The Wine Bar at the End of the World
Bev's Wine Bar
250 Third Ave. N., Mpls.; (612) 337-0102
Hours: Tuesday-Friday 4:30 p.m.-1:00 a.m.; Saturday 5:30 p.m.-1:00 a.m.
Don't even think of going to Bev's Wine Bar or its sober sister, coffeehouse Moose & Sadie's, this weekend: Both will be locked tight while the entire staff frolics in Las Vegas. Don't believe it? Neither did I, when I first heard the rumor: I mean, who treats their employees like that? What is this, Xanadu?
Peter Kirihara, the owner of the two Warehouse District spots, was equally incredulous: "How did you ever hear about the Las Vegas trip?" he asked, forgetting for a moment that in some respects, Minneapolis is about the size of two Dixie cups. Then he confirmed it was all true: "There will be 30 of us meeting at the airport after Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday," he explained. "We'll all get on a plane and stay for two nights at the Monte Carlo. It's our holiday party.
"My accountant was pretty shocked, too. But we always have a big budget for a holiday party, doing something like staying at a hotel somewhere in the Twin Cities. I could just give out more money, and I do give out cash, because they deserve it, but it's more important to have the memories. One year I took everyone to Chicago--we had a great Italian dinner, went bar-hopping in cabs, had breakfast, went shopping, took the road trip home--and four years later we still all say: How fun was that!
"That's what's so great about working for yourself: You have control, you do what you want. You can blow your budget on a Vegas trip, and no one can tell you you can't."
Forevermore I'll think of Bev's as The Wine Bar That Won't Be Told What to Do. It turns out that Kirihara values quality of life above all else: He closes Bev's on Sundays because staying open would mess up his weekend. Jetset, an upscale lounge and bar Kirihara and a partner plan to open near the Jeune Lune theater this winter, will not open on Sundays for the same reason.
Kirihara flouts common business sense in other ways: He won't advertise for Bev's, and he won't expand the wine bar's modest menu no matter how much guests clamor. "People always want to know: What's the soup of the day? But there never will be one. And then they can't believe we've been there for almost five years." When I told Kirihara that for much of last year I was convinced Bev's had closed, he laughed and said he hears that a lot: "We don't have any bright lights to let people know we're open, and I take my liberties on when we should close. Sometimes we'll close early if there's no one here, or if there's a lot of snow. I always liked snow days."
Perhaps most shocking, Kirihara steadfastly refuses to fuss over his wine list: "People who are really into wine can't even believe it. They come in and say: 'This is it?'"
That list of 30 bottles, nearly all priced from $21 to $29, is culled largely from the offerings of mainstream producers like the Bonny Doon and R.H. Phillips wineries. About a dozen varieties are available by the glass, most priced around $5. If there's a theme in the selections, I would say it's a strong preference for young, fruity wines: The list's only sparkler--a Pacific Echo ($28.50) made by Scharffenberger Cellars, which is now owned by the champagne house Veuve Clicquot--tastes light and citrusy, with shades of lemon drops and green apples. Ca' del Solo Il Fiasco, by the Bonny Doon winery ($27.50), is so juicy, ripe, and round, it's almost unseemly. And the $28.50 zinfandel from Kempton Clark (an imprint of R.H. Phillips) makes you wonder whether there's a blackberry candy at the bottom of the glass: It's easily the fruitiest zin I've ever had. Bev's also offers a nice beer list showcasing a variety of styles, from the bright purity of a Pilsner Urquell ($3.25) to the biscuity caramel flavors of a Newcastle Brown Ale ($3.25) and the pale, small-bubbled fizz of La Trappe's Dubbel ($4.25). Even the nonalcoholic list features tasteful selections, such as SanPellegrino limonata ($2.25), one of my favorite sodas.
Menu choices are spare and direct: You may have a baguette, ($2.25 for half a loaf, $3.75 for a whole), some cheese (Brie $2.25, white cheddar $2.50), a decent green salad ($5.75), and even a nicely sizzling, salty focaccia topped with goat cheese ($8.25). After an hour of sitting around drinking drinkable drinks and munching munchable munchies, Bev's starts to feel like a very nice sort of hidey-hole far from the snobby crowd.
And it is very much a hidey-hole, stuck as it is on Third Avenue down where it becomes a one-way service road between Washington Avenue North and Fifth Street North, with neighbors including Déjà Vu, Sex World, Music Tech, Tropix, and the I-394 canyon. The spot is so odd, I'd venture that no one ever ends up at Bev's by accident: In fact, I'm prepared to argue that the difficulty of parking here functions as a sort of secret knock, resulting in a clientele of only the Minneapolis-savviest.
And who but a real fan of this city could appreciate Bev's eerily majestic view? Past that 394 canyon you can see nearly all of the Minneapolis skyline, and you're close enough so it soars before you glowing and enormous. I have plans to head down there for this winter's first blizzard, because I'm sure the snow-globe effect of the lit cityscape will be spectacular. I just hope it doesn't happen this weekend.
ORPHAN'S REVENGE: Who benefited when The King and I got booted off Nicollet Mall five months ago? Well, Target corporate headquarters types, obviously, but maybe Thai food lovers, too. The restaurant will reopen, possibly before the end of the year, in the former Robert Lee space, which used to be Ciatti's (1346 LaSalle Ave.).
King and I co-owner Gary Haanpaa, who owns and runs the restaurant with his chef-wife Chivhivan Bu, says that in addition to nearly tripling the size of the restaurant and allowing the place to host weddings and other big parties, the move will be a boon to the menu: "The last space was really cramped," he notes. "You should have seen our kitchen--it was smaller than your average Wayzata home kitchen, and it prevented us from being able to do what we wanted. My wife has pages and pages of dishes she wants to start making. Actually, we may have to rein her in a little. We don't want to go to a 200-item menu."
A new King and I menu could fill a pretty interesting niche in a town where Thai food generally comes in two categories: Made with razor-thin margins by people with no resources (in which case the dishes are often actually Laotian or Vietnamese), or offered by chains as a synonym for "spicy" (witness the Green Mill's "Thai pizza"). Fresh, high-quality seafood especially is lacking from the current Thai lineup--and as it happens, Haanpaa notes, "my wife is from a little town 120 kilometers north of Bangkok on the coast, and seafood is what they eat there." They also like Johnny Walker Black, which the new King and I will be able to serve, because the space comes with a full liquor license.
One final, unexpected silver lining for Haanpaa is a little more freedom to spend, courtesy of the Nicollet buyout, which among other things will allow the new King and I to offer free valet parking. Free to you and me, that is: Haanpaa will be shelling out about $50,000 a year for the amenity.
BIG MAC, HOLD THE BURGER: Everyone has questions about the veggie burger McDonald's is test-marketing in New York City. It drives some to ask, as they do at the self-appointed watchdog group McSpotlight (www.mcspotlight.org): Is vegetarian really vegetarian if it comes from the Great Satan? Here at Tablehopping we are similarly impassioned, but in a different vein. We say: Dude, no freakin' way! And then we direct the Tablehopping Learjet east and parachute into downtown Manhattan. Checking our 'chutes curbside, we race into a McDonald's to find that the veggie burger is available only as a quarter-pounder manqué, when what we really want is a Big Mac. After much rending of garments, batting of eyelashes, and flaunting of negotiable currency, we persuade the counterpeople to make a special Tablehopping vegetarian Big Mac and charge us for two burgers. Seven dollars later, a beast-free Big Mac is sampled and deemed Pretty Good, with all the salty and sweet, savory, secret-saucy, bun-y, and lettucey flavors discriminating palates like ours crave. And so we jet home, happy to have our intellectual curiosity so fully satisfied.
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