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January 17, 2011
By: Gregory J. Scott
Gregory J. Scott
Farewell to Om

WAREHOUSE DISTRICT — The other shoe has finally dropped for Om, the huge upscale Indian restaurant and lounge at 401 N. 1st Ave.  

Owner Vik Uppal admitted on Jan. 4 that Om had closed for good, confirming long simmering rumors that the business was at the end of its financial rope. Uppal’s announcement came in the wake of a disastrous New Year’s Eve event originally scheduled at the bar, the failure of which triggered a wave of backlash on the Internet and brought new attention to the question of Om’s financial health.

Both Uppal and Om general manager Randy Norman spent the first days of 2011 avoiding phone calls from reporters.

The trouble began last November, when news reports revealed that Central Bank had threatened to foreclose on the former Manufacturers building, which Uppal purchased in 2008. Uppal launched Om there in September 2009.

In September 2010, Om publicist Jennifer Lueck announced the opening of a vast studio space above the restaurant, dubbed “Loft 2,” intended as a private event space for weddings, fashion shows and other parties. The first and only event, designer Maritza Ramirez’s annual SCENEaSOTA fashion show, which took place in November, packed the space. But it also revealed troubling flaws, including an elevator that failed to function and an inadequate electrical system. Power had to be diverted from a lower floor to accommodate the show.

Those close to the event speculated that the opening of Loft 2 was a sloppy, last-ditch effort to supplement Om’s flagging revenue. Said one organizer, who didn’t want to give a name, “When our event came up nothing had been done in the space aside from it being cleaned up and maybe a coat of paint thrown on it.”

Weeks later, Lueck left Om.

The crisis hit a crescendo on New Year’s Eve, when an elaborate and much-hyped bash promoted by local happy hour website
ThriftyHipster.com had to be relocated from Om to the nearby Graves Hotel at the last minute. Promised attractions — aerialists, acrobats, ice luges and gambling tables — were dropped, infuriating guests. Om had failed to secure proper permits for the party, and city inspectors deemed the proposed venue — which most likely included the Loft 2 space — unsuitable for crowds.

The following Monday, Om failed to open for its usual 4:30 happy hour, though its Facebook page promoted salsa dance lessons at the bar for later that evening.

Norman has said the closure has nothing to do with the botched New Year’s Eve Bash.

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Bulldog owner to bring Cajun bar to old Gladius space

DOWNTOWN WEST — Just three weeks after the upscale gay bar Gladius shut down, vacating its premises at 1111 Hennepin Ave. S., building owner Terrance Laepin has found a new watering hole to take its place.

A Cajun-themed bar, the Bullfrog, is moving in, boasting a tap selection of pilsners and lagers from around the world.

The Bullfrog is the new venture of Matt Lokowich, who operates both the Uptown and the Lowertown St. Paul locations of the Bulldog gastropub. Lokowich’s partner at the Lowertown Bulldog, Jeff Caster, will join Lokowich in the project.

Preliminary menu talk focuses on Cajun staples like po’boys, gumbo and crawdads. Laepin recently told the Star Tribune that there may even be some frog legs and alligator thrown into the mix.

Expect plenty of flat screen TVs to accommodate the Twins crowd and a warming up of Gladius’ black, cave-like interior.

Lokowich says the Bullfrog could be open by March.

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Kieran Folliard’s ‘Old Pub’ closes

DOWNTOWN CORE — When Kieran Folliard moved his namesake Irish pub to Block E, in March of 2010, he still had over two years left on his lease at the old location, at the corner of 4th Street and 2nd Avenue. The plan was to rename the place Old Pub and keep it open limited hours as a lunch and happy hour spot.

Now there’s a new plan.

In late December, Folliard shuttered Old Pub. The pub impresario said that he would continue to pay rent at the location and finish out the 19 months left on his lease. He has said he may continue to use the space for occasional private parties and events.

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Central’s Burger King ‘eyesore’ close to a sale

NORTHEAST PARK — After sitting empty for two years, the old Burger King restaurant at 17th and Central Avenue may be close to a sale.

Welsh Cos. listed the property in mid-November, and Associate Brian Bruggeman said he expected a couple of offers to arrive the first week of the year. At press time, no such offer had yet been made.

Welsh’s list price was $620,000, and the company advertised the Burger King site as ideal for a fast-food chain, independent restaurant, entrepreneur or new developer.

Neighborhood groups in Windom Park and Northeast Park have written to the landowners and pushed for action on the vacant land. Brian Steele, chair of the Northeast Park Neighborhood Association, said the owners eventually fenced the site to prevent people from vandalizing it.

“Graffiti removers have been there once or twice already, and it’s just kind of an eyesore,” he said. “We’re anxious to see the owner of the property do something with it — either establish a new business or sell it so someone else could.”

— Michelle Bruch

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Sister-owned gift shop closes after 10 years

AUDUBON PARK — The Dabble gift store closed Jan. 6, on the anniversary of its 10th year in business at 29th and Johnson.

The sisters who own the business aren’t going far, however — they also own the new Coffee Shop Northeast down the street, and that shop is still going strong.

“Mostly this has been an expensive hobby for a long time,” said co-owner Jodi Lund. “Now that we have the coffee shop, we can still stay in the neighborhood.”

They said business dropped abruptly when the I-35W bridge went down, and it didn’t help that the economy took a dive shortly thereafter.

Dabble’s gifts included lots of merchandise created by local artists. That work will still have an outlet at occasional trunk shows at the coffee shop. Dabble’s big sellers were its fresh flowers, baby gifts and soy candles made by the local shop Tulablu.

“The flowers will be one of the things that is missed the most,” Lund said.

Co-owner Jenni Horton lives a few blocks from Dabble. The sisters became inspired to open the store when Lund visited her from San Francisco and lamented the need to trek all the way to Uptown to shop.

Horton and Lund said they have enjoyed watching neighborhood kids grow up over the years, with their little faces rising higher and higher behind the register.

“The counter is a good mile marker for how long we have been here,” Lund said.

— Michelle Bruch