Murray’s, that stalwart downtown steakhouse, has been around forever. The venerable institution has offered a classic, white-linen formal dining experience for over 65 years and has been operated by three generations of the Murray family.
As one of the oldest restaurants in Minneapolis, Murray’s faces the challenge of so many cultural veterans — how do you maintain your traditional, iconic identity while staying fresh enough to attract a new, younger clientele?
For Murray’s, the answer was a renovation in late summer. “We felt like it was time for something new, as it had grown a little tired,” says co-owner Tim Murray, grandson of the original owners. “We wanted to get a little more energy in the space.” The dining room has been refreshed (out with the dated drapes, in with new lighting and chairs) and narrowed to make room for two 20-person party rooms.
Dining room aside, the biggest change is the completely overhauled bar / lounge area. “We wanted to attract some of the after-work bar crowd we know is out there,” explains Murray. “We wanted to make it more of a drinking bar and accommodate more people.” Sleek, modern, and much more dimly lit than the bright formal dining room next door, the lounge is dominated by a gleaming, horseshoe-shaped bar. Booths and high tables are scattered around the periphery in order to capitalize on the bar dining trend. Throwback lighting and curvy shapes offer mid-century accents to maintain the Murray’s brand, while two flat-screen TVs set a much more casual tone.
You can order off of the full menu in the bar (yes, even that famous Silver Butter Knife Steak for two), but the restaurant has also debuted a bar menu to complement the new space. “We’re going for more small plates, with options that are more diverse than our regular menu,” Murray notes.
The wings ($8, above at bottom right) are the menu’s standout. The ghost chili sauce that glazes the wings is at first sweet and silky, but the ghostly heat soon sneaks up on you. These wings are hot but oh-so-flavorful, far from the shock-the-tastebuds foolery that other wings pursue. The accompanying Roquefort sauce is a welcome cool down, offering a perfectly tangy flavor without being overly pungent.
The ground steak burger ($10, below) offers a taste of the steakhouse legacy. In this burger, the meat does all the talking, and the enormously thick, juicy patty is sure to delight. However, the sandwich as a whole feels like a caricature of normal burger proportions, with the patty completely dwarfing a single flat piece of lettuce, a sole tomato slice, and three slim strips of red onion. It’s clear that the kitchen is focusing on what it knows best: large servings of meat.
Other bar menu offerings are passable, but unremarkable. The tuna tasting spoons ($3, pictured two photos up, top) are unremarkable, just mouthfuls of cold, raw tuna with a one-note spice kick. The calamari fries ($11, two photos up, bottom left) excel where others fail, featuring light, crisp breading and perfectly done calamari, without a hint of the chewy, gummy quality that often besets poorly cooked or sub-standard quality calamari. Yet for all their textural perfection, these fries lack flavor. Perhaps their plainness could be overlooked if the sauce was tangy or spicy or interesting, but the remoulade doesn’t go far beyond regular mayo.
Will these morsels and the sleek new bar adequately launch Murray’s into the consciousness of a new audience? Terrific wings aside, probably not. Though the remodel and new bar approach is logical from the Murray’s point of view — they’ve successfully freshened up their look without squandering their old-world charm — it’s unclear why younger folks would choose their establishment over the many other downtown bars that feature good food. Murray’s lounge doesn’t feel retro enough to be a throwback novelty, and their paltry beer list and overly saccharine cocktails can’t compete with the downtown craft drink scene flourishing nearby at Bradstreet Crafthouse, Butcher & the Boar, and Marvel Bar. As long as Murray’s tries to do both elegant, formal dining and more approachable, casual fare and drinks, it will be hard pressed to go to toe to toe with its rivals that focus exclusively on the latter.
American Steakhouse in downtown Minneapolis
26 S 6th St
Minneapolis, MN 55402
OWNER / CHEF: Tim, Jill, and James Murray / John Van House
Mon-Thu and Sun 5pm-10pm
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / No
ENTREE RANGE: $3-15 for bar menu