After a very long delay, it’s official.
The Lexington on Grand Avenue will re-open to the public on February 9.
We got a little preview over the weekend and, wow! It’s gorgeous.
In the current dining landscape where restaurants are going ever-more casual and stripped down, know that The Lexington will be a real, capital 'R' Restaurant. That is, one where all the trappings of finer dining will be on hand, with maitre d’ in suits and servers in crisp white shirts and uniform vests. The works.
Though it’s been open since 1935, it may be difficult to recall The Lex's heyday unless you're old enough to remember when streetcars rattled down Grand. In its later years, it was a little rough around the edges, and not exhibiting its full grandeur and culinary potential. It was a Grande Dame that had lost a bit of its shimmer.
The extensive remodel has put shine aplenty back on every nook and cranny, and though everything gleams like new. Light fixtures, flooring, electric and heating, and extensive restoration of original fixtures contributed to the reopening delay. But the place still feels old, in the sense that they don’t make them like this anymore. The restaurant retained as many of the original details as possible, including the stained glass windows that face Grand Avenune, and the extensive wood wall paneling.
The back lounge area is anchored by a crackling fire and plush couches, perfect for sinking into. An exhibition window faces the east dining room, so you can gaze into the large kitchen which got a full remodel too. Executive chef Jack Riebel and his crew will be pushing out both classics and new menu items, but we’re assured the relish tray, chicken pot pie, and popovers will remain, along with an updated take on pot roast. Other items a spicy steak tartare, raw oysters, oysters Rockefeller, and diaphanous potatoes that are something like a wee balloon if a wee balloon was a potato and you puffed a little air into it. The edges emerge all but transparent and they’re served with Bernaise. These little wonders are worth a trip alone.
The bar will naturally also be focusing on classics, an Old Fashioned served with an orange peel, fragrant and fat, and of those designer ice cubes plunked in a glass so big it’s almost too much for your hand. (Almost.) But this is not a stuffy bar either— there’s a brandy slush, and even a rotating “social hour” punch served in a tiki glass practically toppling over with its many garnishes and drink umbrellas.
And, this is no small matter: they’ve retained the coat check! A coat check, people. This is one of those not at all small, important touches that has fallen by the wayside as restaurants tighten the bottom line. It’s difficult to feel fancy while dragging around your coat all night.
If you have to keep an eye on that mink of yours, then forget about it, you're not wearing it. You’ll want to wear it to the Lexington. At last, we’ve got a restaurant back in town that justifies your finest duds. That’s worth saving up for. A place you'll really, truly want to head to and celebrate a special event. Even a milestone! Gonna tell your husband that the ovulation detector finally worked? Finally graduate from law school? The Lexington is your place.
We hear there is even a membership for the upstairs private club, which will now feature a patio (one of the updates to the original). They’re only selling 200 of these babies, so if you want one, get one now. There are other perks beyond access to the swank club.
Also, get a load of the Instagram “hook” on the back wall of the back bar. This guy was surely not a part of the original: think KISS meets BDSM meets bunny rabbit. Enough said.
A couple of other not unimportant details: we didn't notice a TV screen anywhere, and a real landline telephone exists in the vestibule, which we're told was an original feature of the place. According to lore, it was placed there for straggling husbands calling home to inform the missus they'd be late at the office. Caller ID has ruined everything, has it not?
Also, check out the wall of fame paying homage to luminaries that have graced the place. Some recognizable, some not, but they've left a top row space for new ones. Another generation or two of The Lex is sure to host many more.
The feeling I got is that I never wanted to leave. In fact, I told Josh Thoma, owner, that I wanted to live there. "I have lived here," he answered. Lucky dude.
Just setting foot in the place is an instant time capsule back to 1935, when prohibition was newly abolished, and everyone had a reason to celebrate mightily, and in the highest style imaginable.
The Lexington opens on February 9
Reservations are being accepted now
1096 Grand Avenue, St. Paul