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.”
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?
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.
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.”
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.”
221 Cedar Ave S
Minneapolis, MN 55454
HOURS: Daily, 11am-1am
OWNERS: Matty O’Reilly and Rick Guntzel
ENTREE RANGE: $6-17
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / No