Appetites: Rooftop restaurant 'Union' opens in time for winter

Union Rooftop Restaurant
People dining at Union Rooftop Restaurant have views of the downtown Minneapolis skyline Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012. The third floor restaurant is open for lunch on weekdays and dinner daily.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

A new restaurant with a rooftop patio opens in downtown Minneapolis just in time for below freezing temperatures.

Who opens a rooftop in the middle of winter?

Tom Horgen from the Star Tribune who contributes to "Appetites" with news about drinks and nightlife tells us.

Horgen: When you have millions of dollars to spend and a retractable roof — that's when you open a rooftop patio in the middle of winter.

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The owner is Kam Talebi, who operates the Crave empire of restaurants. He already has a Crave rooftop in downtown, just one block away. For this project he worked with Shea architects on redeveloping the old Shinders building at 8th and Hennepin.

MPR News: He probably wanted to go really big with this one to stand out in the crowd?

Horgen: Exactly. It's really like nothing else in the Twin Cities. Before you go up there, however, you'll enter the street level restaurant, where the former Shinders sold a ton of magazines. It's been completely transformed, dark and moody with big leather booths, but it's sort of an afterthought compared to the rooftop.

Union Rooftop Restaurant
Bartender Ben Anderson pours a PersianPussyCat, a cocktail flavored with pomegranate gin, orange, vanilla and rose, Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012 at Union Rooftop Restaurant's bar in downtown Minneapolis.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

After you go up three floors on the elevator you step out onto the roof. It's a sight to see. I liken the retractable roof to a mini-[Dallas] Cowboys Stadium, with crystal-clear glass and panels that stack back on each other when opened.

MPR News: It's quite the scene?

Horgen: It's been packed even on the weekdays, but it's mostly a dinner spot, with table seating for up to 200.

I think it's a great place to grab some cocktails and small plates. Union went all out with the booze, hiring famed bartender Johnny Michaels to design the cocktail list. Michaels is the godfather of the Twin Cities cocktail scene, having designed drink lists for La Belle Vie, Icehouse, Barrio and Masu.

He's an adventurous cocktail maker, known for tailoring his drinks to the crowd. I'd describe this crowd as "Real Housewives of Minneapolis." The drink they've been pushing is the Persian Pussycat, a hot-pink cocktail made with pomegranate gin, orange, vanilla and rose. It's as sweet as they come.

But he's included a few cocktail that will put some hair on your chest, including an eloquent Manhattan and a brandy drink called "The Killing of a Chinese Bookie."

MPR News: I understand there's one other piece of nightlife at Union?

Horgen: It's actually below Union. In the basement is Marquee, a sleek, LED-lit nightclub. They've really set it up to be a separate entity, with its own back-alley entrance. Very grimy. Very New York.

The club is only open Thursday through Saturday and late-night.

It's very bottle service-centric with small booths reserved for VIPs who want to spend a paycheck on high-end liquor. Talebi has shown that Minnesotans are willing to pay $250 for a bottle of Grey Goose to look really cool and listen to loud dance music. But I'll need a raise if I'm going to hang out here. I'd stick with a martini upstairs on the roof.

Tom Horgen covers nightlife for the StarTribune. He also writes about Twin Cities culture in a column called The Dig. Follow him @tomhorgen.