Thursday, February 21, 2008
Thursday, February 7, 2008
February 6, 2008
When maverick retailer Elizabeth Quinlan built her downtown Minneapolis emporium in 1926, she immodestly declared it her "perfect gem." Which is why there's a sweet grace note associated with the Young Quinlan building's latest tenant: J.B. Hudson. The jeweler, another Minneapolis classic, opened in its new home on Tuesday.
"I've always loved this building," said Jeannie Joas, J.B. Hudson president and chief executive officer. "I think this entire community has always had a love affair with it. I knew we could take the elements that speak to the tradition of J.B. Hudson and marry it to this building. We want everyone who walks in here to have a 'wow' experience."
That won't be difficult. The Minneapolis design firm Shea Inc. has deftly mixed old and new to forge a past-meets-present shopping experience unlike any other in the state.
"It's easy when you start with what has to be, without question, the classiest building in town," said architect David Shea. "I mean, where else do you see 18-foot ceilings, or travertine staircases? Talk about perfect bones. These details can never be replicated."
Joas has been involved with the store since 1992, when it was plucked from bankruptcy by James Cargill. When Cargill died in 2006, Joas teamed up with new and similarly deep-pocketed partners bearing yet another fabled Minnesota name: the Pohlad family.
Changes of ownership and address aren't the only transformations. The new store's roomier footprint allows space for additional inventory, including in-store boutiques for Cartier, H. Stern, Omega and Steuben. The watch selection has tripled in size (it's displayed in a contemporary racetrack-shaped case that rests on a terrazzo floor fashioned to suggest a clock's face). The cozy mezzanine is now filled with giftware and collectibles, and sidewalk strollers can peek in on two other fascinating additions: a custom goldsmith and a watchmaker laboring behind big display windows on the building's 9th Street side.
"We didn't have the space in our old location, so it's exciting for people to be able to see these incredible craftsmen at work," said Joas.
A YQ/JBH union might be viewed as predestined, as the businesses have shared a long if tenuous connection. Josiah Bell Hudson opened his store at 3rd and Nicollet in 1885, and by 1894 he'd relocated a few blocks uptown to the Syndicate Building (now the site of Neiman Marcus), where a pair of upstart fashion entrepreneurs by the name of Fred Young and Elizabeth Quinlan had just set up shop. By 1929, both stores boasted new settings that were easily the most opulent in town. Quinlan's refined Italianate palace was at 9th and Nicollet and J.B. Hudson's dramatic new Spanish Renaissance digs, located inside Dayton's, were a block to the north; both featured ornate decorative details created by the same iron craftsman, Josef Bernasek.
That parallel history eased the way for a sympathetic reinstallation of fixtures from the former J.B. Hudson store into their elegant new YQ residence. Spectacularly intricate chandeliers, a pair of torchieres straight out of an Errol Flynn swashbuckler and walnut-and-bronze display cases look as if they were born to adorn their new digs, their decades-old glow untouched. "You don't strip and refinish 80 years of patina," said Shea.
After Young Quinlan closed in 1985, the building's main floor was eventually subdivided into several retail spaces, including a Polo/Ralph Lauren outlet. Polo's not-unsympathetic makeover preserved much of YQ's grandeur but carved up the sweeping space into smaller showrooms. For J.B. Hudson, Shea operated in reverse, reopening the grand hall into a series of subtle progressions that culminate in that one-of-a-kind travertine staircase. "You celebrate the historic and you remove everything else," he said.
Another improvement, perhaps best of all: Sunlight once again pours through windows that had been covered for nearly two decades. Even when all the precious gems are locked safely inside the store's big new safe, the place literally sparkles.
The old J.B. Hudson store "had been claustrophobic, so it's such a treat to have so much natural daylight," said Joas. "To really admire the beauty of a diamond, you have to see it in natural daylight."
It's easy to imagine the hard-to-please Miss Quinlan looking down with approval.
"I can almost feel her spirit," said Joas. "So many times I look at her picture and I think she must be very concerned about her baby. But it's in good hands, and its future is very bright."
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
The Pantages Theater, after being refurbished by the city of Minneapolis, has been operating since 2002. But the Stimson Building, which surrounds the theater, had been vacant.
The city was “very interested” in finding the right tenant for the Stimson Building, one that would have a complimentary use for the Pantages Theater,” said Thomas Hoch, president and CEO of the Hennepin Theatre Trust, which operates the State, Orpheum and Pantages theaters for the city of Minneapolis. Koch also worked in the Minneapolis’ community development and public housing agencies before joining the Theatre Trust about 11 years ago.
As recently as 2006, it appeared restaurateur David Fhima and a group of investors would purchase and develop space into and upscale restaurant and club. That deal fell apart, and the investment group called the Stimson Partners again searched for a tenant. The guidelines remained the same, however—an upscale restaurant and club, and a “preference for an independent restaurant,” Hoch said.
The Stimson Partners called David Koch. “I know the city is working diligently on Hennepin Avenue’s revitalization,” Koch said. “We took a look at (the project) and its viability, and thought Hennepin was ripe for a renaissance, and decided to make an effort to do something beautiful with that corner.”
The Hennepin Theatre Trust knew Norman and Koch already—Bellanotte, among other downtown restaurants, is one of the Trust’s “premier restaurant partners” listed on its Web site that have special dining options for theater goers. “I was happy with the city’s selection of that group,” Hoch said.
Norman and Koch’s group understand the city’s troubled Block E development, in which Bellanotte resides, but also understand the theater district as a whole, “and are anxious to play up that connection,” Hoch said. “Everyone tends to talk about Block E when you talk about Hennepin Avenue, but it’s just one block of 10 block faces of the theater district.”
Hoch said there are definitely “retail challenges” in downtown Minneapolis, but when one looks at Hennepin Avenue, there is much stability. “Palamino, Rock Bottom Brewery, Capital Grill, Solera—even Chambers—there are restaurants that are here for a while,” he said. “Fogo (de Chao) is doing very well. I don’t think it’s any one restaurant, it’s getting the right mix of restaurants and complimentary activity on the street.
“I think we are turning the corner in that regard. The challenge with Hennepin Avenue is have it be inviting and safe, but not have it be sanitized, and walking that tightrope can be challenging. Hennepin Avenue is safe. Could it look a little better, you bet. You know how it looks better? More people. It never looks better than when all three theaters empty into the street (after shows). … Lots of people on the street, you significantly outnumber any criminal element and they go away.”Adding to that street safety and “big city” environment is R. Norman’s design. “I’m really thrilled that they kept all the glass on the perimeter,” Hoch said. “Eyes looking out on the street are very, very important. …We’re real excited about R. Norman’s being there.”
One might consider R. Norman’s as theater itself—an experience in old-school steakhouse dining with modern flair. Dark wood paneling, custom chairs, booths and dark wood tables. But the design doesn’t feel antiquated, and with the vast windows giving diners a view of both Seventh Street and Hennepin, the space has a very modern feel—particularly with the second floor balcony/loft seating overlooking the dining area and bar. The name itself evokes old-school dining—and came as a surprise to Norman—“We’d done a lot of travel around the country (on research), and nothing really stuck,” Norman said. “David (Koch) said, ‘Let’s name it after you.’ It’s very humbling.”
Each bar top in R. Norman’s and Seven is onyx, backlit to show off its amber glow. “The onyx bar is a signature,” Norman said, referring to the similar bars in Bellanotte and its sister restaurant in Blaine, Bella. “We’re always going to have that, and a signature type of wine ‘kiosk’,” he added, pointing to an atrium-type structure near the main floor bar that will house about 800 bottles of wine.
The menu is a similar blend of old school and modern fine-dining steakhouse, with Caesar salads and desserts prepared tableside and traditional beef steaks and lobster, to the more modern rack of lamb, ahi tuna and a list of sauces and compound butters not ordinarily found on a steakhouse menu (don’t fret, you can still get your béarnaise).
The “modern classic” design is carried upstairs to Seven, but, as with any true sushi restaurant, the interaction between the chefs and patrons at the bar instills a different vibe. The two bars, one for the sushi chefs and one for the bartenders, are huge, with space for three to six workers behind them as the crowd demands.
Will a diner be able to order any food from either menu anywhere in the restaurant? “No, we’re not doing that,” Norman said, definitively. Downstairs, the menu is R. Norman’s, upstairs it’s Seven’s. “Logistically, if servers worked between floors and (the kitchens) timing the meals, that would only allow us the opportunity to fail.”
Late night, the Seven space transforms into a formal lounge and nightclub, and a second lounge area with a third bar can be opened if the numbers require it.
The late-night atmosphere will be decidedly “more adult,” Norman said. Music will range from smooth jazz and R&B to other popular music from the ’70s through the ’90s. “There’s nothing wrong with the (young) hip-hop crowd,” he said. “But there are older people who, by default, go to those clubs because that’s all that’s there.”
Norman and Koch will use exposure they’ve gained the last few years with Bellanotte to deliver an experience that’s an event in itself. “We are definitely a society that can absorb a lot of visuals,” Norman said. “We’re accustomed to being over-stimulated, and when it’s not there, we sometimes feel like nothing is happening.” With two serious restaurants and a late-night club all in one place, it’s designed to be “one-stop shopping,” for an evening out, he added.
The space had to be versatile to draw business from multiple revenue streams. The team took care to make the space “user friendly for the central business district,” Koch said. We have the ability to hold corporate events, both within the theater and our space. The space is nicely located between the Radisson and Mariott hotels, and others downtown. With Hennepin being the thoroughfare, it just made logistical sense to us.”