatballs) but will also expand the Latin American and Spanish influences that have made Pop! a distinctive stop on the neighborhood cafe circuit. Another change: Pop!! will have a full bar, which also will stock the same lengthy roster of soda pops served at Pop!

In terms of square footage, the new venture is three times the size of its northeast Minneapolis predecessor. "I don't think people realize how huge that space really is," Knutson said. "It's like an airplane hangar." The Knutsons have hired Smart Associates, a Minneapolis design firm, to perform makeover duties. "Fhima's looked like a bar with a restaurant attached, and we're going for a restaurant with a bar," said Knutson. "We're going to soften up that metrosexual decor and make it more inviting, with Pop colors and Pop Art."

What a relief. How embarrassing would it have been for the host of the Republican National Convention (RNC) to have a gigantic empty storefront in its midst? "Everyone assures me that we can hit that mid-August deadline," said Knutson. "It'll be nice to get a few weeks under our belts before the convention hits town."

Around town

Speaking of pre-RNC plans, the Graves 601 Hotel (601 1st Av. N., Minneapolis, graves601hotel.com) is expanding its dining operations. The former Infinity lounge, located on the hotel's first floor, is being reconfigured as a restaurant and bar that will be called Bradstreet. The bar's focus will be on high-end cocktails crafted with house-made ingredients, and an open kitchen will concentrate on small plates. "The style will be totally different from Cosmos," said chef Stephen Trojahn. "We're trying to open in early September, before the convention, although with construction you never know."

Ballroom dance instructor, longtime restaurant worker and first-time restaurant owner Scott Beck is converting the former home of Acadia Cafe into Cafe Oliver (1931 Nicollet Av. S., Minneapolis). After serving Mel-O-Glaze doughnuts in the a.m., the casual spot will offer a soup-salad-sandwich menu at lunch and a wine, beer and small-plates vibe in the evenings along with a live music schedule on the weekends. Why Oliver? "It's my middle name," Beck said, who added that he's planning on a July 17 opening.

By the way: Acadia's new home at 329 Cedar Av. S. in Minneapolis occupies the Cedar-and-Riverside address that was the longtime home of the former New Riverside Cafe.