After years of rumors and remodeling, The Lexington, St. Paul’s 1935 dining institution, has finally reopened.
Owners Josh Thoma and Kevin Fitzgerald, the duo behind Smack Shack, have teamed with co-owner and chef Jack Riebel to update the classic while maintaining the requisite historical elements.
Upon entry, it’s not immediately clear what is original and what is made to look that way. Each of the many dining rooms has its own feel. The main room is dominated by dark wood paneling and oil paintings and has pleasantly warm and subdued light. Another dining area is lighter in color, while still another was given a few modern touches that would fit in at a boutique hotel.
The entire place has a decidedly special-occasion feel, which may make a casual drop-in, even at one of the two bars, unlikely.
Despite the updates, “The Lex” fits firmly into the supper-club style of dining. Compared to other restaurants of the same era, such as The Monte Carlo or Murray’s, this relaunch is more supper and less club, with no neon in sight, and a generally muted scheme.
Beverages are overseen by Geoffrey Lee Trelstad (formerly of 4 Bells in Loring Park) and fall in line with the updated classic model.
The Scofflaw ($12) is made with Old Overholt rye, dry vermouth, lemon, house grenadine, and creole bitters. It strikes the palate in one simple chord of sweet citrus and berry until a mild heat sets in on the finish. The rye character is not present, but the warmth cuts through the first rush of sugar.
Less successful is the Jalisco-Style Old Fashioned ($12), which is one of a group of variations on the classic cocktail. Agave syrup dominates the Cazadores Reposado tequila, while the whiskey-barrel-aged bitters and orange peel do little to restrain the sugar bomb. Because the balance is far too sweet, the aged profile of the tequila is completely covered save for a brief smoke. The bitters are lost as well, but the orange peel lends some brightness.
The ’Tuckey-Style ($12), as the name suggests, is the classic without a twist: Wild Turkey 101 bourbon, house bitters, and orange zest. This critical recipe tweak resulted in a near-perfect drink: an appropriate level of alcoholic heat, classic orange oil aromatics, and a truncated finish that doesn’t overstay its welcome on the palate.
Service at the Lexington was fair but with a general lack of confidence that made the place feel like it had just opened. At the bar, though, the service didn’t detract from the overall experience.
The few bar snacks that we sampled were excellent. They included the Fried Chicken Sliders ($9) with a vinegar-dressed slaw and a faintly sweet bun. Most impressively, the dark-meat chicken was moist and tender. Also, try the briny Chopped Celery Caesar ($12), which is tossed with a bright lemon and caper dressing and topped with a boquerone.
The Lexington, 1096 Grand Ave, St Paul, MN 55105; 651.289.4990