“Come as you are” is the manta of new East Bank cocktail lounge
Cassidy Flannery remembers the time he learned the word sonder, or the realization that everyone has their own story to tell.
Flannery found himself at the top of New York City’s 30 Rockefeller Plaza at 5 a.m. when a fellow bar patron, now a tour guide, uttered the word.
Fast forward, and sonder has become the driving theme around Sonder Shaker, a cocktail lounge headed by co-founders Flannery, Leo Mao, Wes Watson and chef Jake Wanak. All four came from various places, from China to Chicago, to live within walking distance of their Nicollet Island-East Bank restaurant.
“We’re all from different locations… It’s very sonder. We find the word very fitting,” said Mao, who with the management team helped design the restaurant with ESG Architects.
Flannery, the general manager, has been in and around restaurants all his life, having grown up above his parents’ restaurant in southern Wisconsin. After working at Target headquarters, he went out on his own with his friends and business partners, who didn’t bother looking anywhere else before starting Sonder Shaker.
“We love this neighborhood. We want to see this neighborhood grow. We think that by investing in this neighborhood, we really are striving to cater to [residents]. We want to make this the best place it can be,” Watson said.
Sonder Shaker opened in late January in the M on Hennepin apartment building, a redevelopment of the former Nye’s Polonaise Room site. The 2,500-square-foot, 75-seat restaurant is located on the opposite end from the new Nye’s Piano Bar.
Wanak, formerly of Restaurant Alma, described the seasonal menu as American with a healthy, tropical bent.
“I feel like that’s something that this area is lacking,” he said.
Dishes — none of them over $20 — include starters like scallop ceviche ($12, $10 on happy hour) and Brussels sprouts ($11), entrees like a house burger ($12) and a skirt steak ($18) served with chimichurri sauce and yucca fries, and desserts like a key lime pie ($7) with house-made graham cracker crust.
The “shaker” in the restaurant’s name is a nod toward its cocktail focus. A long list of signature house cocktails ($8-$13) features original takes on Prohibition-era and classic drinks, including Flannery’s mom’s old-fashioned recipe.
“The old-fashioned has been selling like crazy… She’s made it the same way for 30 years, so I had to use that,” he said.
Sonder Shaker doesn’t have any taps, but it carries bottles of several local beers. The bar offers small bottles of Miller Lite and Miller High Life, known as ponies or shorties, another tradition from his parents’ restaurant.
The atmosphere inside should feel like a living room, Watson said, so guests feel at home and ultimately share their own stories. Tables aren’t spaced too closely together despite the restaurant’s small size. The bar area is set up like a lounge with low leather and velvet chairs.
Earlier this month, a couple celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary at Sonder Shaker. On the same night, two young college students had their first date. Flannery said this is what they wanted to see.
“We wanted to bridge the gap between the new as well as meeting the old,” he said. “We’re trying to create that atmosphere where anyone can tell their stories to one another.”
The Sonder Shaker, at 130 E. Hennepin Ave., is open for dinner nightly from 4 p.m.–midnight. The founders say they’d like to add lunch and weekend brunch this spring.