Bob's Java Hut's facelift will welcome new fans, keep old ones

Biker-focused Uptown coffee shop Bob's Java Hut has been an institution for 22 years, and so has the line of motorcycles out front.

Biker-focused Uptown coffee shop Bob's Java Hut has been an institution for 22 years, and so has the line of motorcycles out front.

The snorts of Ducatis rip through the air in Uptown all through the early summer, the smell of exhaust hanging in the air alongside chai and dark roast. Choppers, mopeds, and fixies all make the narrow turn onto 27th St., hanging a U-turn at Garfield before bowing into their kickstands in front of Bob's Java Hut — the go-to coffee spot for gearheads of every stripe. 

22 years ago, this exact scenario led to Liz Moser and her friends losing their welcome at another Lyndale coffee shop. After the uptight java joint asked the bikers to take their two-wheeled business elsewhere, Moser and two of her fellow castoffs decided to open a place where they knew their kind would always be welcomed.

"We had a whole group of friends back in the early '90s who all rode motorcycles a lot — a lot of BMWs, a lot of European and vintage bikes," Moser says. "[The coffee shop] thought that we were a little bit loud and unruly. So, we thought, 'Hey, wouldn't it be fun to open  up a coffee shop that was motorcycle-friendly?' A year later, it happened."

Thus, Bob's Java Hut was born. And it's been holding down 2651 Lyndale for the grease monkeys since it relocated from across the street in 1996. In 2003, Moser became the sole owner, and to this day Bob's is one of the best coffee shops in town.

"A lot of times, when people hear 'bikers,' they think of Harleys and guys in leather," Moser says, adding that the shop tends more towards vintage and European styles, anyway. "We also serve a lot of families and kids who ride in from the suburbs on their Ducatis. We're just a good coffee shop that happens to serve a lot of bikers."

But in the past decades, Uptown has shaken much of the crust that made it a grunge haven in the '90s. The Uptown Bar transformed into an Apple store. The Everyday People Clothing Exchange on Hennepin folded in favor of yuppie adventure outfitter Fjällräven. CC Club has a goddamn TouchTunes.

Liz Moser poses out in front of Bob's, which she now owns alone.

Liz Moser poses out in front of Bob's, which she now owns alone.

The population of Uptown has stayed young and rambunctious, but there's less of a thirst for grease than there was in the Clinton era. Add to that the proliferation of competitive, Millennial-leaning neighbors like Urban Bean, Common Roots, and Spyhouse, and Bob's is left at a crossroads — either stick by the crankshafts who made you an institution or adapt and secure the next decade of success.

Luckily, things aren't so dire at Bob's that Moser has to alienate one population over the other. After all, Bob's was founded on inclusion. Moser realizes that her faithful can't support the business alone anymore, but she's not going to sell them out to pander to twentysomethings, either.

Instead, she's focusing on maintaining Bob's as a good, dependable cafe that weathers trends and transgresses social boundaries — and she wants to translate that vision to those who might've stopped looking once they saw the row of Kawasakis parked in the front.

To that end, Bob's has increasingly welcomed the cycling community — a natural buildout from the motorcycle population. They're advertising bikes from fellow Uptown stalwarts Flanders Bros. Cycles inside the shop and partnering with bike delivery service Lightspeed. Outside, they've just installed a free bicycle repair station.

"We're expanding the brand to include anything with a wheel," Moser says. "I spent six years in San Francisco, and there's a bar out there called Zeitgeist. It's a bar, but all the motorcyclists would drink there with the bike messengers. It was the hangout for the two groups. It was an intriguing idea."

The cultural shift has necessitated other changes, too. Bob's has taken gladly to Instagram and Facebook, leveraging their social media like a business half their age. The shop has continued to build their rep as a superbly dog-friendly establishment, and they've pivoted their menu to include more organic, fair-trade, gluten-free, homemade, and locally sourced options for the increasingly conscious Minneapolis demographic. 

"Obviously the culture is way different than it was in the '90s," Moser says. "Younger people are more concerned about the state of the planet, and we're a real foodie city now."

Over the 20 years they've been in business, Bob's hasn't changed much aside from paint and wall decor, but this winter, Bob's will do something it hasn't done since it moved to its current corner. Moser worked with Amanda Maday at local designer Studio Grey to re-work the floorplan of Bob's, and in December, they'll begin their first full-scale remodel.

"We have huge plans," Moser says of the redesign. "We're gonna redo the bar and the painting and the flooring. New furniture. The plan as it stands now is a complete A-to-Z overhaul."

The remodel was originally slated for this May, but Moser has hit pause to allow her busy season to proceed unimpeded. The layover has also given her time to think about how far she should go given her shop's history.

"I'm in this crazy position where I've been here for 22 years, and people take huge ownership of this," she says. "I need to know that fine line between trying to please the old customers and trying to freshen it up."

Moser knows that changing the interior and gussying up the menu means she might alienate some of the grizzled standbys who've been bellying up to their bartop for over a generation, but she's confident that she can strike the middle ground between the future and tradition. Bob's was build on a bold idea, and bold ideas never quite die.

"This place is home to a lot of people," she says, "and more than anything, I want to maintain that Bob's-ness."

Bob's Java Hut

2651 Lyndale Ave S, Minneapolis

Barista Bee and the staff at Bob's epitomize the continued youth in the Uptown neighborhood.

Barista Bee and the staff at Bob's epitomize the continued youth in the Uptown neighborhood.