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January 3, 2011 // UPDATED 9:12 am - January 3, 2011
By: Gregory J. Scott
Gregory J. Scott

City Center lands upscale Mexican restaurant

DOWTOWN CORE — A fast growing chain of upscale Mexican restaurants concentrated mostly on the East Coast is coming to Minneapolis next summer.

On Dec. 16, Rosa Mexicano announced that it had signed a lease for a 10,000-square-foot space in City Center, at the corner of 6th & Hennepin. The bar and restaurant will replace the former T.G.I. Friday’s, which closed in 2005.

The Minneapolis location will be Rosa Mexicano’s first in the Midwest and its 12th overall, following the opening in early 2011 of locations in South Beach and Los Angeles. The Downtown restaurant will accommodate 215 seats indoors in addition to a 120-seat outdoor patio, created by Seed Design and local architects Shea, Inc. 

The design of the Minneapolis location will closely resemble that of the New York restaurants, said Vice President of Marketing Elizabeth Maguire.

According to a press release, the esteemed Zagat guide has called Rosa Mexicano the “gold standard of upscale, modern Mexican cuisine.”

A quick scan of the menu reveals staples like tacos and enchiladas, but also more exotic seafood items such as salmon filet with tropical fruit mole and red snapper with salsa. The chain is also known for its gluten free options, although it has not yet been announced if the Minneapolis location will feature such a menu.

The move is good news for Downtown, as Rosa Mexicano will do away with a high-profile vacancy and add another breath of vitality to a stretch of Hennepin seemingly on the rise. On the same block, the adjacent Foga de Chao has proven a popular destination. And just on the other side of 6th Street, Thom Pham’s Wondrous Azian Kitchen is showing strong potential at a tricky restaurant space where two previous businesses suffered quick closures.

“We are pleased to add Rosa to our Minneapolis property,” said Liz McLay, Midwest director of retail leasing of Brookfield Properties, which operates City Center. “The concept fills a much needed category and brings another, successful national brand to a billboard location.”


North Loop poised to launch “retro” business association

NORTH LOOP — In the past few years, thanks to an influx of urban homemakers putting grown-up roots down in the area’s condos, the North Loop has become one of the most neighborly neighborhoods Downtown. It has a burgeoning child population and a snazzy new playground to go with it. It has a lively ecosystem of independent, mom-and-pop and creative businesses. And it has a progressive transportation hub growing at its epicenter, near Target Field.

But what it doesn’t yet have is a business association. Scott Woller, owner of Corner Coffee, 514 N. 3rd St., is helping to change that.

Woller is spearheading the formation of the brand new North Loop Business Association (NLBA), set to launch at the end of this January. He says he’s got about 20 businesses on board, with the ultimate goal of recruiting about 50 members.

“Which barely scratches the surface,” he said. “It’s like you could cover 50 in one block.”

The community building amongst residents in the North Loop has gone swimmingly, according to Woller, who also sits on the board of the North Loop Neighborhood Association. “But the connecting to businesses — and the networking of businesses — is something that we had only done marginally at best.”

What the North Loop needs, Woller says, is a durable network, one that can stand on its own and function independently of other Downtown business groups, like the nearby Warehouse District Business Association (WDBA), one of the strongest in the city.

The WDBA “is really, really good,” said Woller. “We actually want to emulate a lot of what they’re doing. But there is a stark difference between what happens on this side of the tracks and what happens on the other side of the tracks.”

So while the WDBA takes care of the restaurants and nightclubs along 1st Avenue, Woller’s group will cater to places like Local D’Lish, Ann Yin’s organic, throwback general store and Joe Grunnet’s new grab-and-go lunch spot, The North Washington Café.

And while it isn’t exactly Mayberry — the NLBA includes large modern companies like architecture firm HGA — the old-timey reference isn’t entirely out of place.

“Continually people have said, ‘Hey, we want something with a retro, more personal connection. Not another e-mail list,” said Woller.

“The marketing will be much more tangible and in-hand,” he continued. “So our first product will be — and this will have a little bit of a retro theme, too —an old-school business directory of the neighborhood, in print.”

The group will put the finishing touches on the directory in January and February, and hopes to have a deliverable product ready by March.

Before its official coming-out, at the North Loop Neighborhood Association’s annual meeting, on Jan. 26, the Business Association will have one final preliminary get-together. Interested parties can join Woller on Jan. 12 at 2 p.m. at the offices of HGA, 701 Washington Ave. N.


New Warehouse District nightclub

WAREHOUSE DISTRICT — A new nightclub appears to have opened in the Warehouse District, squeezing in right next door to Karma, one of the district’s anchor danceterias.

A sign announcing Insomnia Nightclub appeared in late December at 316 1st Ave. N. Employees at next door Karma, 315 1st Ave. N., said that the new club has nothing to do with their business and were not sure if it had yet opened.

At this point, Insomnia does not yet have a functioning website, but a Facebook account lists only two days of operation: Friday nights from 10 p.m.–2 a.m. and on Saturday nights from 10 a.m.–2 a.m. 

However, a flier for the club advertises a Wednesday night ladies’ night event, one that offers drink discounts for men when they purchase beverages for female patrons.


Chambers ice bar now open

DOWNTOWN CORE — The sexy bartenders in the furry, white ushanka hats are back at Le Meridien Chambers.

The hotel’s annual outdoor ice bar, constructed of 12,000 pounds of crystal clear ice, opened on Dec. 16. The Eden Ice Chamber will remain open through the winter, weather permitting.

Hours are Thursdays, 5 p.m.–10 p.m., and Fridays & Saturdays, 5 p.m.–11 p.m. Hours are subject to weather conditions and guests should contact D’Amico Kitchen directly for updated information.


Businesses force city to reconsider bus stop changes

DOWNTOWN CORE — If you were looking forward to a speedy fix of the congested bus stops along 7th and 8th Streets, don’t hold your breath.

Opposition from the Downtown business community has forced a delay of up to six months on the proposed East-West Spine Improvement plan, a proposed $8 million upgrade for bus routes crisscrossing Downtown along 7th and 8th Streets, from 1st Avenue to Chicago Avenue. The plan, originally scheduled to go before the City Council in late January, would add about 14 bus shelters and more sidewalk room for waiting passengers, as well as adding nine real-time digital schedule displays, like the ones along Marquette and
2nd Avenues.

The hope is to improve unreliable and congested bus service along east-west paths through Downtown. The bus stop at 7th Street and Nicollet Mall is particularly problematic. Serving about 3,500 riders per day, it is the busiest in the state. The city’s plan would split that particular stop, adding a second stop across the Mall in front of Saks Off 5th, 665 Nicollet Mall.

Metro Transit expects to receive $3.2 million in federal transit funds for the physical upgrades.

The main complaint from businesses is that the plan would take an already bad congestion problem and make it worse.

Sarah Harris, chief operating officer of the Downtown Improvement District, considers the log-jam on 7th Street “a de facto transit station,” already too clogged with waiting passengers that block sightlines, restrict curbside uses like valet and loading zones and generally worsen the pedestrian experience.

Harris would like to see the current bus traffic dispersed across several east-west routes instead of having it focused on a single “spine.”

“If the routes aren’t so densely consolidated, then the passenger load (standing crowds) won’t be so overwhelming and constant in blocking doorways and windows, shelters will be smaller and less obtrusive, and buses won’t be constantly lined-up in the queue,” she wrote in an email.

Saks Off 5th has been particularly vocal about the changes. Representatives of the company have openly questioned the proposed split stop at 7th Street.

Moving forward, the city will work with Metro Transit and the business community to explore more alternatives.


501 Club to close

DOWNTOWN CORE — Four months shy of a two-year anniversary, the 501 Club will close on Jan. 8, according to owner Jarret Oulman.

On the afternoon of Dec. 28, the bar announced the news via tweet, then followed up by posting a farewell message on its website.

“We have had lots of great memories and done lots of great things over the two years which makes it such a difficult and sad event. Thank you everybody who has been a part of the club as artists, customers and employees. Make sure to stop by and have brunch one last time or just to see your fave bartender. Lets have a great last few weeks at the 501 and send the place off right.”

Oulman, who also manages the 501’s sister bar, Northeast’s 331 Club, cited the high costs of doing business Downtown as a reason for the closure. The bar began feeling the pinch last summer and began charging admission for live music.

“Trying to bring something downtown in a big downtown space with live music and happy hour and nightlife with our clientele — the capacity was higher, but the expenses were higher as well,” Oulman told City Pages.

Business at the six-year-old 331 Club will not be affected, he said.

The 501 Club will host a New Year’s Eve party with Kristoff Krane and Sims, and a farewell party on Jan. 8 with Curtiss A and the Jerks of Fate.


‘New-York chic’ gay bar closes

HENNEPIN AVENUE — The owner of Gladius, an upscale gay bar that opened in September 2009 at 1111 Hennepin Ave. S., vacated the property on Dec. 20, according to building owner Terrance Laepin. The bar has been shuttered ever since, and crews have been busy retooling the interior in the hopes of attracting a new tenant.

“He made the decision that he wanted to pursue business opportunities out of state,” said Laepin, referring to former owner Phillip Berglin. Lapein said the split was amicable, and that the lease was terminated on friendly terms.

Berglin opened Gladius 14 months ago, his first nightclub venture, with a tagline that promised to bring “New York chic” to Minneapolis. The bar, a black, cave-like room with private booths tucked into a faux brick wall, featured rare and upscale drinks, some ranging as high as $25, and occasionally had doormen dressed in gladiator costumes.

Laepin, who has owned the building since 1998, is in the process of “vanilla shelling” the property, ensuring it will be versatile enough to suit future tenants.

He said he still has a “food/beverage tenant profile” in mind, but wouldn’t rent again to a nightclub. No new lease has been signed, but Laepin said he has had some interest.


Wuollet to bring bakery to skyways

SKYWAYS — Local bakery chain Wuollet has signed a lease for a 784-square-foot space on the skyway level of U.S. Bank Plaza, 200 6th St. S. Scheduled to open in spring 2011, the bakery will be Wuollet’s sixth in the metro area and its very first Downtown. It’s also the first step in an expansion plan aimed at Downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Wuollet already does good business delivering to Downtown, where it charges a $25 fee for the service. The new location will eliminate the need for that fee.

In addition to cakes, coffee and pastries, the skyway location may also play a part in expanding catering services Downtown, according to President Jim Jurmu.