Coffee seekers have been coming to 24th and Lyndale in south Minneapolis to get their fix for more than 20 years. This was the home of Muddy Waters, the beloved punk-rock coffee shop that moved six blocks away earlier this year and basically became a restaurant.
So when new owner Greg Martin took over the space in May, he wanted to do something drastic to establish the spot's new identity. He started with a sledgehammer.
"It's like an archaeology dig," Martin said in early August, as power drills and nail guns echoed in the remodeled space. "We wanted to find the guts of the building and start over."
He smashed through layers of flooring to reveal the original terrazzo. He stripped the walls to expose raw brick.
About a mile away in Uptown, Martin has been running the Urban Bean for 15 years (at 3255 Bryant Av. S.). That coffee shop is known for its refined espresso, bright red chairs and high-design cartoon murals.
He's calling his new spot Urban Bean, as well, but this is a different beast.
Martin is what you might call a coffee crusader. For him, making coffee is a craft -- like a fine wine or a cocktail mixology. His original Urban Bean does a great job, but he jokingly called it a laptop study hall. People go there to work.
Martin wants people to talk, meet each other, go on dates, have fun. So with his second Urban Bean, which opened this week, he's designed a coffee shop to do all these things.
He doesn't even want to call it a coffee shop. It's a coffee bar.
Take your laptop over there
The centerpiece of the new Urban Bean is a bold 40-foot bright wood bar -- ultramodern and polished to a sheen. It's made from Douglas-fir timbers that were reclaimed from the rafters of an airplane hangar. Turn-of-the-century light bulbs hang on long black wires. Everything has been handcrafted, including the restroom's pink chandelier, made from the skulls of raccoon roadkill. The back walls have been painted a bright white, perfect canvases for muralist John Vogt, who seems to specialize in stylized urban animal portraits (centered on one wall is another raccoon, in seafoam green).
If the Walker Art Center designed a neighborhood hangout, it might look something like this.
At the bar, Martin made a deliberate move to not install electrical outlets, so you'll have to take your laptop to a table. He wants people to talk at the bar. The coffee joints Martin digs in New York and Chicago don't even have Wi-Fi. "But I'm too big of a wuss to say 'No Wi-Fi,'" he said.
To help encourage the late-night scene, Martin is in the process of getting a beer and wine license (he hopes to have it in the next month). He plans to serve connoisseur beers from Belgium and craft brews from the Midwest. He'll also have wines by the glass. Urban Bean doesn't have a kitchen, but it will offer a small menu of charcuterie, local cheeses, soups from Turtle Bread and hot-press sandwiches using bread from Rustica.
One more addition to the cool quotient: DJs spinning vinyl. "Real records," Martin emphasized.
Finesse those beans
Martin frequented the original Muddy Waters in the early 1990s. "This was one of the places that inspired me to open a coffee shop," he said.
But Martin thinks being a community-based coffee shop isn't enough anymore. For him, it's about the process.
"It's not about 20-ounce lattes steamed to 180 degrees with 60 to 70 grams of syrupy sugar," he said. That's geek speak for: We're not serving overloaded dreck.
Martin gets his beans from Dogwood Coffee Co., the local leader in reliable bean sourcing. He uses a top-of-the-line Synesso espresso machine. His shop is one of a growing number of places offering cups of "pour over" coffee (single made-to-order pours of premium grounds). His baristas go through extensive training with competition-level baristas from Dogwood. "We think of it more as a craft," he said. "We're not pushing buttons."
He's even reserved a portion of the bartop for people who want to lean against it for a minute or two, sip a quick macchiato and then run out the door, "like they do in Europe."
This is the scene Martin wants to develop at Urban Bean. Quality coffee, conversation, art and beer. His attitude: Don't settle. "Why get a steak at Applebee's when you can get one at Manny's?" he said.