If there were an award for best use of a former Hollywood Video location, the Lowry would win hands down.
OK, back to reality. I like the Blue Plate Restaurant Co. (which owns the Lowry). Mostly because I know what to expect every time I set foot in one of its restaurants. The Longfellow Grill, Highland Grill, Edina Grill -- these are neighborhood diners with an affinity for hearty comfort food and good beer. Simple, reliable.
The Lowry is the seventh location in the company's ever-expanding portfolio, but there's something different here. They've turned up the volume a bit. Or as co-owner Luke Shimp put it, his new bar is "beverage-forward." That's industry jargon for: We've got a lot of booze.
Do they ever. This is Uptown, after all -- they just want to fit in.
Let's see how they're doing.
If you're looking for a drink in the Lowry Hill neighborhood, there's lowbrow Liquor Lyle's and high-end La Belle Vie. The Lowry is somewhere in between, said co-owner Stephanie Shimp (Luke's sister).
This is a nouveau diner where they serve oysters next to cheese curds. Miller High Life next to a $20 glass of wine. Renovating the former Hollywood Video cost the Shimps and business partner David Burley $1.5 million. Inside the blue exterior, the diner goes old-school with dark-brown tufted leather booths. But the glossy concrete floors also give it a sleekness.
WHAT'S TO LIKE
Luke Shimp said they "wanted to send a message" with the drink program.
It comes through loud and clear. As you might expect from a Blue Plate spot, the beer selection is excellent -- mostly American craft brews spread across 36 draft lines.
On display behind the bar is the WineKeeper, a high-tech preservation system that holds 16 bottles at cellar temperature. Dispensing lines are connected to each bottle, pumping out wine like a beer tap. Shimp calls it "the truest form of wine" because there's no oxygen to taint the vino.
As if one odd way to dispense wine weren't enough, the Lowry also has wine in a keg. Six tap handles behind the bar are connected to kegs filled with reds and whites from Frog's Leap, Coppola and Saintsbury.
This is the first time the Blue Plate crew has made a strong commitment to serious (and by serious I mean tasty) cocktails. They hired respected bartender Jeff Rogers (formerly of Donny Dirk's) to design the menu and oversee the cocktailing. Rogers is also working with a good whiskey selection, offering between 15 and 20 rotating bottles. A single pour ranges from $6 for a Revel Stoke to $18 for Michter's 10-year.
Great cocktail lists like the ones you'll find at La Belle Vie or the new Marvel Bar need to be handled with care -- and only a few Twin Cities bartenders do it right. Rogers is one of them. But even he can't be at the Lowry every day, making every drink.
A companion of mine ordered a classic gin cocktail called the Martinez from a different bartender. The ingredients were Rogers', but the execution by this bartender resulted in a watery and dull example of the Martinez. The same drink at Marvel Bar amazed me two weeks ago. Of course, this isn't Marvel Bar. The drinks at the Lowry are much more cost-friendly at $7 and $8, so let's give them some time to work out the kinks.
Is Blue Plate the next Parasole? Probably not, and I'm not sure the owners want to be. Their ambitions are still grounded in neighborhood coziness (they were even able to make Three Squares feel homey in Maple Grove).
That said, the Lowry does hint at bigger things. The bar's debut in August coincided with the release of the Blue Plate iPhone app, which gives frequent visitors to Blue Plate's seven restaurants deals and points (for money back). The app already has 1,000 users.
They're big enough to have an app and they've been successful from the city to the suburbs. Which made me ask the Shimps: What's next, downtown?
"We've thought about it," Shimp said, only half joking.
I think I see a Blue Plate dance club on the horizon.