Is the recession over or something? There's a distinct new-car smell emanating from the Twin Cities bar scene lately. Just-opened, now-open and opening-soon signs are popping up everywhere.
I've got the latest deets on three bars that will try to heat things up this winter. Each spot features comfort-food menus built for bar-goers looking to eat well without breaking the bank. Hmm, maybe the recession isn't over.
Uptown's big new bar
Drum roll, please. After months of speculation, Uptown's $45 million commercial building -- called Mozaic -- finally has its first big-name tenant.
Who is it? That would be Bar Louie, a Dallas-based chain known for its polished neighborhood-bar menu and chic design. This franchised location will be operated by Fortney Hospitality Group (FHG), which also owns the downtown college bar, Brothers.
The Mozaic complex is under construction behind the Lagoon Cinema, where 10 floors of parking and offices will rise into the sky. Bar Louie, at 1348 Lagoon Av., will occupy 7,300 square feet of the first floor.
Marc Fortney, owner of FHG, hopes to open in March or April. His company opened its first Bar Louie franchise four years ago in Ohio. Soon after, he began scouting locations in the Twin Cities. Downtown St. Paul was a long-rumored destination, but he eventually landed on Uptown as a launching point (Fortney plans to open several more in the Twin Cities area).
Fortney had this to say of the menu: "It's better than bar food, without having to get all dolled up for dinner."
Look for from-scratch sandwiches, burgers and flatbreads. Fortney is hoping Bar Louie's food and nightlife scene (there's a long cocktail list) will give Uptown's older, post-college crowd another option.
The Tap House heads south
I suppose staying with the Lyndale Tap House name would have been odd in Apple Valley. So for the second location of this pit-beef-and-beer restaurant, owner Gene Suh went with the next obvious choice: The Valley Tap House.
Located in a former Major's (at 14889 Florence Trail), the new pub will try to re-create its gastropub ambitions in the 'burbs, but with a few changes. Suh plans to open in late November or early December.
Suh said he picked Apple Valley because it is ripe for non-chain concepts (even though it looks like he might be starting his own mini chain). His chef, Phil Dvorak, will expand the Lyndale Tap House's menu for Apple Valley, adding more entrees (like homemade pasta with lamb meatballs), plus a kids menu. The tap list will be bigger, too, with more than 35 beers.
"We're bringing in a lot of craft," Suh said. "Beers that hopefully a lot of people in Apple Valley haven't tasted yet."
While the Valley Tap House will have a nightlife component (trivia and bingo), he doesn't want it to get too crazy. There's a Wild Bill's around the corner for that.
The Lyndale location caught some flak back in 2009 for its slightly suggestive décor -- photos of scantily clad women hanging out with beef cows. The Valley Tap House will feature the same dark-wood décor, but "we're going to take the photos down a notch," Suh said. "In the dining room, I think we're just going to keep it to pictures of cows and pastures."
Ugly Mug owner eyes the Inn
It would be easy to call it a cursed space. In less than two years, two restaurants (Subo and the Inn) have opened and closed at 89 S. 10th St. in downtown Minneapolis. But before that, Hell's Kitchen had a strong eight-year run before moving on to larger digs.
Erik Forsberg says the spot just needs the right fit. He thinks he has it with a still-unnamed casual gastropub he hopes to open by Jan. 1. Forsberg, who operates the Ugly Mug and Roc Bar on the 1st Avenue strip, is no stranger to easygoing bars.
The new place will be a neighborhood-style craft-beer bar. He pointed to places like the Happy Gnome and the Bulldog as inspiration. His first move will be to install a new beer system with room for 40 draft lines.
"People are going to come in for the beer and discover the food," he said.
The menu will include gourmet burgers and comfort-food entrees at reasonable prices. He wants it to feel more like a lounge, so expect more comfy seating and flatscreen TVs for sports fans.
After he gets the new bar off the ground, Forsberg said he will pump new life into the Mug and the Roc (both continue to chug along in the busy downtown party scene). In the meantime, he's happy to be focusing on a bar aimed at a slightly older demographic.
"It's not 1st Avenue: I'll actually be dealing with grownups," he said.
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