As a steady Monday morning rainstorm roared outside The Lynhall, the one-year-old café-slash-community hub in Lowry Hill East, inside a few dozen patrons ate, drank and worked away in a warm and cozy atmosphere that metaphorically and actually provided shelter from the storm and an oasis away from the news cycle.
“We were very busy this weekend,” said Anne Spaeth, an attorney and children’s mental health advocate who opened The Lynhall in June of last year. “I think it was people wanting to get out of the house, wanting to go and be with loved ones and friends and get a respite from the television and the negativity of what’s going on. I think there’s a lot of really deep conversations and reflections going on, and it’s women and men having tough conversations in a way that maybe would not have come were it not for the circumstances we find ourselves in.”
A good place to have conversations of all sorts is at The Lynhall, in the former Zeus Jones and Soo Visual Arts Center space at 2640 Lyndale Ave. S., a bar/pub/restaurant/port-in-a-storm that acts as not an escape from the madness but as a recharging place. At a time when too many elected officials are failing in spectacular fashion at basic leadership and looking out for others, Spaeth and her crew is the living embodiment of Mister Rogers’ advice to kids in case of emergency: “Look for the helpers.”
“It’s intended to be this place that feels alive and vibrant at all hours of the day for conversation and community gathering,” said Spaeth.
There are plenty of bars and restaurants in Minneapolis and a few that even aspire to more than just profits and foodie fandom. But with its commitment to fostering community via long communal tables, great food and drink and a philosophy of “Eat Drink Gather Grow,” The Lynhall is truly an original and something special, and upon entering feels like what so many have called it: “A safe space.” No small thing in these cynical times, which is why The Lynhall is my favorite new discovery — a warm and moveable feast that teems with good vibes, smells, tastes, ideas and the quiet promise of good things happening/humming all around.
“My journey, which led me to opening The Lynhall, was very much informed by mental health and children’s mental health, which is all grounded in the importance of relationship and connection,” said Spaeth, who said she was inspired by her mentor Scott Harman, the late husband, father, social worker and namesake of The Harman Center for Child & Family Wellbeing, which works in partnership with Westminster Presbyterian Church and St. David’s Center for Child & Family Development.
“I was a lawyer for seven years, prosecuting child neglect and abuse cases, and we were in London for five years, and all of that, to me, informed this. I learned so much along that journey, but all along that way I always had this vision of creating a place that harkened back to that time (when town halls and public forums were the norm). Living in England, you’d see people go to a town center that was from the 1400s or 1500s, and at the center of it was this public market where people would go and seek information and set grain prices.
“But at its core it was really this gathering place. The original name for this place was The Grange. The history of the Grange movement in Minnesota, and what that movement continues to be — I was so disappointed to find out that that name had been trademarked, because I really felt like that name describe us better in what we’re trying to do. But Lynhall came up from that mash-up of ‘Lyndale Avenue’ and ‘hall’ and community gathering space.
“I never saw The Lynhall as just a restaurant. It was always going to have these different components to it, speakers and events and gatherings, because it was things I was seeking. I loved Kerri Miller’s ‘Talking Volumes’ series. I love the Westminster Town Hall Forum. I wanted a place where people will come and gather and be in community. It’s funny how many people walk in that front door and say, ‘This place feels safe.’
It’s also an event space, with Spaeth hosting The Wisdom Series, a podcast-in-the-making that finds The Lynhall founder in conversation with such thinkers and luminaries as Alan Page, Kerri Miller, R.T. Rybak, and Lynne Rossetto Kasper. For the series, Spaeth reached out to and partnered with the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, with proceeds from the tickets benefiting the foundation’s groundbreaking Young Women’s Initiative program. It’s that kind of progressive philanthropy that gives the place a soul and makes you want to come back time and again.
“My reaction to the world right now is to retreat and find community in the places and people that feel safe to me,” said Spaeth, an avid practitioner of meditation. “And that looks like my church, Westminster Presbyterian, and friends, and reading (at the moment: ‘The Chemistry of Calm’ and ‘Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide To Caring For Self While Caring For Others’), and this call-to-action and of bringing in.
“You feel like when you’re in this time of untethering, and the ground is so shaky, and all I can do is seek support from my mentors and my Jedi masters and conversations like this. Everybody’s feeling this [despair] right now. It’s not just you and I. And you don’t want other people to suffer, but when you’re in community, you at least feel like, ‘I’m not alone in this.’”
Inspired by multi-functioning markets like the Midtown Global Market and St. Paul’s Keg and Case, The Lynhall’s warm vibes are obviously organic, given the hard-working and by all accounts happy staff and diverse clientele, with all concerned feeding off all the good food, work, and activity, including mental health and nutrition programs. It all adds up to a very civilized joint in an increasingly uncivilized time and a far cry from current creep show events.
“All we can do is provide a respite from all of that,” Spaeth concluded. “We are stewards of hospitality. We are here to welcome you with open arms, to serve you with delicious food and to fill your soul with interesting conversation and compelling wisdom and nourishment not just through food, but through knowledge.”
Jim Walsh lives and grew up in South Minneapolis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.