When polka-bar institution Nye’s Polonaise Room announced plans to close in 2016, the outcry was widespread. The drive to build condos in the budding neighborhood was unstoppable, and no business was sacred, even after 66 years of success.
It came as a surprise to many when Nye’s owners, Rob and Tony Jacob, announced that they had plans to reopen once the mixed-purpose building was erected. The smaller space, which occupies just the corner rather than the block, opened a few weeks ago. Some felt betrayed — that the goodbye wasn’t authentic — but one thing is clear: It’s not the same.
And the new Nye’s Bar isn’t trying to be. Red velvet ropes are present outside the entrance, and the waitstaff looks like it belongs at Seven Steakhouse, across the river. Instead of polka entertainment, there’s a piano, though during our visit all was silent. The lighting and seating appear to be a nod to the classic, but little else is reminiscent of the Polonaise Room.
The straightforward cocktail menu contains a combination of classics and variations on the same. The prices fall close to those at other Minneapolis cocktail bars, but overall the cocktails pack less of a punch.
The Old Fashioned ($10), made with whiskey (brandy upon request), sugar cube, bitters, ginger ale, soda, and orange, plus a cherry garnish, was weak and bland. While most takes on this classic tend to be spirit-forward, this version tasted watered down, as though the ice had melted immediately. The addition of ginger ale and soda should have been a clue, but it was worse than anticipated. Not only was the whiskey almost lost, the other flavors were attenuated, too.
More successful was the Iron Butterfly ($12), a twist on a White Russian made with Bailey’s, Kahlúa, and New Amsterdam vodka. There was a pleasant and pronounced nutty undertone, perhaps from an unlisted ingredient (or the Kahlúa), that added to the intrigue of this mix. While the spirits were not particularly potent, the balance of ingredients was good, and the sweetness wasn’t overpowering.
Finally, the Manhattan ($10) was an undrinkable flop. The vermouth was so heavy-handed that the whiskey and cherry took a backseat, and a potent chalklike astringency took hold. It’s possible that the bottle was oxidized or unrefrigerated as the unpleasantness was significant.
We felt ourselves glancing up at a mural of the old facade, which blankets one brick wall, concentrating hopefully, as though it was a Magic Eye capable of coming to life. While we have fond memories of the cocktails at the original, this new version of Nye’s combines the quality of mixed drinks found at a neighborhood dive bar with the stuffy, impersonal service of a club. It lacks the buoyant kitsch and authenticity (not to mention food — there’s now none) of the original, while overpromising through ambiance and price point.
For lovers of the Polonaise original, it may be best to regard Nye’s as gone, because, in all practicality, it is. This misguided attempt at a revival feels like a poor movie sequel no one asked for that threatens to taint affection for the original.
Nye’s Bar, 112 E Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55414; 612.236.4854