Royal Foundry Craft Spirits’ walls are mostly bare and white, with a notable exception.
Behind three lanes of skittles, a ninepin bowling game, looms a giant, 3-D Union Jack. Royal Foundry co-founder Nikki McLain believes it to be the largest depiction of that other red-white-and-blue flag outside the United Kingdom.
That’s only one of the very British touches at this cocktail room, event space and distillery in Minneapolis, which opened quietly last month (241 Fremont Av. N., Mpls., 612-208-1042, royalfoundrycraftspirits.com).
The 15,000-square-foot space also features a large bar handcrafted from barrel wood. It stands in front of a curved wall that’s lined with subway tile and concert posters, made to look like half of a London Tube station. There’s even one of those signature English red phone-booths. And on the opposite wall are four 7-foot vinyl cutouts of an image of co-founder Andy McLain’s great-grandfather, an English detective.
McLain’s roots are the driving force behind Royal Foundry Craft Spirits. His parents are from the U.K., where he spent part of his childhood. He goes back to visit every year with his wife, Nikki, and their two children.
In all his travels, he came to realize one very important thing.
“All of my passions and appreciation for booze has been from exposure there,” he said.
So he learned their spirit-making ways and launched his own Anglophilic drinking spot in Minneapolis, down to the equipment. Single-malt whisky produced in the Scotch style, London dry gin and navy rum are among the spirits being made into cocktails here, and, eventually, sold on store shelves.
“The idea is to take something and make it better” as a small craft operation, McLain said. “And it’s good stuff. Scotches are good whiskys. London dry gins are good gins.”
McLain, who worked in house construction and did most of the woodworking in the distillery, hopes the venue becomes popular with the expat crowd — another Brit’s Pub, he suggested.
The McLains, along with co-founder Kelly Everhart, have converted a former eyesore of a warehouse (the exterior was painted with polka dots) full of office fixtures into a multipurpose space just west of downtown Minneapolis in the Harrison neighborhood. They share the building with the recently opened La Doña Cerveceria, the Twin Cities’ first Latin-style brewery, in this developing neighborhood at the nexus of several bike trails.
“We believe Harrison is going to be what the North Loop was 10 years ago,” Nikki McLain said.
A yet-to-be-built deck on the 2nd Avenue N. side of the building will seat 100 and offer sweeping views of downtown. That deck will overlook a cycle speedway track for leagues and individuals to compete in this British cycling sport. (There will likely be a rule to cycle first, then drink. “I’ve already got the waiver drafted,” said Everhart, an attorney.)
For now, food trucks and British-inspired popcorn are the only food options (prawn cocktail popcorn, anyone?).
But the drinks are the real focus. So far, the short menu consists of a pear Old Fashioned made with rum, a whisky and housemade blackberry shrub drink, a grapefruit-and-whisky Collins, and a vodka drink with honey, lemon and a lavender rim.
The cocktail room is now open daily, and a grand opening is planned for sometime this month.
Buses and beer
Greyhound bus stations aren’t exactly the height of opulence these days, but Brian Ingram hopes to hark back to a more romantic era of bus travel in his new restaurant, Bus Stop Brewhouse.
A 1929 Dittmar bus on the patio is just the start of full-on bus nostalgia in the shadow of U.S. Bank Stadium. Bus Stop Brewhouse opened Dec. 30 (620 S. 4th St., Mpls., busstopbrewhouse.com).
The restaurant, in one of the East Town Wells Fargo towers, is designed to look like a 1920s bus depot. Speckled blue Marlite flooring, doors with frosted glass (taken from an old Sears store in Fargo), a counter and DJ booth made from a retrofitted trolley, historic bus maps inlaid into tabletops, even a turnstile to get into the bathroom, are some of the vintage touches.
“It’s like ‘American Pickers’ [a reality show about collectors on the History Channel],” said Ingram, chief development officer of Williston Holding, the company behind Bus Stop.
Ingram recently opened Cargo Food Authority at Target Center — a restaurant and bar fashioned out of old shipping containers. He was also behind the concept of St. Paul’s Seventh Street Truck Park, which collected several food trucks in one space. (He’s no longer with that company.)
This time, it’s buses. And, if all goes well, he’ll move on to pontoons next, and eventually convert an old service station into another of his transit-themed food halls.
“I grew up around cars and worked on cars,” Ingram said.
As more restaurants incorporate food-truck-like layouts, Ingram looks down on those that only use facades, like the food truck hall at MSP airport.
He basically stopped downtown traffic to hoist his full-size buses into his new place. “These aren’t make-believe,” he said. “These are real.”
One 1950s Greyhound bus serves as a bar that faces both inside and, in better weather, the patio. Ingram turned the driver’s seat into a selfie booth.
Patrons can place orders at the trolley. And outside, that old Dittmar will be one big heated tailgate party for small events of up to 30 people.
A partly open kitchen is in a section of the restaurant designed to look like a bus station waiting room. That kitchen will be turning out mostly burgers and fries. There will be burgers made of chicken, salmon, pork belly, the obligatory vegan patty — and a 10-pound food challenge burger. The fries are spiral cut like the ones at the State Fair. Rounding out the menu are more carnival-inspired appetizers: a giant pretzel, cheese curds. And for dessert, three kinds of pie courtesy of the bakers at the Lynhall.
As for drinks, Bus Stop will brew its own beer, and Tattersall will supply cocktails on tap.
Ingram is hoping the retro look and feel of the place will appeal to generations of diners. There’s a selfie booth for the young’uns and vintage gumball dispensers and cigarette machines to trigger memories for their grandparents.
That explains some of the hyper-theming going on at Ingram’s eateries.
“You have to be more than just a restaurant now,” he says. “This starts a conversation.”
Oysters and wine in Bayport
Mike Willenbring put in seven years as head chef at Revé Bistro & Bar in Stillwater before he decided it was time to set out on his own. When the former Belgian cafe L’Etoile du Nord space opened up, he grabbed it.
Manger Restaurant and Wine Bar opens Jan. 5. (320 5th Av. N., Bayport, 651-324-9313, mangerrestaurant.com)
“It was always my dream to have a restaurant when I was 30,” said the 28-year-old Willenbring, a Stillwater native who co-owns Manger with his wife, Nicole. “When the opportunity came along, we couldn’t refuse.”
Willenbring got comfortable in his career with the steak-and-seafood, tasting-menu kind of cooking Revé is known for.
At his new restaurant, those “cheffy things” aren’t exactly in line with the Bayport dining scene, he said.
“I wanted to be a little bit more approachable, but still upscale and still doing fun things.”
Instead of a chef’s tasting menu, look for amuse bouches throughout dinner. “Random little surprises to introduce unique items and ingredients,” he said.
Everything he makes gets kissed by woodfire in a centerpiece oven. There will be pizzas, roasted veggies from local farms, braised meats and at lunch, sandwiches.
The space is in turnkey condition, but Willenbring had one significant addition: an oyster bar.
“It’ll be a really relaxed atmosphere. Sit a couple hours, get a bottle of wine. We’re not really expecting our dinner service to be constantly turning tables,” he said.
Manger will be open Tue.-Sat. for lunch and dinner.
Making a move
Justin Sutherland seems to be everywhere these days. The Handsome Hog chef was recently named managing partner of a slew of St. Paul restaurants. And he’s currently beaming into homes weekly as a contestant on Bravo’s “Top Chef.”
But one place he isn’t: Minneapolis.
That’s supposed to change in 2019, when his Stillwater restaurant relocates to downtown Minneapolis, Sutherland said.
The Southern-tinged Pearl & the Thief in Stillwater closed Dec. 31, just as the winter doldrums slow down tourism in the scenic day-trip town. The owners of Stillwater and Hudson’s LoLo American Kitchen, which have a minority stake in Pearl & the Thief, will convert the space into a Latin street food restaurant called Lolito by the end of January.
Expect a Minneapolis opening of Pearl & the Thief around July 1 at a still-undisclosed location. Sutherland would only hint that it’s new construction.
“A lot of stars just aligned and it kind of made sense,” Sutherland said.
He said he was “approached by a few different people in Minneapolis that had been looking for me to open a restaurant in Minneapolis.” But with so much else going on in his other roles, “I was not in a position nor desire to start a new concept whatsoever.”
Enter Pearl & the Thief, the oysters and whiskey spot that opened in Stillwater this past summer.
Things were going well at the restaurant, Sutherland said, but he’s too busy.
“I love spending time cooking on the line at Pearl two or three times a week and I didn’t want to stop doing that,” he said. But after taking the helm of eight other restaurants, “it started to be harder to be in multiple places.”
The new restaurant will be a little closer to home. Plus, it’s closer to the palates he wants to be cooking for — city dwellers.
“Our opening menu, we have continually scaled back based on the clientele” in Stillwater, Sutherland said. Head-on prawns quickly became head-off. Foie gras didn’t sell.
“Nobody wants heads on things, nobody wants raw stuff. A lot of the adventurous things I think will go over better in Minneapolis.”
The cool blue color palette and design will transfer. So will many of the staff members, all of whom have been offered jobs at either LoLo or the other restaurants Sutherland oversees in St. Paul. Chef de cuisine Brandon Randolph will make a pit stop at St. Paul Mediterranean restaurant Shish before moving to the Minneapolis Pearl & the Thief.
As for the Stillwater space, look for small plates inspired by the food of the Yucatán Peninsula and drinks with mezcal, tequila and rum, said Lolito co-owner Joe Ehlenz.
“It’ll be different than Pearl. A little bit more fast casual,” he said. Upstairs, a private party space will also serve late-night tacos and happy hour.
Meanwhile, Sutherland continues to vie for a $125,000 prize on “Top Chef.” Watching the show has been strange for him, he said.
“It’s weird hearing your voice on TV. I’m seeing it for the first time everybody else is seeing it. Although I lived it, I never know what’s going to make the final cut.”
With his newfound celebrity plus the restaurant changeup, “2018 has been an absolute whirlwind,” he said. “And it doesn’t seem like 2019 is gonna slow down.”
Odds and ends
Eastside has a new executive chef. Ryan Cook comes from Sea Change, where he was the head chef. At that restaurant in the Guthrie Theater, Cook worked alongside Jamie Malone, who took over Eastside in October. Cook is experimenting with homemade bread, cheese and koji — a fermented fungus that goes into the making of soy sauce and miso, so look for some surprises on the menu. (305 Washington Av. S., Mpls., 612-208-1638, eastsidempls.com)
Crave restaurants have added a vegetarian and vegan section to their menus at all locations. Veggie sushi, a wedge salad with vegan blue cheese and meatless bacon, grilled jerk tofu and Impossible brand burgers are some of the ample plant-based offerings. The Herbivorous Butcher provides the vegan meat and cheese replacements. (craveamerica.com)
Four chefs are contributing to Beth El Synagogue’s annual Tu B’shevat Seder, a holiday meal that highlights seven ingredients prominent in the Hebrew Bible. This year’s chefs are Katie Elsing, pastry chef at the Lynhall; Tyler Hanlon of Public Kitchen + Bar; Brandon Randolph of Pearl & the Thief; and Karyn Tomlinson of Corner Table. The Jan. 21 dinner pairs wines with each course, for $125. Make reservations at besyn.org or 952-873-7300 by Jan. 13.
Mystic Lake Casino’s oldest restaurant, Minnehaha Cafe, is now open after a remodeling that added seats, overhauled the menu and created a dessert shop. The 24-hour restaurant now has a jumbo pecan caramel roll, chile fried shrimp and smoked chicken poutine on the menu. The cafe also provides room service to hotel guests. (2400 Mystic Lake Blvd., Prior Lake, 952-496-7126, mysticlake.com)
Dalton & Wade has closed. The North Loop “country-style” restaurant at 323 Washington Av. N. in Minneapolis, had opened in July 2017 and offered 200 whiskeys and a menu of hearty “Americana” food. The restaurant announced its Dec. 31 closing in a Facebook post.