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WorkHorse brews a perfect blend of art and community

Ever since she began working as a program director at the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council (MRAC) in St. Paul five years ago, Shannon Forney has been excited about “the energy shift happening in the neighborhood.” The neighborhood is St. Anthony Park, which encompasses the Creative Enterprise Zone, and is home to the Metro Green Line’s Raymond Avenue light-rail station, which is across the street from MRAC’s office.
“People have been so excited about light-rail transit, what it would bring to the neighborhood, and how it might reinvigorate the historic fabric of the neighborhood,” she says. Forney and her partner Ty Barnett participated in Irrigate artist training last year, she adds, and “we really resonated with the idea of artists and businesses working together to raise each other’s profile.”
So Forney (also an arts administrator and performing artist) and Barnett, who has long been in the coffee business, decided to start WorkHorse Coffee Bar. Located half a block west of the Raymond Station on the Green Line, in a space that has housed both a coffee house and MidModMen + Friends’ extra inventory, WorkHorse is scheduled to open later this month.
That’s not all. Outside WorkHorse’s front door is a 24”x 35” vintage fire-hose cabinet, which Forney is transforming—with help from a Knight Arts Challenge grant—into the Smallest Museum in St. Paul. Forney will curate the micro-museum’s exhibitions with help from five-member board whose members she selected from local arts organizations and community members.
“Ty has been in the coffee industry for a long time,” Forney says—citing seven years as manager of Nina’s Coffee Café and a stint at Black Dog Coffee & Wine Bar, among other establishments—and “has dreamt of having her own coffee shop. So the impetus for WorkHorse really is coming from Ty. It’s an execution of her vision.”
“Mine is the Smallest Museum, and how I’ll bring my personality into the business,” she adds. Inspired in part by the Little Free Library movement, Forney explains, “I decided the cabinet is the perfect little nook for showcasing artwork.” She recently sent out a request for proposals. The first exhibition will open in June.
Meanwhile, Barnett has been working with contractors to renovate the 50-seat coffeehouse. The bathroom was made ADA compliant, and the kitchen, coffee bar and register area built out. They removed plaster to expose an existing brick wall and painted the tin ceiling silver.
“We’re restoring the space to its vintage grandeur,” Forney says. “There’s a real appreciation of history in this neighborhood, which Ty and I share.” The décor will be “vintage industrial,” she adds, “a cross between a machinist's shop and your grandfather’s workshop. We’re imagining a big, long, communal wood table down the middle of the space.”
Merging business, art and community is at the heart of the couple’s approach to WorkHorse, Forney says. A former colleague of Barnett’s, who now owns Voyageurs Coffee Roasters, will be roasting small-batch coffee for WorkHorse. “We have the delightful vision of two fledgling businesses helping each other,” Forney says.
She wants to create community in other ways. The exhibitions in the Smallest Museum will engage customers, passersby from the neighborhood and Green Line commuters. Forney hopes neighbors and commuters will become regulars, stopping by for beverages and simple lunch options. “For us, coffee and art are about community,” Forney says.
“We’re excited to become a part of the community synergy around transit, art and the exchange of ideas happening on University Avenue,” she continues. “‘Working together, all boats rise’ is a business philosophy we definitely live by. And it’s amazing how much support we’ve been getting already.”


LoHi gets another boost with pop-up Art Outlet

The much beloved Art Outlet, formerly located on I-394 (or Highway 12 for long-time residents) in Golden Valley just west of Minneapolis, is back. Carter Averbeck, owner of Omforme Design at 24th Street and Lyndale Avenue in Minneapolis, has teamed up with Greg Hennes, an art industry veteran and Art Outlet’s originator, for a two-week original art extravaganza at Omforme.
“Greg and I have banded our two small businesses together to bring back Art Outlet, and to promote original art and affordable art buying,” Averbeck says. “We’ve been hanging art throughout Omforme’s space for the last week. We’ve got artwork all the way up to the ceiling!”
For many years, Hennes’ eclectic Art Outlet was a prime destination for purchasing original art at discounted prices. Hennes stocked more than 1,000 original works of art in diverse media—at up to 50 percent off retail prices. In 2010, Art Outlet closed after the building was sold.
Hennes currently owns the Hennes Art Company in Uptown, a corporate and residential art consulting business that also offers custom framing and art brokering services. “But he has a lot of art,” Averbeck explains, “and reviving Art Outlet is something Greg’s been wanting to do for a long while.”
“Omforme already promotes local artists,” he adds. “So teaming to make art accessible to people who can’t afford retail price tags is something we both wanted to do.” Before opening Omforme, Averbeck experimented with several pop-up shops. So inserting Art Outlet as pop-up inside Omforme was a natural fit.
The pop-up Art Outlet includes works by a mix of local, national and international artists. “Name a style, a medium, a genre, and we’ve got it,” Averbeck says, from sketches, posters, prints and paintings to sculpture. A tag on each work includes information about where to learn more about the artist. Price points begin at $25.
The Lowry Hill East area, or LoHi, just south of downtown Minneapolis includes the Loring, Wedge and Lyn-Lake neighborhoods. In addition to Omforme—which offers a mix of vintage and modern pieces that Avebeck restores and updates with singular panache—unique boutiques like Serendipity Road and the Showroom are nearby.
Restaurants including French Meadow Bakery and Café, Bluestem Bar, Heyday and World Street Kitchen also generate a livable, vibrant neighborhood where people increasingly like to meet, eat and shop.
The temporary Art Outlet, which continues through January 30, “is another edgy, artsy, interesting small offering along Lyndale,” Averbeck says. “Slowly, LoHi is coming into it’s own.”
In fact, Omforme is doing so well, Averbeck is considering a move in the neighborhood to a new space up to five times the shop’s current size.

Architect innovates design service for accessory dwellings

They’re known as granny flats, mother-in-law apartments, even Fonzie suites for those who remember the Fonz’s digs above the Cunninghams' garage in the tv show “Happy Days.” For years, accessory dwelling units (ADUs) have been popular throughout the U.S. for homeowners needing an additional, separate living space for a relative (or family friend) adjacent to main house—and as a flexible housing option in developed urban neighborhoods.
Now ADUs are legal in Minneapolis. On December 5, 2014, the Minneapolis City Council passed a zoning code text amendment allowing ADUs on lots with single or two-family homes. Shortly thereafter, architect Christopher Strom, who spent countless hours working with zoning administrators during discussions about the code change, launched his new initiative, Second Suite.
“I wanted to be the first to market my expertise with the zoning related to these small residential dwellings,” says Strom, who has a thriving business as a residential architect in Minneapolis, and has designed ADU-type cottages for clients in the suburbs and northern Minnesota.
He learned during informational meetings that “a lot of people didn’t want ADUs because they fear too many people would be added to the neighborhood, resulting in extra noise and traffic,” Strom says. “But the new law limits ADUs to a total of 1,000 square feet, including parking; they’re only feasible on certain lots, depending on the positioning of the primary house; and the primary house must be owner occupied. Only one accessory building is allowed per property, so most people will combine an ADU with a detached garage.”
As a result, Strom continues, “The majority of the new ADUs to be built in Minneapolis will be Fonzie suites. Remember how he lived above the Cunninhgams' garage? He had a cool bachelor pad totally separate from the main house, but was always at the Cunninghams'.”
ADUs are a viable option for creating more space, whether for additional storage, an art studio, home office or apartment for aging parents. With the new zoning, the units can also include a small kitchen and/or bath. “They’re wonderful for seniors, and a nice way to establish multi-generational living next to the primary house while giving the occupant an integral level of independence,” Strom explains.
St. Paul, particularly the neighborhood of St. Anthony Park, is currently looking at its building codes, as well, by studying the feasibility of allowing ADUs on single-family lots.  
Strom adds that ADUs are “a great entry point for people to start working with an architect.” A well-considered design might result in an ADU that blends in with the architectural style of the existing residence, or be entirely different.
Moreover, Strom adds, “Second Suite represents a lifestyle that I want to be able to deliver to my clients. This lifestyle is about families pooling resources and enjoying more quality time together through care-giving that enables grandparents to help with childcare and adult children to help with aging parents.”

Du Nord opens MSP's first micro-distillery cocktail room

On Friday at 4:00 p.m., the Twin Cities’ newest micro-distillery will open MSP’s first cocktail “tap” room. Entrepreneurs Christopher and Shanelle Montana, owners of Du Nord Craft Spirits, have created a bar with windows looking into their distillery inside a former Motoprimo store in the Longfellow neighborhood of Minneapolis.
Bartenders will serve craft (and classic) cocktails made with the Montanas’ own L’Etoile Du Nord Vodka (named for Minnesota’s state motto, L’etoile du Nord or “The Star of the North”) and Fitzgerald Gin (named for author F. Scott Fitzgerald). Enthusiasts will also have a chance to join Du Nord’s cocktail club, a short-term promotion ending January 12, with three levels of patronage.
Du Nord doesn’t have a kitchen. But a food truck will be on hand. And visitors are welcome to bring in takeout. “We’re surrounded by a lot of good food here in Longfellow,” says Christopher Montana, from Parkway Pizza to Le Town Talk Diner to Midori’s Floating World.
In addition to brewing the booze, says Montana, he also built out the cocktail room with help from his father-in-law Mike, a Minnesota farmer who grows non-GMO corn for Du Nord. The two men constructed the tables and the bar, and crafted window moldings from barn wood gathered from a tumbled-down structure on Mike’s farm. With polished concrete floors, exposed ductwork, and several couches in addition to tables and chairs, the Du Nord lounge has a casual feel.
“We want people to feel comfortable having a drink and socializing,” Montana says. “We didn’t want the cocktail room to be too rough-edged, like a beer tap room, but not snooty either. The whole point is the room should be comfortable, not intimidating.” The lounge is also about sampling the goods. “We’re a distillery first, but we want people to taste our booze,” Montana adds.
Du Nord has been bottling since May, producing “several hundred cases of booze a month,” Montana says. By February, he hopes to be distilling whiskey, as well.
Distributed by Phillips Wine and Spirits, Du Nord has “a heavy presence” in the Twin Cities, Montana says, and can be found throughout Minnesota—particularly in the western part of the state, home to sugar-beet producers. “Sugar beets and corn are the backbone of what Northland farmers do well, and both go into our booze,” Montana explains.
When he begins making whiskey, the rye will come from a central Minnesota farmer “who was at our wedding,” Montana says. “We like to work directly with farmers, without a middleman.” Pictures of the farmers the Montanas source from will adorn the walls of the cocktail room because “we want people to know who grew the products we use.”
Prior to starting Du Nord, Christopher had meticulously home-brewed beer for about 10 years. He worked for Wellstone Action, Democracy for America and now-Congressman Keith Ellison. “I was [Ellison’s] field director during his first campaign and helped set up his office in Washington D.C.,” Montana says. After graduating from law school—where he picked apart the Surly Bill as part of an agricultural law class—he worked at Fredrickson & Byron, taking a leave of absence to open the distillery.
His wife Shanelle Montana has a graduate degree from American University in D.C., and is an associate in regulatory and legislative affairs for EDF Renewable Energy. The couple has a 13-month-old son. “We both have demanding jobs,” Christopher says, “but we’ve always thought it would be fun to own our own business. Du Nord is one of the best things we’ve ever done.”
In December 2014 the Minneapolis City Council approved Du Nord’s cocktail room, following passage of a new state law allowing distilleries to sell and serve their product onsite. Du Nord’s vodka has “a vanilla flavor to it, it’s a little heavier, smooth,” Montana says. “We don’t add anything to it, we just don’t strip out the flavor. I like vodka that tastes like something.”
Du Nord’s gin, he continues, has a louche quality, meaning it gets cloudy when cooled or added to water because of the higher ratio of juniper oils. “We want flavor in our gin, so it’s louche,” Montana says.
Whiskey is Montana’s drink of choice, however. Forget the old adage that only the best whisky comes from Kentucky, he says. “They take our corn, turn it into booze, ship it back to us and we pay a premium. Whatever they do there we can do better here. So let’s do it here!”
By the end of 2015, Montana is hoping to triple production. “What we can make in a year is what the big guys spill in day,” he says. “We are still just a drop in the bucket. But for this area, we’ll be able to meet demand.”

Peppers & Fries to open in former SuperAmerica

Wise Acre Eatery, Victory 44, and soon Peppers & Fries. The creative conversion of old gas stations into hip neighborhood eateries gets another jump start when Peppers & Fries opens in a former SuperAmerica later this month at 39th and Lake Street in the Longfellow neighborhood of Minneapolis.
Steve Frias and his daughter Marie Frias are the proprietors. They got their start working with their parents and grandparents (respectively), who are the owners of Boca Chica—the Twin Cities’ longest-lived Mexican restaurant and an institution on the West Side of St. Paul. Steve ran his own restaurant in Burnsville for a while. Marie has been a server, scheduler and manager in a variety of establishments.
So it was time, says Steve Frias, to open their own restaurant back in the city. They chose the old SA, which had been empty and for sale for six years, for its size and location. “That part of Lake Street is really growing, with lots of small businesses,” he says, including Forage Modern Workshop, Longfellow Market, Craftsman restaurant and Corazon gift shop. “I want to be part of that growth, with a neighborhood spot seating about 80 people.”
Peppers & Fries will be a family-oriented burger and burrito grill with 11 tv screens for viewing sports. Three garage doors will open onto a spacious patio (for dining in warmer weather). Ben Awes of the Minneapolis architecture firm CityDeskStudio, and Denise Fierst of Denise Fierst Design, have been working with Frias on the conversion.
“The building is pretty simple, but with surprisingly elegant existing brick and exposed steel columns,” Awes says. “All we did was try and stay out of the way, and highlight the best existing features!”
The interior includes polished concrete floors, exposed trusses and a simple gray color palette. “Steve has a scoreboard from an old field where he coached Little League baseball, which will be lit up on one wall,” Awes says.
The team also made sure the new restaurant compliments the existing neighborhood. “We’re not trying to be flashy,” Awes says. “Peppers & Fries is meant to be a good neighbor and serve local residents.” To keep costs down, Awes cut some of the components for the restaurant’s signage in his church basement.
The grill will have 16 beers on tap, 11 of them from local microbreweries. The Frias’ will make their own malt cups, source baked goods and tortillas from local establishments, and meats from Longfellow Market and South St. Paul. “My dad has dealt with those small business owners for years and I have those same connections,” Steve says.  


First & First expands presence in NE Minneapolis

First & First recently purchased two buildings next door to Red Stag Supperclub and the former Superior Plating site (now under contract to Lennar, a major national housing developer). The buildings, located at 501 & 505 1st Avenue NE, are home to the retail store I like You and art gallery/tax consultants Fox Tax (in 501-503), and the chiropractic clinic Ambiente Gallerie (in 505).
“We are excited about the continually evolving neighborhood of Northeast,” says Peter Remes, CEO of First & First. “Although these two buildings are a bit neglected and right now don't offer the best street presence, they are charming and have tremendous potential. We purchased them from At Home Apartments, which had purchased the buildings for a residential opportunity which it later decided to not pursue.”
First & First plans on renovating the buildings to improve their overall appearance, installing new windows and rehabbing the common areas. The current tenants remain under leases and have no plans to leave at present, Remes says.
As additional spaces in the buildings are rehabbed and become available, Remes says he hopes to “fill them with dynamic, creative businesses that love the brick-and-timber ambience, the Northeast Neighborhood and want to contribute to the area’s growth.”
First & First has adaptively reused such Minneapolis structures as the former Theatre de la Jeune Lune, now the event space Aria and First & First’s offices; Icehouse; The Broadway; and Franklin Theater. The creative development company is also working on creative campus in St. Paul off the Green Line light rail in the Vandalia Tower, which will include a micro-brewery and restaurants.

A prize-winning proposal for an unused Midway site

An unused parcel of land between the Gordon Parks Alternative High School and the High School of Recording Arts in the Midway area of St. Paul has become the site of a prize-winning vision for community redevelopment. Pablo Villamil of Wold Architects & Engineers and David McKay of Strand Design, both in St. Paul, recently won First Place in the 2014 AIA St. Paul Prize design competition for their proposed outdoor education and community space. The design “is about making a place for the people who live there,” Villamil says.
Villamil and McKay entered the competition because “both of us are familiar with the area,” Villamil says. McKay lived in Midway for many years. Wold Architects & Engineers designed the Gordon Parks school. “So we know the layers of community and history in the area, as well as the users,” Villamil says. “That was a big part of our design: identifying and creating a park for the community.”
The 2.44-acre parcel, which is surrounded by the schools, retail stores, warehouses, office buildings and parking lots, includes a large hill. “We had to figure out how to make the site function across that elevation change, and make it accessible so residents and people from the schools can meet and connect in the space,” Villamil says.
The team’s vision includes an enclosed classroom recessed into the hillside for the Gordon Parks school. A second outdoor classroom for interactive education would allow the school and the public to focus on renewable resources and energy. The team also proposed an outdoor amphitheater terraced into the hillside for the Recording Arts school. The site would also include fields of native prairie plants and flowers, a playing field and plazas.
“Education is a big part of the project,” Villamil explains. “We wanted to create places the schools could share, spaces that function for the individual schools, and areas in which residents could receive public education about native habitats, green technologies and renewable resources.” The team’s vision also invites the surrounding community into the space for gardening, gatherings and events.
As for whether the team’s vision will be fully realized, that remains to be seen. As winners of the St. Paul Prize, Villamil says, he and McKay will be interacting with stakeholders at formal events and at informal gatherings. “We’re really looking forward to their feedback."

SooVAC plans consolidation and move to Minneapolis Greenway

Soo Visual Arts Center, colloquially known as SooVAC, is making a big move in April 2015. Founded by the late Suzy Greenberg in 2001, the non-profit art space—which for two years has also operated a satellite operation called SooLocal—will consolidate the two galleries and move to 2909 Bryant Avenue South, a large three-story brick warehouse building adjacent to the Minneapolis Greenway.
“We have steadily increased our budget and programming for the past three years,” explains Carolyn Payne, executive director. “In evaluating SooLocal, we decided it would serve our organization best to be under the same roof as SooVAC’s main space, and the new location has room for that. We are also in the early planning stages of a visual arts residency program and this building has room for us to create that programming as well.”
SooVAC will move into a space previously used as an event center. “The building is very green,” Payne says, “and along with radiant floor heating, [the management] requires LED lighting. Many other organizations and museums have transitioned to LED lighting. We’re working with lighting designers that have been in on that to ensure that we continue to put our exhibitions in the best light, so to speak.” The space is also be designed by Will Natzel, an artist and designer, in consultation with  Lars Mason, director of academic services at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and a SooVAC advisory board member.
SooVAC prides itself on arts accessibility, building community through art and representing local artists. “As soon as we knew we were going to move, we had a public meeting with artists, supporters and community members,” Payne says. “We asked them where they would like SooVAC to move and what they would like to see in our new space. We had a size and price range, and looked at everything within those parameters.”
The new space was selected because it “met and even exceeded our requirements, and also allows us to stay in our current South Minneapolis neighborhood.” In addition, Payne is looking forward to the Greenway’s potential to attract new audiences for SooVAc’s programming and hopes to collaborate on projects with the Greenway Coalition.

HWY North popup brings locally made to Hamline-Midway

“It's hard to put into words what feeling we are going for,” says Emily Anderson. “Fun, unique items that make you smile and want to do a happy dance.” Do not, however, expect any mass-manufactured Snoopy’s in Anderson’s new pop-up shop in the Hamline-Midway area of St. Paul. Her new popup shop, HWY North, only carries locally made goods that Anderson carefully curates.
“I am emphasizing Minnesota made goods because a) it resonates with my desire to buy local, b) supports our neighborhood artists, and c) hopefully creates a space where the many creative geniuses in our awesome cities can come together, share their talents, and perhaps collaborate to make something bigger than would otherwise have been possible,” she explains.
Anderson opened HWY North after noticing a retail space for rent in her neighborhood. A crowd-funding campaign helped cover the costs of setting up shop. Anderson has a background in visual art and public art, with an emphasis in art education and museum studies. She explains that she’s “always been driven through the arts, but over time I've realized that more than being an artist, I am an appreciator of the arts.”
For a long time, she envisioned opening a shop “that offers the public a place to see the talent within the immediate area, as well as a place to come together, have a sense of community and make.” To that end, HWY North has a regular schedule of classes for kids and adults ranging from sewing a tote bag to creating a Ukrainian egg ornament to making holiday cards.
The workshops, Anderson says, “encourage others to become makers by showing them new/old/forgotten skills, and by getting them ready to continue making beautiful things with their hands. Did you know studies have shown that being creative is essential to mental health? We bump that up a notch by also providing a fabulous community for making. It's all pretty great.”
Anderson finds HWY North’s bespoke shirts, jewelry, toys, art and home furnishings through local craft fairs. “But people are starting to contact me directly, which is exciting,” she says. She and group of collaborators discuss which items fit best with HWY North’s aesthetic, a continual work in progress, she says.
HWY North’s lease runs through March, Anderson says, “however, I would love to extend the lease if the store is successful.”

Brews + asanas for micro-boom lovin' yogis

Forbes has called out Minneapolis as “The Healthiest City in America” despite our micro-brewery boom, not to mention our growing micro-cidery and micro-distillery scene. So how to maintain our awesome standing created by residents who “breathe clean air, prioritize exercise and keep their weight down, supported by a city that was among the first to add bike trails and ban smoking in public places” as the Forbes article gushed? Especially with the early onset of winter?
By doing yoga inside the breweries and cideries of course.
GetKnit Events has put together a new series that combines balances with brews for all the micro-boom lovin’ yogis in the Twin Cities. Called Yoga at the Brewery, the series kicks off Saturday morning at Urban Growler Brewing Co. in St. Paul. A ticket includes a one-hour all-levels yoga class taught by an instructor from YogaFresh, a flight of five samples for tasting, and exclusive access to the brewery prior to regular hours.
On Saturday, January 10, Yoga at the Brewery takes place at Sociable Cider Werks in Minneapolis, and on Saturday, February 28 at Excelsior Brewing in Excelsior. On arrival, guests will be situated on yoga mats in their intoxicating environment among the kegs and fermentation tanks. “After toning our bodies and focusing our minds,” according to GetKnit’s website, “we will turn our attention to communal health as we join together to enjoy flights of five brews.”
“How do Twin Cities residents keep up their commitment to fitness during the area's notoriously cold winters?” the Forbes article asks? Brews and asanas are the answer.

Twin Cities architecture firms receive AIA Honor Awards

What do an airy and daylit community library, a renewed college studio-arts building, a sustainably designed and modern apartment structure, and a renovated historic performing-arts center have in common? All of these Twin Cities projects were recently selected for a 2014 Honor Award during the 80th annual AIA Minnesota Annual Convention and Exhibition.
A panel of jurors from outside the state selected eight projects for Honor Awards from 73 submissions. Four of the awards were for projects in the Twin Cities: Hennepin County Walker Library designed by VJAA, Minneapolis; Brunsfield North Loop Apartments designed by Snow Kreilich Architects, Minneapolis; the renovation of Northrop, a historic performing-arts and innovation center on the University of Minnesota-Minneapolis campus by HGA Architects and Engineers, Minneapolis; and, also by HGA, Phase II of the Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center, the Studio Art renovation and expansion, at Macalester College in St. Paul.
Each of those Twin Cities architecture firms also won for additional projects located outside of Minneapolis-St. Paul. HGA was awarded for the Marlboro Music Cottages at the Marlboro Music School and Festival in Vermont. VJAA won for its Welland International Flatwater Centre, Toronto 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto; and Snow Kreilich received accolades for a home on Lake Minnetonka. In addition, Leo A Daly, Minneapolis, received an Honor Award for the design of The Toro Company’s headquarters in Bloomington.
The AIA Honor Awards have five categories: architecture, interiors, restoration and renovation, urban design and master planning, and small projects. This year's awards were selected by a panel of jurors from outside the state: Angela Brooks, FAIA, Principal, Brooks + Scarpa, Los Angeles; Mary-Jean Eastman, FAIA, Principal & Executive Director, Perkins Eastman, New York; and Dan Rockhill, J.L. Constant Distinguished Professor of Architecture, University of Kansas, and Executive Director, Studio 804.
According to an AIA Minnesota press release, the jurors’ selection of this year's Honor Awards offers “a real snapshot of the meaning of architecture today.” The awards will be presented to recipients on Friday, December 5, at the 2014 Awards Celebration at International Market Square in Minneapolis. The celebration will also showcase AIA Minnesota’s 2014 Gold Medal recipient Julie Snow, FAIA, Snow Kreilich Architects.

Arcanum's secret society promises immersive experience

The storied history of the Cathedral Hill neighborhood in St. Paul includes gangsters, Prohibition, F. Scott Fitzgerald and his Gatsby, and of course W. A. Frost. The restaurant and bar (with a summer patio no one can resist) is named for the pharmacist who opened his fabled apothecary (which sold “medicinal wines and liquors”) in the 1889 Dacotah Building. Today the creative thinkers at W. A. Frost are not only purveyors of “upscale unwinding,” as Robert Crew, director of food and beverage operations describes the iconic establishment’s vibe, but history buffs as well. And they’ve hatched an exciting new program for the likeminded.
It’s called the Arcanum Secret Society: a four-part series of immersive cocktail parties in historical places. Arcanum launches on November 25, and will occur again on February 7, and in April and June at “secret” locations. The first one? Not so secret anymore: The elegant Art Deco bar in the former Commodore Hotel. Once home to the Fitzgeralds and Sinclair Lewis—and reportedly a stop for bootlegger John Dillinger—the Commodore played a leading role in St. Paul’s Roaring 20s social scene.
That historical era will be the theme of the first Arcanum event, which is also “soft opening” for the newly remodeled Commodore. Arcanum participants, Crew says, “will be among the first to see the re-imagined space. It will truly be like stepping back in time, as though you were rubbing elbows with F. Scott and Zelda.”
The ticket price ($110 per person) includes classic craft cocktails assembled in part using a Prohibition era-style white whiskey from 11 Wells. Guests also enjoy passed canapes provided by W.A. Frost and live music. “For the cost of a typically upscale dinner you'll get food and beverages—plus an unforgettable experience. It's not an everyday occasion. It's a unique opportunity,” Crew says.
The idea for Arcanum had been brewing for a while, Crew adds, and extends W. A. Frost’s singular brand. “W.A. Frost has a reputation for facilitating ‘upscale unwinding.’ It's refined, but not stuffy. That's the exact kind of vibe that Arcanum has,” he explains. “So while the events aren't necessarily at W.A. Frost (in fact, we can't tell you where they all are!), they each exhibit that signature quality.”
Arcanum is working in concert with Commonwealth Properties on the series, which owns the Dacotah Building, the Commodore Hotel and other historic St. Paul properties. “Commonwealth Properties makes a point of uncovering some of the city's most iconic architectural treasures, and making them relevant to today while preserving all of the historic detail and charm,” Crew says.
“The Arcanum event series itself is somewhat of a throwback—the intimacy and secrecy of the events evoke the speakeasy and the Prohibition Era,” he continues. “That's fitting, since all of the Commonwealth Properties served as ‘witness’ to that time in St. Paul's history. Each Arcanum event will be held at a location that has historical significance and each event will feature an immersive cultural experience.”

Paddy Shack brings Irish fare to Half Time Rec

Goodbye frozen pizza. Hello savory shepherds pie, Irish poutine with crème fraiche and brown bread with Kerrygold butter. Josh Thoma and Kevin Fitzgerald, who elevated bar food to an art in the kitchen of the 1029 Bar in Northeast Minneapolis as a start-up to the now award-winning Smack Shack in Minneapolis' North Loop, have done it again. This time the venture is Paddy Shack at The Rec, at the Half Time Rec in Como Park in St. Paul, best known until now for bocce ball in the basement, Irish music and dancing, and a decidedly laid-back vibe with beer prices to match.
Thoma and Fitzgerald teamed up with Jack Riebel, formerly of Butcher & the Boar, to build out a kitchen at The Rec and develop an Irish-inflected menu—including a lobster and cream sauce sandwich with a dash of whiskey dubbed The Dublin Lawyer that solidifies the culinary connection with Smack Shack. The dogs come wrapped in bacon with pickled green tomatoes and jalapeños or in beer cheese sauce, macaroni and Serrano pesto. Clearly, no one needs to leave hungry anymore.
Brothers Steve Mars and Scott Mars, who co-own The Rec, haven’t forsaken the dive-bar feeling or décor, despite the food upgrade. The Rec remains a beloved neighborhood bar—with a difference.
The brothers selected St. Paul native Riebel, a 2013 finalist for the James Beard Foundation Award for best chef in the Midwest, because of his credentials, ingenuity and connections with Thoma and Fitzgerald: They’re all working on a redo of The Lexington, at Grand and Lexington avenues in St. Paul, as well. Meanwhile, The Rec’s added more than a dozen full- and part-time kitchen positions to ensure the food keeps coming.

Union Depot muralist honored with installation and exhibition

In 2005, Atlanta-based painter Ralph Gilbert received a fellowship in mural painting from the National Academy of Design Museum. His topic was the multicultural history of Minnesota railroads. The destination for his six murals was St. Paul’s Union Depot. After Gilbert conducted extensive historical research, he spent seven months painting the panels, working on them at the same time to ensure continuity in style.
On Thursday, from 6-8 p.m., the Minnesota Museum of American Art (MMAA) will guide visitors from its Project Space in downtown St. Paul to Gilbert’s murals, which are on display on the west wall of the Grand Waiting Room at Union Depot. Concurrently, MMAA is showcasing an exhibition “Ralph Gilbert: Studies for Union Depot,” through December 7. The show includes selections from Gilbert’s preparatory work including 10 drawings, four watercolors, four oil sketches on panel, and nine oil paintings.
The niches at Union Depot that hold Gilbert’s murals are tall and narrow, measuring 16-feet high by six-feet wide, with arched tops. “The challenge for Gilbert,” according to a press release issued by MMAA, “was developing each composition within the unconventional proportions.”
The concurrent exhibition at MMAA’s Project Space, says Christina Chang, Curator of Engagement, MMAA, “presents a very small selection of Ralph’s extensive process, and also shows how he worked through ‘problems’ or compositional challenges. It’s a unique opportunity to see these materials so close at hand to the finished work.”
Gilbert’s subject matter includes the Mississippi River and the Dakota tribe that made way for white settlement; Union Depot’s historical connection to the former Rondo community; the arrival of European immigrants to Minnesota via Union Depot; and the deployment of soldiers from the Union Depot during two world wars.
MMAA’s collaboration with Union Depot represents a long-held desire to engage the Depot’s commitment to public art with MMAA’s dedication to strengthening its connection to Lowertown, Chang says. “The exhibition presented the perfect opportunity to do so. It’s rare to have an exhibition of preparatory work so close to the final piece, especially with public art, so we’re hopping visitors will take advantage of the opportunities to see both venues on the same trip.”
Chang adds that mural installation, in concert with MMAA’s exhibition, brings well-warranted attention to Gilbert and his work. “So often, artists are lost in the history behind public art.”

Rayette Lofts: Renovation brings historic structure back in style

Despite the prominent corner it occupies at E. 5th and Wall in St. Paul’s Lowertown, the Rayette Building has always been a bit nondescript in the public imagination—perhaps because for the last 15 years, the concrete structure was a parking garage. The Rayette Building has a storied history, however. And last Thursday, the historic structure celebrated its most recent chapter as the restored and repurposed Rayette Lofts.
Now home to 88 market-rate apartments, with a roof deck overlooking the Mississippi River, St. Paul Farmers Market and new St. Paul Saints baseball stadium, Rayette Lofts adds to the “critical mass of residential developments, and entertainment and cultural amenities that are the recipe for sustained success in Lowertown,” says Will Anderson, associate project manager, Sherman Associates.
Sherman developed the seven-story, 145,600-square-foot structure in collaboration with Kass Wilson Architects in Bloomington. Because the project was created using federal and state historic tax credits, Sherman and Kass Wilson also worked in consultation with the National Park Service, State Historic Preservation Office and St. Paul Heritage Preservation Commission.
“We needed to make sure our modifications were done in a historically appropriate manner that complied with the historic context of the building and the neighborhood,” explains Ryan DuPuis, project designer, Kass Wilson. The preservation process also involved extensive research into the Rayette Building’s history.
In 1911, Joseph Strong and H.F. Warner opened their large wholesale millinery business in the building. In 1936, Raymond E. Lee, a University of Minnesota graduate and creator of a permanent-wave treatment for women’s hair, had moved into and renamed the building Raymond Laboratories. By 1951, Lee had changed his company’s name to Rayette. The company’s products were famous for creating the Rayette Wave. In 1963, Rayette introduced Aqua Net, which became the top-selling hairspray in the United States.
Rayette also acquired the Faberge cosmetic and fragrance company in the 1960s, but vacated the building by 1971. In 1997, the Heritage Preservation Commission approved a plan for the building to be converted into a parking garage. During the building’s recent conversion to residential units, Kass Wilson was charged with removing a ramp that wound from the first to the top floors, and replacing the cavernous opening with elevator shafts, egress stairs and vertical ductwork for new mechanicals.
Because the original windows had been removed or badly damaged, DuPuis says, the architects also studied historic photos, and sought out original remnants “and whatever else we could salvage to recreate the historic window openings and arrangements, and mullion patterns.”
In addition to floor-to-ceiling windows with spectacular views of Lowertown, the units have polished gypconcrete floors, and corrugated concrete ceilings and brick walls original to the building. The structure’s columns were also left exposed in the living units, the spacious lobbies on each floor and in the second-level party room.
“All concrete is not created equal,” DuPuis says. “The Rayette Building was slowly deteriorating. We got to it just in time.” He credits Sherman with having the foresight to invest in the building and lead its adaptive reuse.
“We could have lost that corner of history in Lowertown,” DuPuis adds. “By enclosing, protecting and converting the structure to a new use as Rayette Lofts, we’ve reinforced the limestone façade and historic feel of the street for another 100 years.”
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