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It won't be a restaurant for the former Solera

The building at 9th and Hennepin in downtown Minneapolis -- which was home to Solera for a dozen years until the restaurant closed 19 months ago --- looks like it's getting a new tenant. 

It's not a restaurant. According to plans filed with the city of Minneapolis, the non-profit Hennepin Theatre Trust, which operates the adjacent Orpheum Theatre, as well as the nearby State Theatre, Pantages Theatre and New Century Theatre -- is looking to buy the building.

According to the report, the Trust is seeking a $2.8 million city loan and $250,000 grant -- and contributing $250,000 of its own cash -- to finance the $2.3 million purchase and $800,000 renovation of the three-story structure. The Trust has also budgeted $200,000 in planning costs. Closing is expected to take place in early- to mid-August.

The plan includes converting the first floor -- which housed the 225-seat Solera dining room and bar -- into a lounge for Trust subscribers and donors, and to extend the Orpheum's cramped street-level lobby. The second and third floors -- once Solera private-events spaces -- will be used for offices (now located in City Center) and educational and theatrical uses. The rooftop, once a popular bar, will be converted to an outdoor lounge and classroom.

A little history: When it opened in 2003 -- a replacement for long-shuttered Backstage at Bravo -- four-star Solera was the influential brainchild of La Belle Vie owners Tim McKee and Josh Thoma. It featured a trendy menu that emphasized Spanish tapas and a bar that stocked dozens of sherries.

McKee and Thoma ended their partnership in 2010 and sold Solera to a subsidiary of the Hennepin Avenue Opportunity Fund, which turned the facility over to Graves Hospitality Corp. Chef Jorge Guzman continued the Spanish theme for several years before departing in mid-2014 to manage Surly Brewing's $34 million destination brewery in southeast Minneapolis. Solera sputtered to a close at the end of 2014, and the building has remained vacant. 

"By owning and operating the Solera Building, the Trust has represented that it will be able to enhance the experience for theater donors and supporters," reads the report. "This would include valet parking, complimentary drink specials and the opportunity to host guests at exclusive and private parties."

Ichiban in downtown Minneapolis closing at end of month

After a 36-year run, Ichiban Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi Bar is calling it quits.

"Thirty-six years is a long time to do anything," said Keith Levit in a statement. Levit is son of founder Jack Levit. "We've been a staple in the community for much of that time and that's something we're very grateful for. It's sad that it's coming to an end here but we're very proud of what we've accomplished."

The teppanyaki restaurant (that's a 1981 Star Tribune file photo, above) was once part of a five-unit chain that originated in Winnipeg in 1973. That location remains open, but the others -- in Reno, Nev., Fargo, N.D., and Palm Springs, Calif. -- no longer exist.

Ichiban, popular with conventioneers, features one of the oldest sushi bars in the Twin Cities. When the above photo was taken in 1985, here's what restaurant critic Jeremy Iggers had to say: "The 10 to 15 varieties of raw fish, octopus, abalone and vinegared rice tidbits have been marked down for the duration from $ 1.50 to $ 1.19 per serving. The delivery system is unusual - between the counter and the chef's workspace is a little moat filled with water on which little wooden boats float. The chef, in this case Hide Sekimoto, places his creations on board the boats, and when a tempting morsel sails by, you snatch it off."

Those prices, 31 years later? Slightly higher: roughly $5 per variety. The restaurant offers a great all-you-can-eat sushi deal: $28, between 4:30 and 6 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday.

Ichiban will be the third restaurant to close on Nicollet since the mall's $50 million reconstruction project began. Masa went dark in October 2015, and Vincent followed two months later. The Masa space remains empty, and a Caribou Coffee/Einstein Bros. Bagels mash-up now occupies the former Vincent space.

No word on what will become of the distinctive Ichiban structure (pictured, above), with its pagoda-style flourishes. The restaurant's last day is July 30.