A new hangout on Nicollet

Eat Street Social opening mid-month at 26th & Nicollet

WHITTIER — Sam Bonin doesn’t like to say no. But, constrained by lack of space at the restaurant he owns with Joe Wagner, Northeast Social, he has frequently found himself doing just that.

Bonin and Wagner are hoping to reverse the trend beginning this month when they open their new restaurant, Eat Street Social, at 26th Street and Nicollet Avenue S. — the space that previously held Taco Morales and the Caterpillar Lounge.

“We don’t say yes enough over there [at Northeast Social] just because we don’t have enough space,” Bonin said in a recent interview. “Hopefully we’ll be saying it a lot more in the future.”

The new restaurant, which at press time was due to open on or around Jan. 17, is roughly 1,700 square feet and includes a patio that can hold up to 100 people. There will also be a space for private parties and a stage for live music.

Northeast Social, located on 13th Avenue NE in the Northeast Arts District, is about a third of that size and can only hold up to 60 people. It will remain open as usual.

“We’re going to have a lot of freedom, and that’s what’s most exciting to me,” Bonin said.

Several of the employees from Northeast Social will be moving to Eat Street Social, and many of the signature dishes customers have come to know will also find a home on the new menu.

But there will be several distinct features at Eat Street Social, in addition to the extra elbowroom.

The menu will include new items such as Brazilian skewers and a lobster scramble, and the drink menu will be orchestrated by Bittercube’s Ira Koplowitz and Nicholas Kosevich, known for his work at the now-closed Town Talk Diner.

In an interview, Koplowitz and Kosevich said they were excited about Eat Street Social because they have been involved with the project from its conception instead of just offering advice as consultants.

The duo hand-selected and trained a team of 13 bartenders and were given control over the bar layout, creating a “bartender’s bar.”

They have also created a custom menu of specialty cocktails, such as the “Coat of Arms” (Bulleit Rye, Guinness “Vermouth”, Bittercube Orange and Blackstrap Bitter) and the Witch Hazel (Brown Butter, Washed Great Lakes Pumpkin Spirit, Brown Sugar Syrup, Bittercube Blood Orange, Blackstrap and Cherry Bark Vanilla Bitters).

“This is an exciting venture for us because we’ve never been involved from the ground up,” said Koplowitz, who lives in Milwaukee, Wisc. but plans to travel to Minneapolis to spend time behind the bar.

Although they are known for their handmade bitters and cocktail creations, Koplowitz and Kosevich are also reviving the early 19th century tradition of the soda fountain, introducing a series of handcrafted sodas at Eat Street.

The menu will be seasonal, and will include a range of phosphates, rickeys and egg creams. Known menu items include the Green River Phosphate, a mix of lime cordial, simple syrup, seltzer, and bitters, and a maple egg cream that includes Minnesota maple syrup.

“Making these things on a weekly basis is really what’s going to separate us,” Kosovich said.  

Eat Street Social’s opening comes as just the latest sign of new life in the area around 26th Street and Nicollet, situated at the heart of Eat Street.  

 Vertical Endeavors, an indoor rock-climbing facility, opened a new space with 25,000 square feet of climbing walls at 2540 Nicollet Ave. S. in November. A new Dunn Brothers location at 26th and Lyndale also opened just around the corner from Eat Street last year.  

Icehouse, a sandwich shop from the owners of Be’Wiched Deli on Washington Avenue, is expected to open at 2528 Nicollet Ave. S in May with room for around 200 people and live music.

“I more or less fell in love with the space first, but the whole neighborhood, being a food-centric area to begin with, is a perfect fit,” said Matt Bickford, who is opening Icehouse with Mike Ryan.

Erica Christ, the president of the Whittier Alliance’s board of directors, said the surge in activity bodes well for the area, which grew up around ethnic food after urban revitalization drew a diverse population to the neighborhood.

Christ, whose family has owned the Black Forest Inn just across the street from Eat Street Social for the last 40 years, said she was particularly pleased that the existing buildings were being renovated and reused rather than demolished.  

“These buildings aren’t in the historical district, but they are among the older properties on Nicollet,” she said. “Hopefully, that’s an inspiration to other potential property owners and developers.”

In the future, Christ said she hoped the neighborhood would continue to build on the momentum and attract more people from outside the immediate area.

The neighborhood has assets such as the Minneapolis Institute of Art and the Children’s Theatre Company, but has suffered from a lack of connectivity because the Kmart store interrupts Nicollet Avenue, she said.

With a growing number of destinations — as well as the potential for street cars and, eventually, a contiguous Nicollet Avenue — the area could change dramatically in the years to come, however.

“We have a lot of built-in reasons to come here, and we haven’t even begun to tap that potential,” Christ said. “I think the next 10 years are going to be really interesting here.”     

Contributing writer Drew Kerr covers business and neighborhood news for the Southwest Journal. Reach him at [email protected]