A great bar is a balance: half home-away-from-home, half crossroads of the city. On the one hand, you want a great bar to feel like the proverbial Cheers, “where everybody knows your name.” You walk in and people smile or nod. The bartender tells you a story. You might see a friend or two, you know what to order, and you can talk about the neighborhood without making a fool of yourself. A good bar is predictable, a “thirdplace” away from home and work.
On other other hand, a great bar is also dynamic and surprising. To be somewhere when the unusual happens is what life is all about. An entourage walks in, a unexpected performance takes place, and somehow it feels like the whole city is crossing paths at the same spot. These moments are why we leave our homes in the first place. (H/t to the write-in vote that claimed the best place for imbibing was “alone in my basement.”)
A great bar has both of these qualities, and Republic (not the Uptown one) is well-deserving of this annual accolade. Seven corners used to be one of Minneapolis’ prime intersections, the place where downtown (Washington Avenue) came together with the immigrant, boozy West Bank (Cedar). The massive ring of freeways changed that, and for years this corner was strangled by car traffic. (It still is, honestly.) Before Republic opened, the building was vacant. Before that, it used to be a Canadian-themed bar (!) called Sergeant Preston’s. The stained glass windows featured all the provincial flowers of Canada (!) are still in the bar today. When Republic opened up and remodeled the glorious patio on the massive sidewalk peninsula in the intersection, this corner really seemed to become is a place again.
The beer list at the Republic is amazing, the food is high quality, and (despite the recent price hike) their happy hour is tough to beat. (Brie and red wine burger and a great beer for under $10?) The decor is great with solid wood tables and lots of space, there’s the aforementioned Canadian ambiance, and windows that look out onto the busy urban intersection. They have very regular events there — “beer school,” smaller performances, my Geography Department annual dinner — and there’s plenty of space to have a happy hour meeting (I’m talking to you, UrbanMSP).
But most importantly, Republic is a crossroads. It’s not really a neighborhood bar in the classic sense. People who actually live in Cedar-Riverside don’t go there to hang out. Rather, it’s become the “local place” for the entire West Bank campus (where I’ve gone to school for many years). On any given day, at Republic I might bump into someone from the Art or English departments, the MFA program, the Humphrey school, law students, or even people wandering over from downtown. That Republic pulls this off without even a hint of a parking lot should be a lesson to the whole city. This is a truly urban place to be.
Other imbibing locales receiving votes included WA Frost patio (patios really merit a whole separate category), Happy Gnome (bike parking!), the St Paul Blue Door (the city’s densest beer spot), Shamrocks, Ward 6, Donnie Dirks, the Big 10, Town Hall Tap, Jetset, Town Hall Brewery (across the street from Republic, they were there first), Northbound (bike corral!), Muddy Pig, and the downtown Grumpy’s.
That’s a good list, but I’m not sure any of them can top the combination of dynamic location, great beer, and good atmosphere at the Republic. I’m pleased that they won. Cheers!