Paying homage to a craft beer landmark while navigating a shifting industry
This article is part of our “10 Bars for 2020” feature. Read more stories of bars that are defining this moment in drinking.
When The Happy Gnome closed its doors in December 2019, Brian and Sarah Ingram (of Hope Breakfast Bar) weren’t prepared to let the craft beer landmark vanish without a trace. Instead, they jumped on the opportunity to revive the institution in a slightly new form: The Gnome Craft Pub.
Like its gastropub predecessor, craft beer is at the heart of The Gnome, with approximately 70 local craft beer taps and 100 taps total, including beverages such as wine, Champagne, and cold brew coffee to please changing consumer tastes.
The Ingrams’ mission to provide the community with affordable craft beer, creative food, and a welcoming environment has not gone without its worries. It’s impossible to ignore the fate of The Happy Gnome and several other noted craft beer bars in recent years (The Muddy Pig, Grumpy’s Downtown, and Ward 6, to name a few.) Not to mention the shifting tides in the craft beer industry and a pandemic that has wreaked havoc on the community.
“Starting a beer bar right now is super scary,” admits Ingram. “[But] I do think small, independent restaurants are going to have more opportunities. Big companies are seeing big layoffs and can only keep their most profitable neighborhoods. […] Smaller restaurants, like ours, can truly serve the community.”
To avoid the same outcome as The Happy Gnome, Ingram is listening to the wants and needs of the Cathedral Hill neighborhood in St. Paul.
“People wanted a better space to watch sports. So we added more TVs,” states Ingram. “The curling club wanted a space to spend time with their team. We renovated so the bar fills up both sides of the dining room. We’ll have a bigger patio, too.”
Ingram wants The Gnome to represent what The Happy Gnome was known for in its heyday: great food and great beer. However, he also wants the building to show more of its firehouse roots.
“We have custom-built, 1920s-inspired furniture and have reverted back to original flooring,” says Ingram. “The upstairs of the restaurant will be a beer hall with some firehouse elements, as well.”
The space includes an exhibition kitchen, an open floor plan, and a mural of Hans Lofgren, a veteran of the local beer community and friend of the Ingrams who passed away unexpectedly in 2017.
According to Ingrams, the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed down the renovation and service process.
“Many plumbers and electricians don’t want to be working there when other people are around,” says Ingram. “The wood-workers will come work on the building when everyone else has already left, in order to practice social distancing.”
The original plan was to open The Gnome at the end of June for Firkin Fest. But due to the pandemic and the slower service process, the new tentative opening date is July 27.
“But if plumbing doesn’t get sorted out by then, it might be the first week of August,” explains Ingram. “Plumbing has been the most problematic because it’s such an old building.”
Ingram wants The Gnome to be known for having affordable craft beer, exceptional food, and beverages that please shifting consumer trends. Most of all, he wants The Gnome to be a place that provides for its neighborhood. In uncertain times and within an ever-changing industry, great food and great beverages will always have its place.