Beginning Wednesday, the public will finally get its first peek at the new Travail space in Robbinsdale. As their new chrysalis came together, the local culinary scene's upscale imps relocated to Lowry Hill, where they hosted a series of pop-ups. But finally Travail is ready to play host to your flights of whimsy in a brand new basement bar.
With dark pressed tin ceilings and a wee grand piano that ghostly lilted country classics by Gene Autry and Patsy Cline from speakers hidden beneath its wings, the theme of the bar reads like new-Old West. The seating area is lined with a plush leather banquette in a sand color, while the back bar’s focal point is a striking desert scene, captured crisply black and white.
(When asked about the art selection later, Travail's Megan Leafblad explained, "It is actually a really impressive TV screen that lets you put up your own artwork if you like. We do hope to have some local artists making work for that space [like custom hand-painted wallpaper upstairs from She She, and a timeline of the restaurant and chef's progression by Andy Ducett]," but that image? She said it came "preloaded" on the television, like a ridiculously influential screensaver.)
Shadow boxes lining the walls behind the low tables are reminiscent of an old library or 19th-century curiosity cabinet. Though filled with books, trinkets, and the occasional bottle, each segment acts as a cocktail mood board. In one space, a hardback copy of Richard Dawkins sits next to jars of powders and leaves, while an illegible clock, a cat, and a portrait of Wilder-as-Wonka commingle… which all made sense when #SweetMemes arrived tableside. It tastes like a healing ginger tonic sold at co-ops, except this was eggy-frothy and came with a stencil of Admiral Ackbar screaming "IT’S A TRAP" floating on the drink’s surface.
Travail’s legendary theatrical aspects manifest most prominently in the basement bar’s cocktails. Bandshell Vices comes with a small gold lock and key, and an explanation that you’re meant to feel like you’re “stealing from your dad’s liquor cabinet.” The guest must undo a dark bottle containing the scotchy cocktail, as a server lights a cinnamon stick ablaze and rests in a slot of a (custom?) cut-glass ashtray/coaster. Only then is the cocktail poured from the bottle into a lowball, in which rests an iceberg. The drink and not-cigar nestle perfectly together, as the singed aromatics complete the experience.
A Ronaldo Burgundy arrives in a porcelain teacup capped in a smoke bubble, begging for a slo-mo ‘gram. The thrill of popping reveals a manna-like punch below, cool and hibiscus in color, but even more surprisingly, a bat friend eventually appeared while sipping the rummy manna.
The food menu is snackable (a poutine made from perfectly salty shoestring fries, a dunkable jus-like gravy, and a Gruyere sauce with chives) to decadent (King crab served by the half-pound for $45). Though we initially had a moment of being disappointed that even Travail took the elevated burger route, we discovered the Broadway Butter Burger on their menu is actually an original throwback to 10years ago, which, yunno, respect. Want Liver Mousse served with Dot’s pretzels or a truffled lobster egg? The current bar menu offers those, too, and threatens to change often.
Before our night drew to a close, Mike Brown led a group tour of Travail’s unfinished upper levels, with a glowing Many Faced God in-hand.
Maybe it was because Parasite’s recent Oscar wins still loomed large, but the non-bar's minimalist aesthetic, moving walls, and actual secret rooms proved equal parts delightful and unnerving. Brown explained that, counting the basement bar, Travail 3.0 aka T3vO offers five unique dining concepts in one—whether that means flipping the script by customizing tasting menus to match a cocktail program, “packing everyone [full] like a U-Haul” at three-hour 10-courses, "cooking at you,” or hosting events like chess club. They have many options planned, and one will likely suit your idea of a good time.
“We’ve always wanted to create some balance in a cook’s life,” said Brown, of the mentality behind such variety, matched by the idea that the upstairs levels will offer tasting menus Tuesday through Friday, and events Saturday through Monday. “This is our far-fetched attempt to do that…. We’ll see!”
As Brown hinted, all of that is yet to come, best laid plans, etc etc. But for now, revelers can enjoy a Travail experience from the basement bar beginning tomorrow, February 19. Reservations are accepted for parties wishing to secure spots at tables along the leather banquets, while walk-ins are welcome at the high-top bar.
Travail Basement Bar
4134 Hubbard Ave. N., Robbinsdale
Wednesday through Friday, 6:30 p.m. to midnight.