Republic coming soon to Seven Corners

Raise a glass: change comes to 7 Corners.
Raise a glass: change comes to 7 Corners.

Change is brewing on 7 Corners, as Preston's Urban Pub (formerly Sargent Preston's) has a new owner with a familiar face: Matty O'Reilly, co-owner of the Aster and 318 Cafes.

Besides Town Hall Brewery, most of the area's other bars have a frat-party same-ness, with reputations for being crucibles for barfing and fighting. But O'Reilly plans to strip out the TVs and arcade games and plastic Miller Light signs that have covered the space's character-rich brick walls and replace them with art. He'll also banish the fishbowls of blue booze ("...those get borderline scary from a liability standpoint," he says) and replace them with craft beer and wine.

For too long, O'Reilly says, most of the neighborhood's eating and drinking establishments relied on pre-Twins Dome traffic, and weren't really keeping up with contemporary tastes in food and wine. But he hopes that his new spot, Republic, and its thoughtful pub fare, will provide a destination-worthy dining option.

To open Republic, O'Reilly partnered with his best friend from high school, Rick Guntzel, who has spent years in the restaurant business with the Jacob Restaurant Group (owners of Nye's and several Jake's restaurants). The partnership will give O'Reilly more opportunity to focus on food while Guntzel handles operations. They plan to partition off part of Preston's large space to create a more intimate music room, and start hosting local acts as at the Aster and 318 cafes. O'Reilly and Guntzel hope to have Republic open by mid May, just in time to get people out on the massive, 200-seat patio.

Republic will be O'Reilly's first restaurant with a full kitchen and will place more emphasis on food than his other restaurants, while still staying approachable. "I think what we're up to won't be intimidating for people who currently go there and will broaden the audience for dining," he says.

The kitchen will have a seasonal, locavore approach and use grass-fed beef and fresh produce from nearby farms in creating casual fare such as ricotta fritters, mussels, sandwiches, burgers, and salads. A short list of entrees will include dishes like hanger steak, bouillabaisse, sausages with roasted potatoes, and walleye with spinach and wild rice. O'Reilly is also working with Sheela Namakkal (formerly of Cake Eater, Namakkal is back from Chicago and managing the kitchen at Aster) on a list of "mini" desserts priced at around $2 a pop. The overall price point will stay low, with most items on the menu priced $10 or less.

O'Reilly likens Republic's concept to that of Happy Gnome in St. Paul, as a foodie-focused neighborhood pub. For drinkers, the 32 tap beers will include lots of locals, Belgian, and German craft brews. Everything on the wine list will sell for $8 a glass or less, with bottles $25 or less.

The changes seem to signify both that students' tastes are maturing and that the neighborhood can attract diners from beyond the University. "Neighbors like Town Hall give me confidence that the audience isn't just 21 year olds," O'Reilly explains.

Republic 221 Cedar Avenue S.

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