Dan Kelly’s Bar & Grill in downtown Minneapolis is about to become Dan Kelly’s Pub.
The changes goes beyond a few words above the door.
Owner Marc Maslow is retiring, and has sold his vaguely Irish establishment — the kind of welcoming, low-wattage refuge that has evolved from downtown staple to anachronism — to Matty O’Reilly (owner of Republic and 318 Cafe), who plans to go deep with the whole Irish thing.
"I've been wanting to do this for forever," said O'Reilly. "I've just been looking for the right space to come along."
Enter Dan Kelly's. O’Reilly was drawn to the property's ornate, 44-foot wood bar, the long row of booths, the working kitchen, the square footage that will allow the addition of a small stage for live Irish music.
“When we walked into the space, I was immediately reminded of Sgt. Preston’s on Seven Corners,” said O’Reilly, recalling the former (and nostalgia-dipped) tenant of the space now occupied by Republic. “All the woodwork, all the stained glass. It already looks and feels like an Irish pub."
O’Reilly takes ownership on Dec. 1 (“the check just cleared,” he said), and he has plans for a light renovation, mostly paring the space of its beer signs and TV screens.
“They don’t resonate with the natural beauty of the place,” he said. “It’s more or less a turnkey space, we’re going to put on a coat of paint and put a new menu out front. Why not make use of a perfectly good facility? I keep coming back to Sgt. Preston’s, but it’s really the same thing: Once you get everything down and really look at the room, you think, ‘Wow, this place is super-cool.’ We need a term for people like us. We wait around for a perfectly good space that needs a refresh on the concept.”
(Something tells me that this is the restaurant equivalent of HGTV's "Rehab Addict," but I digress. Besides, O’Reilly’s announcement is happy news for this diner. The pub, which is located in the historic WCCO Radio building, is going to be around the corner from the Star Tribune’s new home when the newspaper moves next April.)
Menu-wise, it’s back to the basics. This will not be an Irish pub that serves ceviche, Caesar salads, tacos and other off-topic distractions.
Instead, Republic chef Keven Kvalsten is putting his spin on Irish comfort-food favorites: A stout-Cheddar fondue with apples and house-baked brown bread, battered house-made sausage and chips, lamb stew with Irish stout and root vegetables, minced beef shepherd’s pie, boxty (potato pancakes with creme fraiche and house-smoked salmon), split pea with ham soup, corned beef and cabbage sandwich with white Cheddar, house-cut potato chips with curry ketchup, and more.
As for the bar, O’Reilly has done his homework: Forty-plus Irish whiskeys, and plenty of craft beers. The latter is not a surprise for a guy who is about to increase the number of taps at his Seven Corners outlet of Republic to an astounding 104 (“We have a 5,000-square foot basement over there, so we can do anything we want,” said O'Reilly). What is a surprise is that he won’t be featuring a lot of Irish brews.
“The ones that are available to us here in Minnesota are not a super-good reflection of the best beers from Ireland,” he said. “We’ll probably have Guinness and Harp, but we’ll leave the rest of the lines to craft beers from Minnesota and from around the United States.”
One emphasis will be hard ciders. O’Reilly has partnered with Sweetland Orchard owners Mike and Gretchen Perbix to create an exclusive line of hard ciders aged with whiskey-soaked oak.
“We wanted to go all-in with the authenticity,” he said. “What better way than to do that than with small batches, made here in Minnesota?”
Regarding the property’s slight name change, here’s the story: O’Reilly was not about to christen his latest project after himself, despite possessing his own perfectly marketable Irish name.
He cited an iron-clad rule of Anthony Bourdain’s: Never name a bar after yourself. "Or maybe it's my humble upbringing," he said with a laugh. “Whatever it is, I just can’t do it.”
A January opening is in the works.