Bearcat Bar is a laid-back addition to Loring Park with cheap drinks and good eats

The place is casual but the bar food is still pretty cheffy.

The place is casual but the bar food is still pretty cheffy. Mecca Bos

In one of those pivot-on-a-dime moves, the Kim Bartmann team recently turned Loring Park's Third Bird into a laid-back drinker’s bar.

Bearcat Bar brings good food and drinks for the budget-minded. Plus there are a couple of arcade games so we can forget the troubles of the world for a few sweet minutes. 

The pretty space has been scrubbed of most of its upscale bistro details. Now find tavern-like detritus on the walls and little else in the way of decor, aside from a decoupage bear made up of cats (get it? Bearcat) obscuring the former logo. The whole of it is an interesting study in both restaurant design and the current state of the dining out economy. Once upon a time it was about taking a ragtag place and giving it a facelift. Now, we’re making things more downscale.

One thing that isn’t ragtag is the food menu. Though it’s made up mostly of old bar faves, chefs Nick O'Leary and Karl Thomalla couldn’t resist putting a cheffy shine on things, and so far, so good. The Goosy Loosey with brie, goose liver, and lingonberry (the latter ostensibly for tangy balance) gets our vote for the most decadent burger in town of this moment. They should give away prizes for finishing the thing.

A $3 lengua taco was convincingly street food-esque and for the price, worth ordering two. Fries (also $3 — we like these prices) were also top notch. Pho is served prettily with rare flank, meatballs, and oxtail, but probably can’t hang with your favorite Nicollet Avenue pho joint.

This is a big menu. Name your favorite bar/comfort food and it’s probably on here, and I get the distinct feeling it was written over a bunch of shift drinks when the crew was dreaming up what they’d like to be eating right about now. And that’s how cacio e pepe macaroni and cheese, char siu ribs, and pancakes at dinner can wind up on the same menu. If they can keep quality up, this might be your new Nighthawks.

To drink, they’re serving, well, drinks. Not craft cocktails, but not just you-call-its either. You'll find stuff like a Sazerac with “a bunch of rye whiskey,” a Lemondrop Martini, and a classic Gimlet with gin and lime. They’re not calling out top shelf labels or bitters or tinctures, and that’s kind of refreshing. Price points are reflective, between $6 and $11, but still not as cheap as drinking in Northeast.

Which is fine, because this isn’t a dive bar. It’s way too nice for that. And yet, it’s still rough around the edges, mostly affordable, and altogether comfortable. A few games and pool tables are tossed in the back for good measure, and each dining table is outfitted with a little basket of colored pencils, wee toys, paper, and scissors, so you could even bring the kids in here. They’ll have something to keep them quiet for enough time for you to finish a couple rounds.

There’s something authentic feeling about the whole of it, and even with its lack of categorization, it feels like it could last a while, like the Bryant-Lake Bowl, also by Kim Bartmann, almost in its 25th year. A theatre + vintage bowling alley + bar? What do you call that?

You call it the BLB. And you go, order a burger and a beer, and forget about the outside world for an hour. Well, the same goes here.

Welcome to the neighborhood, Bearcat.

1612 Harmon Place, Minneapolis