How to build a perfect bar

It’s been nearly four years since Jesse Held and Jeff Erkkila quit their jobs to set fire and time towards the dream of opening a distillery and restaurant for their brand. Count Gilles. OK, so they had to find new jobs, obviously, while this whole huge building was being perfected on Quincy Street in northeast Minneapolis. And then, you know, the pandemic. So: no jobs, then jobs, no jobs, and more jobs.

But delays, while frustrating, can be a giveaway. While Held and Erkkila remained focused on the dream, they had time to really think about what their bar should be. Because it’s more than drinks and rails and what straws to order. As industry veterans, they’ve worked behind many sticks, but when you first start your own bar, it’s really about blending all your past experiences together while setting the tone for your future.

Held and Connor Green, who will be the General Manager for the entire facility, showed me around the back bar of the new space, which is about 80% complete. “That last 20% is a hefty 20,” Held noted, “we’re getting tanks and hanging things from the ceiling, so we’ve got some big things to do before we’re ready for opening next month.”

The bar top, meanwhile, is firmly installed. It is carved from a South American tree, known as the Monkey Pod. The entire bar top, back bar top, and faucet handles all come from a single tree, which Held says grows about 5 feet per year, making it a more sustainable choice. .

As an L-shaped structure now the center of the room, the bar will accommodate around 40 people. Green told me there will be plenty of drinks on tap, from a nitro system, and most of them will be non-alcoholic, with the spirit of choice added to the glass (by the way, non-alcoholic is an integral part of the menu, not a special NA section or designation, and drinks are drinks and not “cocktails” because that leads to a definition rooted in the past.) But, drinks will also be constructed to asks, “there will be shaking boxes” me. For this reason, they have custom designed their bartender stations, known as sinks or here: cockpits, to be efficient and bartender friendly. “Everything hangs around you, so you increase your ability to grab bottles without dramatically increasing your space or footprint. Much of it can be customized for the bartender working that night, they can use cutting boards for the drip trays if they like more work surface. And all the toppings are refrigerated. What? No olive bins handy? The rails, which hold bottles that often bump awkwardly on their knees, have been raised, and a running tool wash and shaker tin rinse are on hand.Four mirror builds of these cockpits are plotted along the 120ft bar meaning things are supposed to go smoothly for the bartender and the drinker.

“Connor and I are big believers in using technology and efficiency so we can bring back the art of hospitality,” Held told me. “And not just at the top of the bar, but walking into a space, feeling the recognition of the staff when you walk next to them, you feel like you’re part of the space, rather than a bit inconvenient. It’s about making sure our delivery drivers get water, it has to be a natural part of how we live while we’re here. That’s why we’re combining all the positions into one cohesive team in front of the house.

Servers will have the option of taking on bartending shifts and bartenders will be able to work on the floor. “Now there are different skill levels that will put people in different positions naturally,” Green said, “but instead of having a team where we have six servers and only four bartenders, we’re all on duty now, our staff is ten versus six and four, so that allows the whole team to accommodate people in these spaces as a whole versus, I’m a bartender.

Which brings us to the question of tipping. Held and I had long discussions about the different models available, and he worked behind slanted bars, non-slanted bars, and accounted for all the variations in between. “I don’t want to be a service house. And while we can’t tell anyone what to do legally, we hope to be a pool house.”

To clarify, the state of MN does not allow employers to structure a tip pool with tips, which is why you see “not a tip” language at the bottom of menus when a service charge is employed. If it is “not a gratuity”, the house can dictate what is done with it. Many employers like Held want to foster a tip-sharing culture in their new spaces, so tips can be distributed to the entire team. But they are legally dependent on the workers they hire to agree, set up and mandate the system between them. It’s confusing to everyone, and some workers like a tip system, some like a service charge system. Nothing is perfect, and I will continue to say this: restaurants are made of people, not systems, which means there will never be a single answer.

“I don’t think the fee-for-service model works particularly well in the Twin Cities, and there are reasons why you get into this business as an 18 to 25-year-old kid,” Held believes. “I think the tipping model is still tried and true with a lot of people needing to take a shift, just to pay for a car or earn rent on a weekday, right? Like those things I want always see it happen, and I don’t think you can do that with the service fee model, so we really hope everyone sees their value the same way and it becomes a typical pool house.

Green added that they also expect to pay more than minimum wage, “We’ve looked at where it will be in the next couple of years and we’re just going to respond to that now. So we’ll be paying more than minimum depending on different positions. The pool expects there to be some sort of tiered system based on support staff receiving a higher hourly wage and then a percentage of sales where the full server and bartender positions will split that that they’ll take home after they’ve tipped their support staff, including the kitchen.”

Will it help them win over labor shortages? It’s a huge space. There are 165 seats downstairs, 40 at the bar, 70 upstairs in the private dining room, and an additional 80-100 outside on the patio. Lots of bodies needed. The restaurant and bar will be open for dinner six days a week, weekends will open at 11:00 am for that brunch life. Monday will be a rest day for everyone.

They still have a little over a month to polish, and if you know Held and Erkkila, they may never be done polishing and perfecting what they create. The distillery portion of the space is still being set up, but the production lab out back is already busy making tinctures, bitters, and ginger beer. Above, on the mezzanine, the Apothecary where new (rather) partner Nick Kosevich will be crafting, it’s just cement floors and beams at this point.

There are a lot of promises, backed by a lot of experience. This is perhaps more encouraging than dwelling on the hope that everything can be perfect. Especially in this industry.

I know, we haven’t even talked about pizzas or nice drinks this time around. Stay tuned for an opening date and more beautiful pictures to come!

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