There's a reason why Adrian's Tavern has held down the corner of 48th and Chicago for more than 70 years, while its most recent neighbor, L'Ecosse, lasted just a few short months: South Minneapolis's affection for burgers and beer doesn't extend to French-Scottish fusion. So when the owners of Town Hall Brewery took over the recently vacated space, they stuck with the very same, time-tested formula and installed a welcoming watering hole called Town Hall Tap. The new joint supplements Adrian's classics with craft beer and gourmet pub fare tailored to more contemporary tastes.
Scott Krebsbach, the Tap's general manager, explains that the decision to open the new pub was related to the parameters of Town Hall's brewing license, which allows the production of up to 3,500 barrels (7,000 kegs) of beer each year. Until just a few years ago, a brewpub's alcohol sales were restricted to its brewing location, even though some brewers, such as Town Hall, didn't have the space to sell as much beer as they could produce. But changes to state law now allow brewpub owners the opportunity to sell their beverages at another pub—so long as they own it. In order to utilize all their space and equipment, Town Hall decided to open a second retail outlet.
Compared to old-school bar and grills like Adrian's or the nearby Matt's, the Tap has a more open, airy feel, but its snug size provides more neighborhood appeal than the original Town Hall Brewery. Krebsbach estimates that 80 to 90 percent of their customers live within walking distance or a short drive from the restaurant.
Town Hall Tap is filled with the usual high-backed booths and neat vintage beer signs—Leinenkugel's, Schmidt, Fitger's—as well as a beautiful, hand-carved, antique oak bar. Exposed ceiling joists and air ducts lend the space an industrial aesthetic, which complements the worn hardwood floors and aged brick walls. The garage door-style, sidewalk-facing windows are a smart addition, and when the weather is warm they'll let breezes in, as a nod to the original Town Hall's popular patio. (Currently the windows seem to be letting too much cold in—I noticed several diners kept their coats on for their entire visits.)
Town Hall is a favorite of Twin Cities beer drinkers for its brewers' ability to produce a range of styles, including lagers, pale ales, and Belgians. The brewery changes its rotation every couple of weeks, which means it offers about 30 seasonal beers a year. The Tap sells a large selection of American craft brews in kegs, including several from Town Hall Brewery—two of which are available exclusively at the Tap. One of those, the Parkway Java Porte, is a beguiling, midnight-black pour with a jolt of coffee flavor courtesy of beans from the neighboring Sovereign Grounds cafe.
The Tap is also one of the few local bars offering so-called real ale, or unfiltered, unpasteurized beer that undergoes a secondary fermentation in a cask. It's served cool, not cold, and instead of being pressurized artificially with carbon dioxide and/or nitrogen gas, as with keg beer, it's drawn by a hand-operated pump. A pint of Bell's Best Brown Ale, poured from a cask, arrives at the table with its foam of tiny bubbles cascading in sheets. When settled, the beer's texture is creamier and its flavors more pronounced than the bottled version of the beverage.
Of all the "reinvented" bar food classics coming out of today's restaurant kitchens, most are no better than the originals. That's the case with the Tap's cream cheese-stuffed, deep-fried pickles, but not the Brie cheese curds, which are an innovation worthy of their $8.50 price tag. Brie takes naturally to warming (think of the puff-pastry-wrapped, baked wheels of Brie en croute that were all the rage among gourmands of the '70s and '80s), and its soft, melty texture is perfect out of the deep fryer. The cheese's musty flavor makes a nice contrast to the accompanying sweet-spicy blackberry-jalapeño chutney.
The Tap's menu was created by Natalie Tangen, who previously ran kitchen operations at the arcade-slash-restaurant Dave & Busters. Her food list is almost entirely different from Town Hall Brewery's, with the exception of the fries, soft-pretzels, and walleye sandwich. But it's in the same genre: The burgers are still burgers, albeit with different garnishes.
Those French fries, by the way, are so deliciously crisp that you'd almost think one parent was a potato chip. Half-pound Angus beef burgers make for dense, steaky patties, and the restaurant offers toppings for every taste. The "Hot" Damn is stuffed with jalapeños, peppers, and onions, which stand up nicely to a buttermilk blue cheese. The 5 O'Clock Sunrise blends beef with hot sausage—its seasoning suggests Italian sausage more than breakfast links—then tops it with an over-easy egg, hash browns, and hollandaise sauce that soaks into the sweet, squishy bun. It's a nice riff on the whole "breakfast-for-dinner" concept.
The Tap's beer-cheese soup is a classic and pairs well with the sandwiches. The house-made corned beef is shredded instead of sliced—it's rather dry and meekly seasoned, but the sharp sauerkraut, smooth Swiss cheese, and kick of heat more than make up for it. (If you want to dress it up even more, the sandwich comes with a cup of Tap Sauce that resembles beer-spiked nacho-cheese dip.)
In place of Town Hall Brewery's pulled pork sandwich, the Tap serves an unexpectedly great Cuban. It's heavy with slow-roasted pork, Swiss cheese, ham, and salami, and the result is a sandwich that commands respect: You've got to pick the thing up with two hands. Each bite reveals a dense pack of spicy-sweet richness cut by the zing of pickle slices and mustard aioli. It actually does taste good enough to represent an entire country.
All in all, the Tap's fare supplements its beer-drinking without supplanting it. So far, Krebsbach says, beverage sales at the smaller Tap have been roughly equal to those at Town Hall Brewery. But Town Hall's operation can't expand indefinitely. If production were to exceed 3,500 barrels, the business would be considered a brewery, not a brewpub, and would lose its on-sale privileges. So if you'd like to see a Town Hall in your neighborhood, start lobbying your local lawmakers.