Expectations were high for the Lyndale Tap House, the new bar with some big local names behind it in a location most recently occupied by foodie favorite JP's American Bistro. So, of course, the Twin Cities blogosphere took aim at the new spot a few weeks after its late-September opening (a little early for snarky remarks, in my book). Online chatterers called the decor sexist, the room loud and the food in need of work.

But on any given weekend, the bar is buzzing with business, which made me think: This place can't be half-bad, right?

Affirmative. Yeah, it could use some tweaks. But the bar is bringing crowds to the resurgent corner of Lake and Lyndale, and for good reason.

The concept: Some people (OK, mostly just bloggers) are confused about what exactly the Lyndale is trying to be. Is it a bar? A restaurant? A gastropub? The next Bulldog? Owner Gene Suh, 31, and his partners were initially a little uncertain themselves. They were first going to call it the Anchor Bar, but later switched to the Lyndale Tap House (so as not to be confused with Anchor Fish & Chips in northeast Minneapolis).

Its focus seems pretty obvious to me: It's a bar with decent food. They had no intention of re-creating JP's, people. The remodeled floor plan (courtesy of Shea, the design firm behind Barrio, Crave and many other restaurants) features all dark wood and a repurposed bar. It's now the room's centerpiece, stretching from one end to the other.

At the very least, Suh said he always envisioned the Lyndale as a bar with chef-driven comfort food. He suspects that the fickle foodie crowd was drawn in by the pedigree of his partners: Josh Thoma, Ryan Burnet and Tim Rooney. (The trio are partners at Barrio and Bar La Grassa, while Thoma also has La Belle Vie and Solera.)

Still wanting to give the bar some kind of edge, chef Phil Dvorak is specializing in Baltimore-style pit meat. He marinates cuts of beef and pork for three days before cooking them over a 6-foot-long oak-fired pit grill (a Baltimore tradition).

And how about those sexist photographs? Hmm ... seems more like harmless kitsch than anything else. The decor in question is basically artsy, pinup-style portraits of busty women posing with livestock on a central Minnesota farm. Moo.

What's to like: At the end of the day, this is a neighborhood bar that reminds me of the Bulldog. Any good neighborhood bar needs only to follow these simple guidelines.

Good food: While the pit grill meat is interesting, make sure you try the beer mussels and the handmade pretzels.

Good beer: The 18 taps aren't revolutionary, but there's a healthy mix of American craft brands (Tyranena, Victory, Founders, etc.).

A good, lively crowd: On weekdays, the Tap House draws a fun, relaxed neighborhood crowd for happy hour. On weekends, it starts out as a dinner destination and then transforms late-night into Lyn-Lake's version of a party bar. While this isn't everyone's cup of tea, the cross-section of jocks and hipsters makes for some fascinating people-watching.

The place also has a working photo booth.

Needs work: If you're going to call yourself the Tap House, your draft selection should be on par with such beer bars as the Bulldog or the Muddy Pig. Suh said the bar's general manager (and partner), Phil Immerman, was against the Tap House name, fearing it would draw the ire of beer geeks (smart guy). But they went with it anyway. "We will be adding more and more taps to the point where we will be competing with some of those places," Suh said.

The place also needs a DJ to go along with the jukebox. While jukeboxes are great and all, the late-night clientele picks a strange mish-mash of gangsta rap and rock songs that sounds like two teenagers fighting over the radio. Suh said the city wouldn't grant the bar the appropriate license for a DJ. Suh wants to follow the Barrio model: dinner first, followed by a DJ who provides good vibes, but not necessarily a nightclub. He said he'll revisit the issue with the city.

Impact: The bar's addition to Lyn-Lake almost makes you think a little renaissance is happening at this corner (which is emerging from what seems like years of road construction). A growing number of bars and restaurants -- including sake brewpub Moto-i and the rock club Sauce -- have made this a nightlife destination to watch. Add the Lyndale Tap House to that list.

thorgen@startribune.com • 612-673-7909