By Olivia Tracey
On a recent trip to Minneapolis I found myself inundated with so many glowing reports about a somewhat new-born Irish pub, that I couldn’t resist the urge to check it out. Conveniently situated a mere block from my hotel, the very elegant, Hilton, I set aside my Friday evening to check out The Local and see what all the fuss was about.
So, did it live up to all the hype? Absolutely. In fact, I was floored. Literally. So captivated was I with the sheer splendor of my surroundings, taking in the almost country manor, turn-of-the-century grandiosity, that I blindly backed up to sit myself down on one of the tall mahogany bar stools. Well, I missed. Badly. I landed on the marble floor in full-blown clumsiness, legs and arms flailing about, much to the amusement of my friends and the surrounding patrons.
No doubt you’re thinking like the entire pub, wondering how many drinks had been taken. In all honesty, none. But of course my attempts to convince them that I was simply rounding off a very sober work assignment rather than a pub crawl encountered nothing but disbelief, and "likely story" comments. Flushed and flustered, I retreated into the corner, hoping to regain my almost lost composure over a calming and much-needed drink (my first one, I should reiterate), and gladly returned to absorbing the decor.
The extensive dimensions alone are enough to leave you wide-eyed with awe — 25- foot stenciled ceilings, a nine-foot high main door, tall, massive antique mirrors, elegant almost floor-to-ceiling windows dramatically draped with cardinal red velvet curtains and an 80-foot long solid mahogany bar curving at one end into a cozy annex lounge complete with comfy, window-side banquettes. A stunning full-color John Erste painting of a stylish yet decadent bar scene reigns over the entire annex-bar, while specifically Irish images abide throughout the pub from our literary greats, Wilde, Joyce and Yeats to various landmarks including Dublin’s famous Halfpenny Bridge, Greene’s bookstore and the much celebrated Galway Races. Closer to the bathroom are historic tapestries, generous silk flower arrangements and a particularly beautiful 1873 painting of naked loveliness, (although I hear that not all Minnessotans have the same appreciation for the artistic display of flesh). Further down the hall, a piano awaits a spontaneous patron to start a sing-song while nearby lies the utterly endearing Kissing Lounge, complete with an old Victorian couch and red boudoir lighting. Apparently Jack Nicholson retired there with a few friends one evening. In fact, even the main bar offers ample privacy with lots of wood-surrounded "snugs" where groups can gather in cosy alcove style. An open fireplace, flanked by wing chairs and loveseats, and soft candle and lantern lighting add to the warmth, while oriental rugs, marine blue and burgundy walls, china plates and antique whiskey kegs atop dark wood dividers complete the historic aura. Marble floors in a grey, white and yellow fleck run the gamut of the extensive establishment, along with polished brass, crystal chandeliers and ornate wood panelling. Magnificent stained glass archways separate the bar from the dining room with its candlelit, well-spaced, white-clothed tables, including "The Harvest" VIP table, left bare except for white linen napkins. Nearby, an old wooden staircase leads to the mezzanine which is currently being renovated in soft terra-cotta tones and Tiffany lamps, all shown to me with tremendous pride by truly delightful waiter, Roger. While the arched and mirrored bar with its Peruvian walnut carvings was designed by the famous Nathan Stanley, the place in its entirely is the design of the proprietor, Mayoman, Kieran Folliard and his interior designer, wife, Lisa Kane.
Hoping to meet the much-revered owner the following evening, I wandered back on my own to "The Local," but alas, he was not around that particular night. However, I wasn’t alone for long as the delightful manager, Peter Killian from County Down, introduced me to Clare-born, Patricia Hayes, the manageress of their sister bar, the equally popular "Kieran’s," located a few blocks away in the Towle Building on 2nd Avenue South at 4th Street. Spontaneously deciding to have dinner together, in the pub as opposed to the diningroom, I soon learned that "the Local" is not just about decor and ambiance. The food more than completes the perfect picture, with chef Steven Browne doing a superb job after eating his way across the Emerald Isle on a research tasting tour. Already hugely impressed the night before by the seafood chowder and calamari, I indulged this time in a refreshing organic arugula salad at the suggestion of our first rate waitress Betsy, followed by a delicious leg of lamb and a mouth-watering Jameson cake. The salad was better than I’d had in a long time and was made up of feta cheese, bulgar wheat, tomatoes, calamata olives, cucumber, mint and preserved lemon, together with their own fresh homemade bread baked on the premises. When my lamb entree arrived I momentarily thought hat I was in a five-star French restaurant. No over-loaded dinner plates here. Instead I was presented with succulent grilled leg of lamb atop roasted Irish red potatoes and rosemary chimichurri, all placed beautifully at the center of a large dinner plate. My dining partner opted for her particular favorite, pan-roasted chicken breast n roasted garlic broth with french lentils and preserved lemon. In general, the menu had a level of sophistication not usually customary in bars, Irish or otherwise, while still including all the Irish favorites from fish and chips to corned beef, boxty, Guinness lamb stew and a unique mussels colcannon.
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Prices for bar entrees run from $7 to $12 and from $14 to $25 in the diningroom. Private party facilities are also available. For reservations call "The Local" at (612) 904-1000, or for information, access their website at www.the-local.com.
Unfortunately, I discovered this gem two days before I left Minneapolis. On the other hand, it gives me a great excuse to go back.