Proximity to Xcel Energy Center was no guarantee of crowds as many visitors took their partying to Minneapolis.
Conventional wisdom would dictate that restaurants within walking distance of the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul would have been hopping this week. Reality? It's not a slam-dunk.
Barriers placed around the X appear to have shaped restaurant patronage. Moe Sharif, owner of the Downtowner Woodfire Grill on W. 7th Street, about two blocks from the X, said he got members of the media but not a lot of delegates. "We're closest to the gate where the media went in and out," he said Wednesday. "We had a lot of delegates on the first day because they were using that same gate, but then they changed the gate and we didn't have any more delegates."
Sharif said traffic was slow during the day but picked up at night when "we had very good dinner and bar business." He noted that many of his customers were locals, because street and parking access to his restaurant remained open. "Last year everyone was telling me that I was going to be a millionaire, but I didn't have those high expectations. I'm not a millionaire today, but I'm not broke, either," Sharif said.
Another issue? Conventioneers weren't lingering downtown. "The delegates arrived on buses and then were escorted back to their buses and went back to their hotels in Minneapolis or Bloomington or wherever," said Kieran Folliard, owner of the Liffey, located directly across 7th Street from the X. "We were getting the people who were staying here in the neighborhood, but not the rush of people coming out of the Xcel Center."
Folliard described business at the Liffey as "a very good night with the Wild, and nothing more," and added that sales exceeded expectations at the Local, his downtown Minneapolis bar and restaurant. "That's because people were coming back to their hotels in Minneapolis and then going out. We had a very good late-night scene at the Local."
On the Rice Park side of the X, reviews were mixed.
"We had good sales," said Sean O'Byrne, owner of Great Waters Brewing Co. on St. Peter Street and 7th Place. O'Bryne added breakfast service for the convention, but it didn't pan out. The big hit? A special RNC brew called Grand Ole Pale. "GOP, right?" he said, with a laugh. "That was selling well."
A few blocks away, the convention got a thumbs-down from downtown's newest restaurant.
"We were not helped by the RNC coming to town," said Clark Knutson, owner of Pop!!, which opened three weeks ago in the former home of Fhima's at Wabasha and 6th streets. "We were prepared to be busy, but we didn't bank on it, which, in hindsight, was probably wise."
Rick Nelson • 612-673-4757