Before Trattoria Mucci moved into their new Minneapolis home in 2018, they needed to get the bad energy out.
The trio of Tim Niver, Adam Eaton, and Laurel Elm had just shuttered their previous concept, Meyvn, which made it only 10 months in the space. More than that, through a combination of neighborhood gossip and local news headlines, 901 W. Lake St. had become known as one of those “cursed” restaurant addresses, the ones where nothing, no matter how good or popular or busy, can seem to make it work. So before Mucci’s II opened, the owners did what anyone would do: They brought in an energy healer from Great Tree Healing to cleanse the building, as delightfully documented in this Mpls. St. Paul Mag story from the time.
Maybe you don’t believe in curses; Niver will be the first to tell you he doesn’t. “I do believe in energy,” he says. “And I believe there was, and still possibly is, some weird energy there.”
Now, when we pot-stirring, click-baiting folks in the media dub a space cursed, we’re not always talking about it in the spiritual sense. Call it a curse, bad energy, bad vibes—some restaurant spaces just seem more impossible to make work than others, whether that bad luck is the result of timing, location, or, yes, even beings from beyond our plane.
“I personally believe in spirits staying, leaving, and moving throughout spaces,” says Lori Fhima, whose family took over another famously “cursed” space in downtown Minneapolis when Fhima’s opened in 2018. Though Fhima objects to the term, which she thinks casts a negative connotation around those energies, funny things kept happening in their early days: They were locked out of an upstairs office, to which no one had the key, from the inside, and the staff repeatedly “felt” energies or “saw” things move that weren’t there.
We’re not sure if you can apply data to curses, but this is where we tried. Earlier this month, we put the question to readers on Twitter: What’s the most cursed restaurant space in the Twin Cities? We mapped the responses that poured in (you can find our list of the most quote-unquote cursed below), and the story they tell isn’t just one of cursed restaurants, but of cursed, or otherwise unlucky, neighborhood niches, more broadly speaking.
Several spots within a few blocks of each other in Lowertown St. Paul came up; in downtown Minneapolis, three addresses, including the one that now houses Fhima’s, are situated a short walk from one another. But by far the most densely packed stretches of “curses” are in Lyn-Lake and Uptown (argue amongst yourselves about where neighborhoods begin and end), where Trattoria Mucci made its home.
To Niver, it’s a no-brainer. “What else has been happening in Uptown in the last few years?” he asks. “If you kind of lens out on the whole area… nothing’s gone very well!” The short lifespans and abrupt exits that have become synonymous with restaurants in the area? That’s to be expected, he argues, from a neighborhood in flux.
More patterns emerge the longer you look at the list. Often, the curses seem to follow in the wake of a long-running tenant, which either leaves a vacuum of success with its departure or serves as the canary in the coal mine of a neighborhood with shifting priorities. The Figlio space in Uptown is one example: After its 25-year run concluded in 2009, nothing could make it more than two years. Now, the space is a bank. In Lowertown St. Paul, the constantly shifting space at 275 Fourth St. E. has only been in disarray since Golden’s Deli closed after a two-decade run of its own.
Many of these spaces are simply huge, too big to succeed in 2022—the massive Chino Latino footprint in Uptown kitty-corner from the old Figlio, for example, which has sat vacant since the long-running restaurant closed two years ago. And that’s to say nothing of the downtown space below City Center, where national chains get chewed up and spit out with unceremonious regularity.
“Let’s get back to the idea of restaurants being successful, what that actual percentage is,” Niver continues. “This is fuckin’ hard!” (He also notes that the restaurant that left their Lake and Bryant address before Meyvn and Mucci’s moved in, Tinto, moved elsewhere and is doing very well—though whether that means Tinto’s former location is or isn’t cursed is up to interpretation.)
After running Fhima’s for the last five years—is that long enough to consider a curse broken?—Lori Fhima isn’t bothered by old buildings or the spirits that might reside therein. The family’s next project brings them to the historic Ribnick Furs spot in the North Loop, where they’ll soon open a three-story restaurant, events space, and food-justice project.
Just in case, she says a friend of hers gave her a ritual to do to remove negative spirits, but she hasn’t used it yet: “It’s not needed. Maybe I will have to use it when we move into the Ribnick, but trust me—these spirits are no match for chef Fhima.”
Without further aboo (Halloween humor), here are the 12 “cursed” Twin Cities restaurant locations that registered the most electromagnetic activity on our journalistic ghost meters. Did we miss any? Sound off loudly and spookily in the comments.
Gay Cheers’ Revenge
1933 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis
From 1975 to 2018, this corner restaurant wasn’t cursed at all—it was blessed with Rudolph’s Bar-B-Que! (Fun aside: Replacements biographer Bob Mehr once told me that Prince’s posse would enjoy massive feasts at Rudolph’s, and that the Purple One would leave his sauce-covered lace glove as a bonus tip.) But the saga of the subsequent tenant, Cheers, would make this spot the most recent cursing victim on our list. Before the LGBTQ bar opened (it never actually did), owner Emad Abed staged a $2 million crowd-funding effort under the guise of buying the building, thus keeping Cheers queer-friendly in perpetuity. Members of gay community sensed bullshit, and it was soon revealed that the hetero Abed had a history of anti-Semitic Facebook rantings. (“Hitler should have finished them all,” he wrote in one unambiguous post.) Cheers promptly sued the building owner in civil court, claiming the structure needed six figures in repairs, before fizzling away. The address sits vacant to this day.
Big Shoes to Figlio
3001 Hennepin Ave. S., Minneapolis
First, there was Figlio: jubilant, weird, wonderful, and bustling with patrons for the length of its 25-year run at Seven Points (née Calhoun Square). Its 2009 departure from Uptown resulted in a black hole that sucked in all future tenants: Il Gatto, which made it just two years in the storied space, and PrimeBar, which shuttered after eight months. (A subsequent Figlio revival, in a new location with new owners, didn’t work either.) Parella tried unsuccessfully to reignite the Italian torch; its sub-12-month tenure was followed by the vegan restaurant Fig + Farro, which opened in early 2018 and closed in the early days of the pandemic. Now, it’s a bank. To quote whoever runs the Twitter account for Subtext Books in St. Paul: “Figlio space going through ten different restaurants only to become a Chase Bank isn’t even a curse, it’s a Greek cycle of tragedies.”
The Bedlam Jinx
213 Fourth St., St. Paul
Grace Birnstengel at MPR News notes that “pretty much all of Lowertown St. Paul” could qualify for our list of cursed spaces, but 213 Fourth St. is among the most ill-fated examples. Elephant Bar lasted only from April to September of 2019 after replacing Hygga, which only made it 14 months. Before that? The space was only briefly home to the Bedlam Theatre, which had a two-decade run on the West Bank before moving to St. Paul and then closing in 2016. After sitting empty for a few years, the lovely all-day cafe Lost Fox opened in the space earlier this spring… here’s hoping this little critter has found more permanent digs than those who preceded it.
Nothing Gold(en) Can Stay
275 Fourth St. E., St. Paul
What, you don’t think we can list two places located a three-minute walk from one another on Fourth Street in St. Paul? Wait ‘till you see how many of the places on this list are in Lyn-Lake! For a long time, 275 Fourth St. E. was home to a cherished Lowertown classic: Golden’s Deli, which occupied the space for two decades before bowing out in 2017. Since then, it’s been Biergarten Germania, several versions of the critically acclaimed but never quite settled fine-dining joint just/us, and currently, a Mexican-food-and-more spot called Burrito Red that already has folks worried about its future due to a rather ambitious globe-trotting menu.
Big Trouble at Lake & Bryant
901 W. Lake St., Minneapolis
Mucci’s owner Tim Niver might not believe in curses, but Racket readers sure do—and when we asked about the unluckiest spaces in town, this Lyn-Lake address came up again and again and again. Spill the Wine made it for a handful of years at 901 W. Lake St. before closing in 2015, followed by Tinto Cocina + Cantina, which toughed it out roughly two years before relocating to a much smaller space at 50th and Penn (where Tinto Kitchen is thriving to this day). Niver, Laurel Elm, and chef Adam Eaton—the team behind Mucci’s in St. Paul—opened Meyvn here in 2018, but the bagel haven survived just 10 months before the trio transformed the space into a Minneapolis Mucci’s. Trattoria Mucci shuttered in January of this year, and no restaurant has yet taken its place. (Worth noting: Yia Vang did use it as a commissary kitchen to help prep for Union Hmong Kitchen’s State Fair debut.)
The City Center Chain Gang
Sixth and Hennepin, Minneapolis
The historical ineptitude of City Center, downtown’s poorly conceived indoor mall that debuted in 1983, is documented not just in business reporting, but also freaking Hold Steady songs. Among the ignoble list of ground-level anchor restaurant tenants at 609 Hennepin Ave.: TGI Friday’s, Italianni’s, Chi Chi’s, Rosa Mexicano, and, most recently, the very short-lived Prime 6. Does incoming tenant Tom’s Watch Bar, which promises an onslaught of jumbo TVs and 40-ounce beer steins, stand a chance? The concept seems fairly failproof, giving all the adjacent root, root, rooting, yet it’s being constructed atop an ancient burial ground of doomed chains.
Into the Nokomis Pizza Wood Chipper!
5501 S. 34th Ave., Minneapolis
This neighborhood hut is where pizza places go to die. Ginelli’s couldn’t hack it there. Ditto for Pizza Joe’s, Di Noko’s Pizzeria, Gael’s Gourmet, Wings Pizza Co., and Boss Pizza & Chicken. The latest victim was QC Pizza, the pickled slinger of specialty Iowa-style pies that has found success far, far away in Mahtomedi. (Before it flatlined, poor QC MPLS even endured the roof/signage overhang collapsing onto the sidewalk.) More and more, it seems if you come for the king of Nokomis pizza—Fat Lorenzo’s since ’87—you best not miss. Sensing that is Vegan East, whose incoming fourth Twin Cities location won’t be tempting cheesy, sausagey fate.
The Wreck of Lyn-Lake
703 W. Lake St., Minneapolis
We could justifiably put nearly any restaurant space within a one-block radius of Lake and Lyndale on this list. At least a half-dozen of them showed up at various times in our cursed locations thread: the old Milio’s (700 W. Lake St.); the Country Bar/Blue Door Pub/Side Chick space (3006 Lyndale Ave. S.); the current home of Trio Plant-Based (610 W. Lake St.). But it’s 703 W. Lake St. we’re listing here, if only for the revolving door of tenants that have briefly occupied the space since Falafel King closed in 2014. After a long vacancy, Hasty Tasty lasted just over a year, ditto Prieto, which moved to Tangletown in 2020 and has since closed again (temporarily, it seems, with a new concept in the works). We really, really, really hope Wrecktangle can be the one to break this curse.
Forum Cafeteria’s Ghosts
40 S. Seventh St., Minneapolis
“Pretty but Cursed Restaurant Location Gets Yet Another New Name,” Eater Twin Cities reported when Fhima’s opened at 40 S. Seventh St. in 2018. Setting aside the fact that if it was up to me, I would have immediately changed the restaurant’s social media bios to “pretty but cursed,” writer Joy Summers had a point. A veritable parade of restaurants, many of them quite good, had marched on through the downtown address: Scottie’s on Seventh, The Paramount Cafe, Mick’s, Goodfellow’s, The Forum, Il Foro. And because the stunning art deco space has been around since the early 1900s, it’s certainly the address on this list that feels the most haunted.
Crashing Through the Pandemic
329 Cedar Ave., Minneapolis
Historically, this beautiful old building has maintained tenants for long stretches of time. The New Riverside Cafe, a lefty gathering place featuring veggie burritos and music, existed there from 1970 to 1997, when the punitive realities of capitalism came crashing down. Falafel King, whose longtime Lyn-Lake home has been cursed since ’14 (see above), briefly took up residence on the West Bank, before Acadia Cafe claimed the spot in 2008. The pandemic was not kind to Acadia, which had changed hands right before the invisible enemy arrived. It endured all the financial indignities COVID-19 presented to local restaurants, and then, this past March, a goddamn renegade bus crashed itself halfway inside the freshly reopened cafe. Ownership vows to fight on, so hopefully this curse is lifted once repairs are complete. “Now we kinda get to laugh about it, which is nice,” Acadia’s GM Katie Essler told us in August.
West River Roulette
3025 E. Franklin Ave., Minneapolis
Did you know beloved/departed campus sub shop Big 10 used to run a satellite location dubbed Big 10 Across the River? Ever since that joint ate it (fiscally speaking) in the late ’90s, this oddly located standalone restaurant has hosted an array of global proprietors: Moti Mahal, Raja’s Mahal, Lucy’s Ethiopian, Chef Shack Ranch, and, currently, Gandhi Mahal offshoot Curry in a Hurry. Wedged between the Mississippi River and the ol’ fireplace store, the address is marooned amid residential buildings, making it feel awkwardly distant from bustling downtown Seward. We’re rooting for the curry concept to cook up business, though foot traffic appears severely lacking.
Trapped as Bullwinkle’s
1429 S. Washington Ave., Minneapolis
We can’t say it any better than this: