It seems fitting that a booze mart will be opening in a newspaper building, given the indelible image of hard-drinking journalists with a pint in their desk drawers in such films as “His Girl Friday.”
Except that when Revival Wine Beer and Spirits opens in the classic St. Paul edifice known to many as the Pioneer Building, there will be no journos in the house (the Pioneer Press offices moved a block or so away years ago), and this store will cater to a more upscale crowd than us ink-stained wretches.
The man behind the store, slated to open in mid-May (with a public tasting slated for May 20), is Jeffrey Huff, who started the charming Little Wine Shoppe in St. Anthony Park a few years back. This “shoppe” will not be “little”: 2,200 square feet compared to 300 for his former store. “My walk-in cooler’s almost bigger than the Little Wine Shoppe,” he said with a chuckle.
But it should be just as personal. Huff has been building cabinets to protect his inventory from getting too much light in a space with “massive windows.”
“The space is just amazing,” said Huff. It’s on the second floor of the Pioneer Endicott Building, which dates to 1889 and had been empty for a few years when Richard Pakonen of Pak Properties bought it, largely for residential usage.
Some of the 230 new luxury apartments are already occupied, and the Minnesota Museum of American Art will be taking up the entire first floor. Huff, who will be the first commercial tenant to open, named the store after the building’s architectural style, Romanesque Revival.
Huff said his store will be heavy on craft beers and the emerging artisan distillery world, and that the wine selection will be focused on quality and value. “I know the demographics of who’s down there,” he said. “But I knew the demographic in St. Anthony Park, and that didn’t quantify into selling high-end wines.”
Regardless, he’s excited to be in “an absolutely beautiful space” and has gotten comfortable with its size. “I guess you start small and get bigger. That’s the goal, right?” Huff said. “This is all the bigger I want to be.”
A disappointing turn of events for Minneapolis’ North Loop neighborhood is offset by encouraging news for Duluth.
Last June, Fitger’s Brewhouse co-owners Rod Raymond and Tim Nelson announced their intention to convert the long-shuttered Trocaderos nightclub and restaurant (107 3rd Av. N.) into a brewpub and music venue. Those plans have been scuttled.
“We had a purchase agreement, but in the end we’ve decided not to exercise it,” said Brad Nelson, spokesman for Fitger's parent company, Just Take Action. One reason: The building’s enormous footprint. “That made the scope of the project really big,” said Nelson. “Being out of town only made the project more difficult for us.”
Another reason: The company is adding another venue to its growing list of Duluth enterprises (which includes Burrito Union restaurant and Red Star nightclub). It just acquired, in a city-run auction, the historic Endion Station building in Canal Park, Duluth’s tourism epicenter. The price? $300,000.
Plans for the building -- an 1899 Richardsonian Romanesque landmark -- aren’t entirely clear, but, pending city approval, Nelson said the hope is to reprogram the former train depot into a seasonal destination for beer lovers, catering to the many pedestrians and bikers who pass by the building on the popular Lakewalk. A limited food menu is also a possibility. Nelson said the target opening is set for sometime next spring.
There’s a bit of critical mass in play, too: It’s two doors down from the soon-to-open Canal Park Brewing Co., an ambitious craft beer operation and restaurant scheduled to open this month.
Just Take Action has a taste for historic buildings. Fitger's fortress-like lakeside pile hails from the 1880s, and portions of the Minneapolis property dated to 1892. Last month, the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota's Adaptive Reuse award went to the company for its scrupulous conversion of Duluth's former 1899 city hall into Tycoons Alehouse & Eatery, located a few blocks west of Fitger's and a brief walk from Endion Station.
In 1986, Endion Station (pictured, above, in a photograph from the city of Duluth), was moved from its original east Duluth location to its present lakefront site. After serving as the home of an advertising agency, a tourism bureau and a retailer, the two-story sandstone beauty has been crying out for a food-and-drink tenant. "It will be an incredible spot to enjoy Duluth," said Nelson.
That’s not all. The company has big plans for a building that it owns on the ever-improving E. Superior St., across from the soon-to-be-renovated NorShor Theatre. The sprawling structure (206 E. Superior St.) was a former Nash automobile showroom, but contemporaries will recognize it for its most recent tenant, Big Lake Books. It has sat empty for several years. But that’s about to change.
The building’s generous floor plates -- 18,000 square feet on three levels -- “are ideal for a brewery,” said Nelson. What a coincidence: Fitger’s brewmaster Dave Hoops and his crew could use the extra real estate.
“We’re out of capacity to expand at Fitger’s,” said Nelson. “We just can’t keep up with supply, beer-wise, and that’s a good problem to have.”
The plan is to convert the building’s street level into a production facility for Fitger’s most popular mainstay brews -- its El Nino IPA, Lighthouse blonde ale and Big Boat oatmeal stout , among others-- a strategy that would open up opportunities at the cramped Fitger’s Brewhouse for more esoteric small-batch brews.
The building’s second floor, with its Lake Superior views, could be converted into special events space. Nothing is set in stone, but “We will have a full implementation plan in place by April and construction will happen in 2013,” said Nelson.
Given all that activity, it’s not a surprise that Fitger’s is bowing out of its Minneapolis plans.
“We don’t want to spread ourselves too thin,” said Nelson. “We’ve decided that it’s best to regroup and focus on what we’re doing here in Duluth.”
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