When the Rand Tower Hotel opens in the landmark downtown Minneapolis building of the same name on Dec. 2, the project will feature a pair of dining destinations.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the hotel’s food-and-drink properties will open in stages. First up: Whiskey & Soda, a speakeasy-inspired bar. The street-level spot, which anchors the building’s 6th-and-Marquette corner, will temporarily serve double duty by also acting as the hotel’s restaurant until April. That’s when the Rand Tower Club, the hotel’s fifth-floor restaurant, is scheduled to debut.

Both projects will be overseen by chef Andy Vyskocil, a 12-year veteran of Graves Hospitality who most recently launched the InterContinental Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport Hotel.

“I’ve been a part of many openings, but now I’m in the driver’s seat,” he said. “It’s a big step, and it’s what I’ve been training for my whole career.”

Whiskey & Soda will seat 60 (reduced to 30 during COVID-19 restrictions) and its focus is, obviously, whiskey. In the center of the bar is a tower that will showcase dozens of varieties of whiskey.

Vyskocil was on the opening staff of Bradstreet Craftshouse, an early and influential player in the local craft cocktail movement. Located in the former Graves 601 Hotel, the bar took a culinary approach to mixology, and Vyskocil plans to carry that mind-set to the cocktails and alcohol-free libations at Whiskey & Soda.

“I want to be as hands-on with the bar program as I can, and make it a collaborative effort with the kitchen, the mixologists and the sommeliers,” he said. “I want my kitchen staff to be an inspiration for the cocktails, and I want the bartenders and mixologists to be inspired by the kitchen.”

The opening menu will be an all-day, something-for-everyone format that will also be available as takeout. In spring, when Whiskey & Soda segues into its prescribed role as the hotel’s lounge, the menu will evolve into a small-plates framework.

The 120-seat Rand Tower Club will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner in its fifth-floor dining room. An adjacent patio, accessed through large glass doors, will be protected by a dramatic, glass-covered retractable roof, similar to the one at Union Rooftop at 8th and Hennepin.

“You can look straight up and see the building’s architecture,” said Vyskocil. “It’s really exciting.”

The plan is to focus on locally sourced ingredients, prepared through a French perspective.

“This is my hometown, and I was French-trained at Le Cordon Bleu in Mendota Heights,” said Vyskocil. “I like working in the seasons. I don’t want it to be too fussy, I want it to be approachable. That’s what I enjoy cooking right now.”

A historic presence

The 26-story art deco tower dates to 1929 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s the work of Holabird & Root, the Chicago architecture firm that also designed the St. Paul City Hall-Ramsey County Courthouse and the Chicago Board of Trade.

The lobby’s memorable details remain intact, including a curved staircase that seems tailor-made for a Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers entrance, a highly detailed terrazzo floor, nickel-plated elevator doors, and “Wings,” a curvaceous bronze statue by Oskar J.W. Hansen. The building’s aviation-themed décor is a nod to its namesake, Minneapolis businessman Rufus Rand Jr., who served during World War I in the Lafayette Escadrille, a group of American fighter pilots.

Whiskey & Soda gets its name from a pair of lion cubs of the same names that were adopted, postwar, by members of the Lafayette Escadrille. Likenesses of the two mascots make their way into a mural and even to the bar’s tap handles, which are shaped like lions’ heads.

The 270-room hotel will operate under the Tribute by Marriott flag. The property is being managed by Oxford Hotels & Resorts LLC, which also oversees the LondonHouse Chicago

ESG Architecture and Design of Minneapolis designed the building’s $86 million makeover.

Opening the hotel’s restaurant and bar in stages wasn’t the original plan, but Vyskocil is adapting to the realities of the pandemic.

“Yeah, it’s a challenge, and it’s bittersweet,” he said. “Things may look glum right now, but it’s not always going to be this way, and I’m glad to be building something off that hope. I’m glad to be creating jobs in an industry that’s really hurting right now. It’s a long trek, but I feel like I’m making a difference. I feel honored to be a part of this.”