"Lush" sounds like the perfect name for a bar. Very direct. But owner Ty Hoffman said the name of his new gay bar has less to do with pounding drinks and more to do with the "luscious" experience he plans to offer.

It's an experience, he said, that has been lacking in the gay nightlife scene.

"I'm trying to fill the void," Hoffman said.

Lush opens tonight in northeast Minneapolis, right off Central Avenue. At first, it seems like an odd place for a sleek new gay bar. It's in a remodeled auto-repair shop and it's right across the street from Tickles, a gay piano bar that opened in November. It's rare to have two gay bars on the same block, especially in this unlikely pocket of industrial Nordeast. But Hoffman said they'll get along fine -- maybe even throw a block party together.

Hoffman, who owns Lush with partner Kelly Phillips, said his video bar will put a heavy emphasis on food, especially its champagne brunch. So don't come expecting a dance club. Although the bar will stay open until 2 a.m., Hoffman said he wants to stay away from any late-night craziness. He hopes to cultivate a crowd that comes out earlier, wants to relax and is open to avant-garde entertainment.

From garage to gay bar

Hoffman, a commercial developer who once owned Global Grounds Cafe in Spring Lake Park, gave me a sneak peek at the space last Friday. The stark brown building, once home to Healy Spring Co., was built to be an auto shop -- complete with car lifts and three garage doors. Hoffman has transformed the space. Its style is probably best described as industrial modern.

Hoffman pegged the total cost of the renovation (which included buying the building) at more than $1 million. The central room features 24-foot ceilings. After removing the car lifts, workers installed a large marble bar in the middle of the room. The seating is a mix of stainless-steel tables and maple booths. The three garage doors have been retrofitted as giant windows. One of them still opens, which should give the bar an open-air feel in warm weather.

Outside, Hoffman has undoubtedly made Lush the prettiest lot on this block. He dropped 40 yards of orange mulch around the patio and landscaped the rest with freshly planted 18-foot trees.

Fancy ice

Chef Karla Schmitt, who's worked at Memory Lanes and Psycho Suzi's, is handling the bar's menu. She said she wants to keep the food local and healthful, so don't expect a lot of fried food. She mentioned a steak Cobb salad, mini Angus burgers, calamari and a mean BLT.

I can tell they're giving serious attention to the drinks: Hoffman recently bought a Kold-Draft ice machine, which is the same high-end icemaker that cocktail bar Bradstreet bragged about when it opened.

Hoffman said he modeled Lush after the Abbey, an iconic gay bar in West Hollywood known for its mix of gay and straight clientele.

While Lush is nowhere near the size of the Abbey, it's gotten a considerable amount of hype (it has more than 1,000 fans on Facebook).

"Actually, it's been a little too much hype, because I can't go out without people asking me about it," Hoffman said.

Sounds like a good problem to have.

thorgen@startribune.com • 612-673-7909