There’s really nothing else like The Sidecar in south Minneapolis.
“If I even knew how many times people asked me, ‘When is The Sidecar opening?’” says Shelly Larson, manager of Town Hall Tap. “I feel like the neighborhood is super excited.”
Seizing on 2018’s reworked neighborhood liquor laws, Town Hall Tap spent years reimagining the adjoining Adrian’s Tavern into the type of craft cocktail lounge you’d expect to see downtown. The Sidecar soft-launched two weeks ago and, based on neighborhood buzz, it’s fitting right in at 48th and Chicago.
“I find, personally, that cocktail lounges can be a little pretentious; sometimes I find myself in an atmosphere that I don’t particularly like,” says Peter Rifakes, founder of Town Hall Brewing. “I was trying to get away from that, so I wanted it to be a little more laid back.”
The process wasn’t easy or cheap.
In early 2019, Rifakes purchased Adrian’s from retiring owner Jim Pratt, thus giving him side-by-side properties and an eventual blank slate. Adrian’s was a charming throwback dive bar with carpeted floors, fluorescent lighting, and a wobbly basement toilet—a total gut job. Rifakes considered tearing the building down to maximize patio space, but his ambitions got the best of him. Instead, the Town Hall team embarked on a frustratingly long project that would endure construction delays, licensing and permit disputes with the city, and a global pandemic. Rifakes estimates the three-year remodel cost almost three times what he paid for the property. Don’t worry: Brand-new, ground-level bathrooms were part of the equation.
Long before the grand opening, which is slated for later this month, Rifakes & Co. had to figure out… how to create and operate a 50-seat craft cocktail lounge.
“We’re really good at setting up [brewpubs], and we didn’t have the expertise at putting a drink program together,” Rifakes says. “I certainly didn’t want to open and have someone come in and taste average drinks—I wanted them to say it’s fantastic.”
The Town Hall team started with 40 recipes, and whittled that list down to around 20 that appear on the menu.
“We spent a ton of time on the drinks,” Rifakes says.
“It’s a fun job,” Larson adds with a laugh.
There’s the $15 signature Sidecar, of course, with its Pierre Ferrand cognac and curacao, wildflower honey, lemon, and orange foam. A bargain at $10, the Barrel-Aged Old Fashioned sticks the landing, packing bourbon and rye punch alongside house bitters. Rifakes calls the $13 Triple Brown Derby—Eagle Rare bourbon, buckwheat honey, grapefruit—the best cocktail he’s ever tasted. Town Hall’s full line of house beers is also available, as is a scaled-down and evolving menu of scratch bar food.
“I don’t think we’re going to sell a lot of beer here,” Rifakes says. “I think people are going to specifically come in for cocktails.” (Larson confirms that has been the case.)
Several kinks have been ironed-out during the soft launch phase, Rifakes reports, including tweaking table heights, experimenting with décor, and finding expert staff who know their way around a cocktail shaker. “It’s about letting the bartenders learn, and not get pummeled right off the bat,” Larson says.
Another, equally exciting part of The Sidecar saga probably won’t be available until spring. Out back, Rifakes constructed a gorgeous 50-seat alley patio that’s totally unique to the neighborhood. A new bar, window-service kitchen, and more gleaming bathrooms are all taking form in an outdoor space that’s accessible from Town Hall Tap and The Sidecar.
You can visit The Sidecar during its soft-open phase from Wednesday through Saturday, 4 p.m. to close.