Matty O’Reilly of Republic

Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table

It feels like Seven Corners is growing up fast. The maturation process seemed to start with the destruction of Grandma’s. Now, with Republic in the space long used by Sgt. Preston’s, the transformation is striking.

The space itself is a prime example of this changeover. Gone are the neon signs, the famous fishbowl drink, the tacky and dingy beer posters, the always-on televisions, and the ear-splittingly loud music of Sgt. Preston’s. Instead, new owners Matty O’Reilly — co-owner of the Aster and 318 Cafes — and business partner Rick Guntzel have stripped out the incoming-freshman vibe and created bar and restaurant areas that are welcoming without being snooty.

The first aspects that most patrons notice, notes O’Reilly, are actually features that have been there the whole time: stunningly beautiful stained glass, dark wood accents, and a turn-of-the-century tin ceiling. “They were hidden under all that other stuff,” he says. “Don’t get me wrong, I like a dive bar as much as the next person, but I think when you see it now, you’ll get a sense of a whole different kind of place. It’s an amazing space, and we’re excited by how much we can do with it.”

Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table

Decor changes aren’t the only shifts at Republic. Sitting in his “office,” which turns out to be any available table after lunchtime, O’Reilly is contemplating new cocktail offerings that could use hand-crafted, locally made Joia sodas. If they eventually end up on the drink menu, they’d fall in line with the uber-local focus that Republic is trying to have. O’Reilly likes to buy from area farmers, and he talks dreamily about how great it is to see a farm truck pull up, loaded with produce: “Local isn’t just a trend, it’s what happens when people do things properly. It feels good to support farms and producers that are within 100 miles of the Cities; it feels better to buy locally.”

As he chats, O’Reilly pauses only briefly to pull out buttermilk fried chicken wings served with a trio of delicious sauces, and fish tacos that are a perfect balance of spice and flavor. Who needs fishbowls now?

Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table

Other selections include a Serrano ham appetizer with honey butter and date reduction, and entrees like grass-fed beef burgers with garlic confit and aioli, and poached eggs with squash and potato hash. O’Reilly aims to keep prices accessible, putting the “pub” of Republic in the mix. Pub food, he believes, shouldn’t be pricey, and the menu reflects that. Except for the hangar steak ($17), all of the entrees, burgers, sandwiches, and salads are under $10.

Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table

Still in the works is the music to go with the food. About a third of the restaurant’s space is being readied for local acts, and O’Reilly says the lineup will likely be bluegrass, jazz, and even hip-hop, with acts that are solo, duets, or trios. When no one is performing, the (not deafening) background music in the bar and dining area comprises strictly of local music.

Although Republic is drawing a nice-sized clientele of diners, not everyone was happy to see Sgt. Preston’s depart, even though the restaurant had been challenged enough in recent years to change its name to Preston’s Urban Pub. “There have been some people talking about what we were taking away,” O’Reilly says. “They’re nostalgic for the fishbowls, or the feel of the place. They’ve kind of acted like it was a hostile takeover.”

Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table

But the transaction was amiable, and the old owners even stop in sometimes to voice their approval. Plus, the old Sgt. Preston’s sign is still on top of the building, since that name is used for the apartments above the restaurants.

Growing up doesn’t have to mean leaving the past behind, after all. In fact, with Republic’s remodel and back-to-basics local food, it’s a demonstration that giving a strong nod toward history can make for a promising future.

“Because of the university, we’ll basically have a new set of patrons every five years,” says O’Reilly. “It’ll be cool to see how we evolve, too, while staying consistent in our mission.”

Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table

Republic
221 Cedar Ave S
Minneapolis, MN 55454
612.338.6146
Open May-October
HOURS: Daily, 11am-1am
OWNERS: Matty O’Reilly and Rick Guntzel
BAR: Yes
ENTREE RANGE: $6-17
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / No

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18 Comments

  1. Definitely a fan of this place – great tap list and the burgers I have had each time have been great.

  2. I’ll second that. A welcome addition to seven corners.

  3. I can’t agree more. Very welcoming and cozy.

    Next time you go, do try the Ricotta Fritters. They’re wonderful.

  4. Such a nice change.

  5. Sorry, couldn’t agree less. May just be college nostalgia talking, but I much prefer drinking a fishbowl with friends to delicate looking foods in a campus bar.

  6. Apparently, the only negative feelings about what Matty has done, and is doing, are coming from frat kids who have yet to graduate, or have yet to move on from the erzatz “Animal House” lifestyle they think they invented and own the rights to. Please. Get over it. Life goes on, at least for most people.

    Beyond that, it’s clear that Republic is doing a great job at becoming what most people are actually looking for: a fairly-priced, comfortable spot with good choices, and ample opportunities to surprise. This is what we need; it’s what we deserve. And I hope that all places in this model succeed for years and years to come.

  7. It’s lovely. Congrats to O’Reilly & Republic. Good food, good crowd, good change.

  8. Scott McGerik07/14/2011Reply

    I appreciate the emphasis on local produce and beer and music. It’s a welcome change to the corner.

  9. I wonder when the last time Dan was able to indulge in a Sgt Preston’s fishbowl. And Dan, even though I suppose it makes me feel nice about my photography, I’d hardly consider Chicken wings delicate looking….

  10. Was never a frat boy or even much of a drinker, but always enjoyed drinks (and especially fishbowls) on the patio with friends. When I’m on campus (5-10 times per year for various events/games), it’s fun to go back to old college hangouts and reminisce. I’m sure the new restaurant is great, but in that environment bar food and familiar drinks can be fun too. Like I said, college nostalgia.

    Kate, it’s been almost a year since I’ve been to Preston’s/Republic, and with Bullwinkles and Grandma’s now closed, it will probably be a while longer before I return to the seven corners area. My ‘delicate’ comment concerned the fish tacos, not what I’m looking for before a game, but to each their own :)

  11. Wow, prufrock, way to be snotty to someone avocating a different opinion and reading in a bunch of info you didn’t have!

    I’ve been to the new Republic, and it’s fine. The real test will be once fall comes rolling around and the law school and to a lesser extent the Humphrey Institute and the Carlson School are both hopping again as well. Will Republic be able to draw from these places to fill the bar for lunch? (it was awfully empty when I was there this summer)

    The food is good, but it borders on the pretentious and it’s not cheap either. You can argue that the value is good for the quality, but if it’s too high a cost to draw the lunch crowd, then…it will have problems. Will the drink specials be enough to fill the patio on the warm fall nights? Will the music inside be enough of a draw? Hard to say.

    Republic is now competing directly with Town Hall Brewery in a lot of ways. Tougher to go head-to-head with the established venue like that.

    Preston’s used to be very much a bar, with food as a sidelight. Republic seems to be going the other way. With Grandma’s & Bullwinkle’s now gone, 7 Corners probably could use another good bar.

  12. It looks like a decent place and I’m planning to check it out but I was pretty disappointed when I saw the tap list.

    For all the supposed emphasis on local, I was surprised to not see any Schell’s or Summit on the beer list even though they’ve been staples in the Minnesota beer scene for longer than the rest of the breweries put together.

    Brooklyn and Warsteiner Lager over Schell’s Pils? I love Odell but if you’re really a supporter of local, how do you have their EPA over Summit’s?

    Hopefully the beer list will evolve sooner than later.

  13. I have fond memories of Preston’s circa 2002-2004, but am excited to see this space is growing up with me. Looking forward to my first visit.

  14. Haven’t been yet, but a friend who has recommends the mussels. Highly. That, and the pics and text above, tell me I’ll be going there pretty soon.

    As for Preston’s and Grandma’s: Well, I was never a heavy drinker in college and I never lived on campus, so I never set foot in the former; as for the latter, the food was okay, but it was nearly interchangeable with that of any other part of the Paulucci chain, including Little Angie’s and the Sports Garden in Duluth.

    By the way: Remember how the Grandma’s suits blamed their closing the place on the smoking ban, and how they said it was killing the other restaurants in the neighborhood yadda yadda yadda? Instead, the neighborhood’s finally doing what it was supposed to have done with Theatre in the Round and Mixed Blood in place: it’s turning into a Seven Corners version of the theatre and restaurant district around the Guthrie. Instead of having places where underage kids try to use fake IDs or other methods to indulge in communal binge drinking, there are establishments that place quality over quantity when it comes to both food and alcohol. (And yes, Republic serves alcohol, just not in quantities sufficient to kill people on the spot: http://www.startribune.com/entertainment/dining/123031813.html)

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