The name came to him like a "brain fart," said empire builder and restaurant provocateur Phil Roberts. He was originally going to call his latest concept the Uptown Cafeteria and Celebrity Hangout -- a tongue-in-cheek nod to the fact that there are no celebrities in Uptown (but maybe enough people who think they're celebrities?). His underlings talked him out of it.
Instead, he settled on the equally perplexing Uptown Cafeteria and Support Group. "It's just a piece of wit and whimsy," Roberts said. "Just to stick in there for no other reason than that I like it."
Submitting to one's own indulgence seems to be the modus operandi at this new hot spot. What other bar hands out batons of hyper-colored cotton candy to people who say it's their birthday?
Sugary trinkets and silly names aside, the real reason people are so hyped about the Uptown Cafeteria can be found high above Calhoun Square. The restaurant's rooftop, dubbed the Sky Bar, has been packed since its June 15 opening day.
By dusk on most Fridays and Saturdays, a line snakes through the restaurant's street-level lounge with people clamoring to get inside the gaudy glass elevator. Up top, a herd of finely manicured people smush together under the stars, drinking their drinks and peering toward the downtown skyline.
A cafeteria this is not.
Roberts, whose Parasole company runs about a dozen restaurants, said there is no concept. True enough, his $3 million project is basically two spots in one. The restaurant below is a mash-up of retro stylings poured into a diner on steroids. The colors are kaleidoscopic. There's shag carpet on the walls. The comfort-food menu includes everything from a "mile high" tuna sandwich to meatloaf sliders to chicken-and-waffles.
The rooftop, on the other hand, looks as if it was chiseled from a singular vision of Uptown cool: The cedar-planked deck is filled with colorful lounge seating and dozens of high-top tables. A long bar is enclosed under garage doors that open onto a trellis area. The view is spectacular.
What's to like
Did I mention the view? Whether you love Parasole or love to hate its burgeoning Twin Cities empire, you have to admit: Roberts and Co. know how to design beautiful restaurants (Manny's, Chino Latino and Salut are just a few). The Uptown Cafeteria's two-in-one concept works well. Even Roberts will admit that people who like the calmer street-level lounge might not enjoy the high-energy rooftop.
Downstairs, you can belly up to the bar, find a table next to one of the many open-air garage doors or sit at the traditional kitchen counter. It's casual, and the food matches the comfy feel, with prices mostly ranging from $7 (huge cheddar biscuits) to $17 (buttermilk fried chicken).
Good news about the rooftop: While it has a more excitable attitude, it hasn't turned into the raging sea of humanity that you might find at Drink or Cowboy Slim's. So far, the tanned, Ed Hardy-wearing disciples of Mike "the Situation" Sorrentino haven't totally ransacked the place.
That said, life on the rooftop can move from relaxed to pulsating as the night progresses, with the amount of Botox and silicone spiking around the midnight hour. This is the Uptown some people have come to love, while others just plain hate it. (Where are you, Uptown Bar?) But to each his own.
Also: The bar has set aside a handful of taps for craft beers (Deschutes, Odell, Dark Horse and two Summits). With 20 lines, a few more wouldn't hurt. I'm not even going to comment on the abundance of what I will call feminine-inclined cocktails, which come with names such as Pretty in Pink, Uptown Girl and the Fashionista. Again, to each his (or her) own.
Pretty huge. Parasole basically owns the corner of Hennepin and Lake now with the Uptown Cafeteria joining Chino Latino and Il Gatto (they've even created a punch card of sorts to connect the three restaurants).
And how will the Uptown Cafeteria affect Stella's rooftop business (which has been king for so long)? Sitting directly across the street, Stella's has almost completed construction on its rooftop's second level, which will have 360-degree views of the area. This addition has led some people to think that a game of one-upmanship is on tap between the two establishments.
"We'll build a two-story one next year," Roberts told me with a laugh.
He was joking. I think.
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