Michigan’s famous beer bar HopCat recently expanded into Minnesota, and they’re making a local impression. The company, owned by Mark Sellers, a native of Grand Rapids, Mich., now boasts over a dozen locations.
Rather than pass themselves off as local or small, HopCat states on the menu that it has several locations and strives to avoid a cookie-cutter approach; the hope is that each location will stand on its own as a reflection of its environment. The original space in downtown Grand Rapids is cozy and quaint, with warm wood, copper, and ample Michigan beer. The Kansas City iteration has more than a hundred taps plus a basement Tiki bar. And the Minneapolis location, along the Light Rail in Downtown East, already feels comfortably broken in.
The space is neither kitschy nor industrial but instead feels similar to Red Cow or The Freehouse inside, with a comfortable, loungelike patio on Nicollet Mall. The location, which no doubt will capitalize on Super Bowl foot traffic, sees competition from nearby Mercury Dining Room and Rail as well as Eastside, but the beer-forward restaurant is unlike its neighbors.
In fact, the combination of proper beer service and an exceptionally large tap list, alongside standard bar fare and a full liquor license, is somewhat rare. Locally, this model could be compared to the growing New Bohemia empire. In terms of national chains, HopCat is perhaps a less-stuffy take on California-based Yard House (which has a branch in St. Louis Park’s West End) or a more refined version of the Flying Saucer beer bars of the southeastern states.
HopCat features about 80 draft selections, including 50 local choices. Thirty of the Minnesota beers seldom change. On the whole, the out-of-state beers are somehow more intriguing, with rare offerings from The Bruery and Cascade Brewing Company, among others. Prices are reasonable, and afternoon and late-night happy hours make several of the beers a steal.
The most impressive element of the downtown newcomer is the attention to detail in the presentation of craft beer. There is an explanation of sizing that includes a visual of the glassware with precise volumes (meaning the term “tulip” will be less likely to lead to disappointment). Glassware is clean, and the menu is updated regularly. “On Deck” beers are listed, so there’s no reason to fret about turnover or freshness.
Food selection is downright yawn-worthy. The menu reads like a chain restaurant that feeds kids for free on Tuesdays. The pan-style vegetarian pizza was heavy on the bread but crisp around the edges, drawing mixed reviews. Choices are more substantial than at most bars, and prices are about as expected.
HopCat, 435 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis, 612.276.5555; Mon-Thu 11 a.m.-midnight, Fri-Sat 11 a.m.-2 a.m., Sun 10 a.m.-midnight.