As Vikings fans return Downtown, neighborhood bars are throwing parties in the parking lots, creating new drink specials and adding brunch service to meet the crowds.
The fans are a welcome addition at Bar Zia at 420 S. 4th St., where the venue survived more than two years of construction out its front door. Bar Zia opened in late 2013 at the end of the Vikings’ final season at the Metrodome, and owner Travis Phillips said construction has been challenging. The business had to close down for five days to allow crews to reinforce the skyway, he said, and the sidewalk outside the business was closed for over a month.
“Our lunch crowd went down to pretty much nothing,” he said. “There was no way to get here without jaywalking across the street.”
Now the bar is enjoying a “huge rush” of people, he said.
“Just with the last two concerts, it was packed in here,” he said.
Two more bars are slated to open in Downtown East this month.
McKinney Roe is aiming for a Sept. 29 opening date at 530 S. 4th St., and it’s planning 400 seats inside and out. The back bar rises 23 feet, with a spiral staircase leading up to a mezzanine that holds a temperature-controlled wine cabinet.
Owner Dermot Cowley said 60 people of all ages have gathered to taste-test the entire (American, not Irish) menu.
“We have them grade us, like a kid’s test,” he said. “If the dishes don’t score really well, they don’t get on the menu. When we open the doors, we want people to love what we built. We know that if executed properly, these dishes will be well-received.”
A second new bar and restaurant, Erik the Red, has gutted the former Hubert’s building at 601 Chicago Ave. The target opening date is Sept. 12, and owner Erik Forsberg joked that the Vikings-Packers game could serve as their soft open.
Erik the Red is designed as a “Nordic smokehouse” (or “barbarian barbeque,” Forsberg said). Forsberg explained that cold temperatures in Nordic cities historically drove people to smoke and pickle foods using similar methods to people in West Africa and the Caribbean, the roots of traditional barbecue. Barbecue’s regional differences largely lie in the sauces and rubs, he said, and in Minneapolis, they will use Nordic-influenced spices to bring the heat and will add ingredients like juniper berries, cardamom and horseradish.
The Crazy Mountain Brewery out of Colorado is developing two permanent beer taps for the venue, including a light Pilsner and an “approachable” ale.
A second phase of construction slated for the fall would renovate Hubert’s former atrium area, which Forsberg said has become leaky and challenging to maintain.
“We’ll put garage doors on the front of it and remodel it into a beer garden,” he said.
While construction finishes up, Erik the Red is hosting parking lot parties. Concert pre-parties featured a stage with live broadcasts from BUZ’N 102.9 and 104.1 Jack FM.
Day Block Brewing is also opening up its parking lot for bags, a bar and outdoor seating on game days at 1105 Washington Ave. S. It’s added a pregame brunch buffet as well, with homemade cinnamon rolls and pizza topped with breakfast sausage, bacon and scrambled eggs. Owner Jeff Hahn said they were fairly busy for the first preseason game, but there’s room for improvement. He expects more traffic during the regular season.
“Back when the Metrodome was open, all the bars around here were really busy,” he said.
The year-old Hop21 at 501 Washington Ave. S. saw light traffic during the first preseason game, according to owner Max Vinogradov.
“It was okay, nothing spectacular,” he said.
He’s thinking about new drink specials to attract more game-day traffic, but said ping pong will always be the primary draw. The bar recently added a sprawling graffiti mural to cover a wall of the venue.
Another pregame food and beverage venue stands just outside the stadium, where the Vikings are opening a glass-walled structure called The Longhouse that can hold 800 people. Outside The Longhouse is space for a DJ and beer garden.
Phillips said he questions the Vikings’ decision to open up a for-profit business competitor while using taxpayer funds to build the stadium.
“It’s interesting to say the least, especially because I am the business most affected by construction around here,” he said. “…I’m not worried about it affecting our business per se. There is more than enough business to go around.”
Cowley said he isn’t bothered by the Vikings’ bar.
“They can seat 65,000 people,” he said. “If it’s in the middle of summer, we can maybe take 450 people. That still leaves a lot of people looking for a place to go. It certainly keeps you on your toes to make sure you’re considered among the best.”
He said the worst-case scenario would be few restaurants with a bad reputation, discouraging patrons from trying to find a table altogether. Cowley said more restaurants would likely open in Downtown East, and said he welcomes the competition.
“Having good competition is always a healthy thing for us,” he said. “Ultimately the guest wins.”