Primebar: Another chain comes to Updale!

I'm still feeling a little grumpy after my opening day visit to PrimeBar, the new chain restaurant that replaced Il Gatto in Calhoun Square. The grumpyness isn't really about the food — which was actually pretty good — as it is about the chain-ification of Hennepin-Lake. Crate and Barrel (CB2). Victoria's Secret. Urban Outfitters. Columbia Sportwear. Jimmy John's. Timberland. North Face.  L.A. Fitness. The Apple Store. H&M arriving soon. 

Primebar interior

Sheesh. If I had wanted to live in chainland, I would have moved to Maple Grove. Instead, Maple Grove is moving in on me. (No offense to my friends in Maple Grove, but when you drive into the city, do you really want more of the same?)

Remember when Hennepin Lake had a real, local one-of-a-kind personality? Remember Orr Books and the Rainbow Cafe and Shakti Shoes and Condom Kingdom and Global Village and the chow mein at the Port Arthur Cafe? Remember Morris and Christie's and Von's Superette? Thank goodness we still have Magers & Quinn and Golden Leaf and Penzey's Spices and those Thai restaurants (even if they aren't all that great).

Okay, maybe I started off with a bad attitude, but the Primebar concept doesn't help any. The press release calls it an "upscale gastropub," while the website bills the concept as an "urban lodge" or "contemporary ale house" - whatever that means. The first thing that hits you when you enter the restaurant is a giant plasma TV hung over the bar, and there's about eight more scattered all around the place, all tuned to sports. Big fashion photos on the walls, mostly of a pair of female eyes. All the charm and personality of an airport sports bar.

Primebar animal friesThe menu isn't so much gastro or creative as it is trendy. Chicken wings, calamari, Deviled eggs, duck confit, flatbreads, the usual sandwiches and burgers. Pork belly is hot these days, and they've got it five different ways.

Okay, like I said, the dishes we tried weren't bad - the fish tacos in a tempura batter ($11) tasted very fresh, and the roasted chicken sandwich in a ciabatta with bacon and brie ($11) was hearty and filling. The animal fries - cheese curds and pork belly, fried egg and brown gravy over fries ($9) - were basically another variation on the theme of poutine, which has been around on the local scene for several years now. Not much pork belly in the dish, which is probably not a bad thing. Service was friendly and attentive. The side salad was pretty good.

The big mystery to me is how these guys are going to make money when a smart local operator like Parasole couldn't succeed with Figlio and Il Gatto. Maybe the answer is that Primebar is more of a bar, and a better fit now that Updale is more of a destination for singles who come in from the burbs to drink and party.

Primebar chicken sandwichPrimebar does offer a big selection of draft beers, including about 30 local brews, from Fulton, Brau Bros., Summit, Liftbridge and Finnegan's. That's great. I discovered a new favorite, Brau Bros. Hopsession, a light-bodied pale ale in the tradition of British session beers, low enough in alcohol (4.2%) that you can spend the evening in the pub and still walk home.

What's not so great is Primebar's tag line, "Think Local, Drink Local."  It's a tag line that is already in use in other cities by genuinely local independent businesses, including local breweries and coffee companies. If any of them actually own the line, I hope they sue. At any rate, it doesn't seem right for a chain restaurant to appropriate it, even if they have a good selection of local beers.

But it's actually good advice. If you want to think local and drink local, there are lots of independently locally owned  gastropubs and restaurants that have excellent beer lists and one-of-a-kind menus - Muddy Waters, Republic, Pat's Tap, the Amsterdam, Tracy's Saloon, Lowry Uptown, Tilia, Harriet Brasserie, George and the Dragon, Eat Street Social, Northeast Social, Icehouse, Muddy Pig, Happy Gnome, etc., etc. etc.

Primebar
3001 Hennepin Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55408
  • So, so true. I drove through Uptown today and had the very same thoughts. If you want to go way back in Uptown lore, remember Uptown Lanes, Gardens of Eden, South of the Border, Sim's, Jorge's Furs? - by Laura Weber on Wed, 07/18/2012 - 6:01pm
  • Jeremy...just said the same to Mimi today as we walked to a little neighborhood cafe -- Mayday Cafe -- on 35th & Bloomington. The new uptown...where local entrepreneurs can afford the rent. - by Dave James on Thu, 07/19/2012 - 8:20pm
  • I like Penzey's, but that should really be on your list of chain stores, too. They are in 29 states and counting. - by Steve Backoff on Wed, 07/18/2012 - 3:04pm
  • Where are the good old Days. - by Paul Laubignat on Wed, 07/18/2012 - 1:42pm
  • Thank you , Jeremy! Well, Lake and Hennepin area is lost for me except for Lucia's and Magers & Quinn. What are the choices when it comes to organic, local, sustainable and tasty food? I have guests coming form Europe and wonder where to take them. Always in a search of a local restaurant to be proud of, A - by Anna Chernakova Bonavita on Wed, 07/18/2012 - 10:27am
  • Remembering Fanny Farmer, the old Rainbow... and more recently, City Lights, Uptown Traders, and even Borders when it was still a real bookstore... - by Genie Smith on Thu, 07/19/2012 - 8:00am
  • I work at one of the few non-chain retail stores in that area - ROAM. Check it out and support this locally owned design store! - by Beth Loraine Bowman on Wed, 07/18/2012 - 10:11am

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Jeremy Iggers's picture
Jeremy Iggers

Jeremy Iggers (jeremy [at] tcmediaalliance [dot] org) is the executive director of the Twin Cities Media Alliance. Find Jeremy on Google

Comments

Chains

I lived in the area in the 60's in an apartment that was less than $70 a month.  I can tell you chains have been there for over 45 years.  I think those lamenting the "decline" just haven't been around long enough to understand the history.  We had an Embers, a Brdigemans, Lunds, Snyders, National.  The mix now really reflects what has been around for a half century.  I guess the mix ebbs and flows over time.  Let the chains find stores in the area in the less-profitable category and watch the buildings empty out. As for esoteric offerings, I think the area has a surfeit.  Support the ones that exist.  Help them survive.

Terrible Service

Less you're wearing an expensive suit and flashing large wads of cash around, the staff couldn't care less that you're there. Will never go back.

Yawn

First of all, Chris Riemenschneider of the Strib has written this article - bemoaning the commericial evolution of Uptown - about five times already.

Second, it's a completely false premise. Remember Best Buy? Remember Taco Bell? Perkins? How about Penzey's? Paper Source? McDonald's? Juut hair salon? Chain. Chain. Chain. Chain. Chain. Chain. Chain.

Where did this fantasy about Uptown being an idyllic oasis of mom-and-pop shops ever start? I've been living here since since the early 80s, and it's been a ever-evolving mix of local and chain operations for the last 30 years. Are there a few more chains today than in our whimsical yesteryear when fake punk rockers from Burnsville drove daddy's Bonneville into town every weekend to lord over Lake and Hennepin? Yep. But this is so, so far from some alarming new phenomenon.

At least you will always have the comforting purity of Uptown's longest-standing homegrown cornerstone, the iconic Uptown Theatre. Oh yeah, wait...Chain.

Not quite a chain...

Primebar only has 3 other locations (Dallas, Chicago, Wesley Chapel, FL), so it doesn't seem correct to categorize it with the likes of Crate & Barrel, Jimmy Johns and L.A. Fitness. Had anyone even heard of Primebar before it opened here? The owners/operators are Chicago-based, so it is a Midwestern company and the fact that they have dedicated half of their taps to local beers deserves some merit. 

Support Proletarian Food Places!

Just my little joke.  We proles don't eat in fancy places.