Biz buzz: An urban hitching post

Linden Hills residents have a new home away from home: The Chatterbox Pub, which opened late last month on France Avenue near 45th Street.

Michael Deranek, who calls himself the "director of all things bright and shiny" for Chatterbox, said the place is an American-style take on an old European tradition: A pub as community gathering place.

"It’s a good place to have real genuine human connections with other people from the neighborhood," Deranek said.

Chatterbox feels more like a friend’s living room than a bar, with woozy warm lighting, soft couches and shelves of board games. There are old video game systems connected to small televisions, and a scattering of bar-height tables in one corner just waiting to be rearranged.

You can’t tell whether it’s a restaurant or a bar but in the end, when you realize the wait staff is welcoming you to settle in and play a few games with friends instead of nudging you toward the door, it doesn’t matter.

This is the third location for Chatterbox; the first is in South Minneapolis, and a second opened a few years ago in the Highland Park neighborhood of St. Paul. Chatterbox regulars have long celebrated the pubs as calm, conversation-friendly alternatives to the hustle and bustle of the bar scene.

The place has been open less than a month, but Deranek said it’s already drawing a diverse cross-section of neighborhood folks, weekday lunchers, and diehard Chatterbox fans curious about the latest location.

Chatterbox features a full bistro-style menu of sandwiches, burgers and pizzas, most of which are under $10. It also features a full bar and a smartly curated selection of beers and wines.

Chatterbox Pub is located at 4501 France Ave. Hours are Monday–Thursday, 11 a.m.–1 a.m.; Friday, 11 a.m.–2 a.m.; Saturday, 8 a.m.–2 a.m.; and Sunday, 8 a.m.–1 a.m. Check out menus and get directions online at www.chatterboxpub.net.

A store, a culture, a community

A showroom for lululemon, the yoga-inspired Canadian clothing company with a cult following, opened in October at 2313 W. 50th St. (near the 50th & Penn intersection).

The lululemon (pronounced like it’s fruit, not French) showroom has a limited but diverse selection that changes weekly and is strongly influenced by customer suggestions. It’s only open two days each week.

The idea behind the showroom, said manager Sarah Deziel, is to connect with local yoga and athletic communities and build the brand, in anticipation of opening a full retail store in the area in the next few years.

"We envision ourselves as being a hub of health and fitness for the community," Deziel said.

Sure, that means selling lululemon apparel. But it also means that employees attend other yoga and fitness classes to connect with attendees and host regular events like specialized classes and story hours (where kids can listen while parents shop and connect).

Employees also volunteer to help customers on goal coaching — think of it as giving yourself New Year’s resolutions year-round, and finding ways to achieve them—which is one of the reasons lululemon has gained such a following.

"We take a really holistic view," Deziel said. "We all work on ourselves. It’s a big part of the culture."

The showroom also offers free yoga classes — taught by a rotating cast of guest instructors from the area — every Saturday at 9:30 a.m. in the store.

The store is open Fridays and Saturdays, 11 a.m.–5 p.m. It’s also open Thursdays from 3–8 p.m. through the holidays. For more information on lululemon, call 929-2014 or visit www.lululemon.com/minneapolis

Take it all half off

Half-price beer? How about half-price steak?

That’s Bar Abilene’s new take on happy-hour specials: Forget specific offers, just take half off the entire menu Monday through Friday from 4–6 p.m. That means $5 burgers, $4.50 specialty drinks, $8.50 sirloin, and more.

They call it their "major economic stimulus package." We just call it a sweet deal.

Bar Abilene is located at 1300 Lagoon Ave. (just east of Hennepin Avenue).

Other comings and goings:

• Duetta, a European-style gift shop at 50th & Penn, has closed after a year in business. The shop offered vintage and one-of-a-kind goods, from ribbons and stationery to jewelry.

• Bali, a traditional Indonesian restaurant, quietly opened this fall at 1410 Nicollet Ave. S., and rave reviews on several local food blogs are already streaming in. Bali features a variety of meat and vegetarian dishes, as well as a full bar. More info and menus online at www.balimpls.com

• A Pho Hoa restaurant opened last month at 2450 Nicollet Ave. S. It primarily serves pho, a Vietnamese-style noodle soup made in a variety of ways, ranging from beef to tofu. Pho Hoa is a small chain with restaurants across the United States, Canada and Asia.