The Rail Station has long been known as a delightfully divey neighborhood drinking institution replete with all the must-haves of the genre: a Tuesday wing night and game specials, pull tabs, Bargo, trivia, karaoke, and a meat raffle. Even an old train car making for an auxiliary "smokers' room."
But come July 14, all (or at least most) of that will become a distant memory. "The Howe Daily Kitchen and Bar" will replace it, with a decidedly different look and feel.
Marketing director Chastity Sorenson says that the original plan was simply to remodel the bar, but after a couple years of watching the neighborhood change, the restaurant group that also owns Stanley's Northeast, Pub 819 in Hopkins, and the Bar in Hastings decided it was time for a wholesale makeover.
Plans for the Howe include more emphasis on local distilleries, craft beers, and craft cocktails, plus a smaller menu with a lot more gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan options including products sourced from the Herbivorous Butcher. The patio will be dog-friendly, and following suit with sister restaurant Stanley's Northeast, the menu will include pup-friendly options like turkey "mutt loaf" and "pooched eggs."
While ownership is banking on the idea that the new neighborhood demographic — more young professionals and young families — will embrace the changes, not everyone is over the moon.
Indeed, Sorenson says "there are some that love it and some that absolutely hate it." When the Rail Station initially announced the closing and re-opening dates on the bar's Facebook page, in short order it was filled with angst-filled comments with concerns that the beloved hangout was turning into an overpriced yuppie bar.
Just a few examples:
And so on. Others are more circumspect about the modifications. Longtime regular Jessica Ward says she's intrigued, and understands the company's desire to recreate themselves to reflect the changing neighborhood which includes a housing boom and the introduction of trendier establishments to the area, including the Blue Door, Sonora Grill, and Hi-Lo Diner. She also imagines that the more family-friendly vibe will be welcome.
Though, she says, "I think I will miss the neighborhood bar feel. Pull tabs and meat raffle, same folks at the bar; I think that will go away. I'll miss having a neighborhood bar, but will like having a neighborhood restaurant if they can pull off a good menu."
Concerns over price hikes were another big talking point on social media, and to those inquiries Sorenson only answered this way: "We're not looking to raise prices."
And why the name change?
"We found during focus groups that the Rail Station had a 'perceived image.'" When pressed on what kind of image, Sorensen only said that it included bad reviews. If the Rail (now the Howe) was going to bother to make as many changes as planned with the construction and menu changes, management wanted to be very sure that those perceptions would not follow.
"It's definitely not the same restaurant," said Sorenson. "So we just decided to start from scratch."
The name refers to the Howe neighborhood of Minneapolis, where the bar is situated.
The Howe Daily Kitchen and Bar opens on July 14
3675 Minnehaha Ave., Minneapolis