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Team behind Republic gastropub to transform St. Paul's Ristorante Luci into French tavern

Well, that was quick.

The former Ristorante Luci space (470 Cleveland Av. S., St. Paul), dark since the Smith family closed their nearly 30-year-old restaurant on Dec. 31, will be coming back to life.

Republic owner Matty O’Reilly and chef J.D. Fratzke — he of the Strip Club Meat & Fish and Saint Dinette  — will be joining forces to open Bar Brigade. Soon.

“We don’t have an exact date,” said Fratzke. “But it’s going to be in the next month, or two.”

The two longtime friends collaborated last summer on O’Reilly’s seasonal Red River Kitchen at City House  (it's opening again around May 1) and Fratzke is now the company’s culinary director; he’s retaining his involvement with the Strip Club — which is closing this summer — and Saint Dinette.

The fare? “Straightforward French tavern food,” said Fratzke. “It’s a concept that Matty and I have been kicking around for years. Nothing close to Italian. No Italian wines, no pasta, no pizza. We want to honor the heritage of what the Smiths did there, but do it from a different locale than Italy.”

(The Smiths continue to operate their Luci Ancora across the street).

Instead, Fratzke will put the spotlight on roast chicken, baby cucumbers in an anchovy sauce, lentils with barley and spinach, and other uncomplicated dishes, served six nights a week.

“Nothing pretentious,” he said. “It’s going to be a homey, simple place that people can rely upon. I’ve vowed to keep tweezers and squeeze bottles out of there.”

Expect beer and wine, with spirits to follow. “We’re waiting for our full liquor license to come through,” said Fratzke.

For those unfamiliar with the Luci space, it’s a tiny storefront, with seating that tops out somewhere in the 30s. It’ll receive a remake before the doors reopen.

“Think ‘exposed brick’ and ‘hardwood,’” said Fratzke. “We’ll also be hanging a lot of greenery. It’s going to be cozy, and simple.”

Fratzke has very fond memories of Luci.

“When I moved up here from Winona in the early '90s, it was the place where the out-of-town celebrities went,” he said. “I finally ate there in 2002. We were opening Girarrosto Toscano [an ill-fated Italian restaurant in Eden Prairie] and the chef took me there. He told me, ‘These guys make the best pasta,’ and we had this fantastic meal. It was the kind of place that I’d hoped to end up having some day.” 

After quick rebrand, Bearcat on Loring Park abruptly closes

It's the sign on the door that no one wants to see, ever.

After opening just 37 days ago, Bearcat Bar has abruptly closed. The casual restaurant, bar and arcade materialized in January, a quick replacement for owner Kim Bartmann’s 2 1/2-year-old Third Bird.  

“It closed for the same reason that most restaurants closed,” said Bartmann. “It was losing money. Third Bird was losing money, and Bearcat was a last-ditch effort to generate business of a different kind.”

It’s an address that has seen plenty of movement over the years. Remember Ruby’s Cafe? Nick and Eddie? Cafe Maude on Loring? Oh, and three-star Third Bird?

“I just think [the Third Bird] was too modern, too progressive for that location,” said Bartmann. “It’s a destination location. In my humble opinion, you have to go high, or go low, and being a neighborhood place just didn’t work. I love Loring Park, and I love that space, I had my wedding reception there. I’m proud of what we did there, but I also failed, and that’s the stark reality of it.”

The quick closure is an indication of the challenges of the restaurant business.

“This business has so many different measures of success,” said Bartmann. “I always say that sustainability is defined by the ability to repeat an action, and the first action we repeat as a restaurant is opening the door every day. Unfortunately, that’s not something we can do in that location any more.”

The Loring Park operation is a rare misfire for the savvy Bartmann, who operates seven Minneapolis restaurants: Bryant-Lake Bowl, Barbette, Red Stag Supperclub, Pat’s Tap, Tiny Diner, Gigi’s Cafe and the seasonal Bread & Pickle at Lake Harriet.

Bartmann does have some good news. Construction is slated to begin next week on Trapeze, the Uptown champagne bar she announced last year. It's slated to occupy a small storefront that's adjacent to Barbette.

“We’ll hopefully be open by the end of next month,” she said. “Although you know how those things go. That’s probably a little ambitious. Let’s say ‘April.’”

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