Take a look around and it’s easy to see that restaurant design made groundbreaking advances in 2016, and local talent led the way.

 

Tullibee

ESG Architects deftly accentuated the built-in brick-and-timber beauty of the Hewing Hotel’s Tullibee, breathing new life into a 120-year-old former farm implement showroom.

 

Penny’s Coffee

Another savvy remake? It’s found in the green marble-clad lobby of a 22-story Minoru Yamasaki office building from 1980, and it instantly catapulted Penny’s Coffee to the top of the city’s Stylish Coffeehouse pecking order. The lobby’s remake is by Shea Design, and the coffee shop is the work of Dahlia Brue and Gomez Whitney.

 

St. Genevieve

Walk into St. Genevieve and you might temporarily believe you’ve just strolled off the Boulevard Saint-Germain in Paris, thanks to the evocative work of Heather Keena of Machine Scenic, in collaboration with chef/owner Steven Brown and his spouse, Stacey Kvenvold.

 

Hi-Lo Diner

Kudos also to the painstaking restoration that co-owners Mike Smith and James Brown undertook when they restored the polish of a 1957 factory-made diner into the instant mood elevator that is their sparkling Hi-Lo Diner.

 

The cafe at the Bachelor Farmer

James Dayton Design also sparked a serious case of tile envy with its colorful and witty design solution when the Bachelor Farmer decided to launch a casual daytime cafe. 

 

Restaurant Alma

The firm’s remake (with an assist from designer Talin Spring of Spring Finn & Co. in Minneapolis) of Restaurant Alma — and the addition of the adjacent Cafe Alma — was another game-changer.

 

Young Joni

One out-of-town firm — Studio MAI of Los Angeles — made an outsize impact, collaborating with Young Joni co-owners Ann Kim and Conrad Leifur to convert a former Polish community center into a North Shore-meets-northeast-Minneapolis playground.

 

Esker Grove

Still, when it comes to visual thrills and chills, nothing tops just-opened Esker Grove. When the Walker Art Center commissioned HGA, the state’s largest architectural firm, to rethink the museum’s front door, it naturally concluded that there’s no more effective welcome mat than food and drink. In a stunning setting, of course.

And stunning it is, in pure understated Minnesota fashion. By emphasizing floor-to-ceiling views of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden — and connections to the building’s all-white galleries — the restaurant radiates a brand-new vibrancy while simultaneously feeling as if it’s a just-revealed segment of Walker’s original Edward Larrabee Barnes-designed landmark. What a gracious and respectful role for HGA’s Joan Soranno to embrace, and what a knockout for diners to enjoy.

(Photos by Star Tribune staff. Tullibee, Penny's, St. Genevieve and Young Joni provided.)