NOLO'S KITCHEN & BAR
NOLO's owners want it to be the first, final and “final final” stop when you're out with friends
By Lianna Matt
Before chef Peter Hoff and restaurateurs Marty Collins and Brett Johnson opened up NOLO’s Kitchen & Bar, they had to check in to make sure the interior wasn’t too upscale. The ground-level space may be in the old Gardner Hardware Building in North Loop, and the exposed brick may be staying, but as any North Looper knows, storied buildings only mean more to upscale to an aesthetic of succulents, white paint and open space. To an extent, NOLO’s definitely falls into that aesthetic. Its airy space has décor in the natural eggshell ranges and the tables are made of a white-marbled stone. Their cozy corners have shelves of knick-knacks which, yes, include greenery, vintage items and glass containers.
But, as Collins says during the media night preview, he wants NOLO’s to be a place where people can just hang out; the interior has to be nice but not too nice. You have to be able to feel like you can sit back and stay a while.
The trio wants NOLO’s to fit into the North Loop area (get it—North Loop? NOLO?), and the night didn’t go by without appropriate tribute to the building they were in or their neighbors. However, as much as Hoff, Collins and Johnson loved the North Loop area, they wanted to add to it and create a place that could be the weekend breakfast, the dinner date, the first stop of the night, the final stop and, as Collins says, the “final final stop.”
While we couldn’t nibble on the food in the downstairs Basement Bar during media night, NOLO’s menu has all of the good comfort foods made from the best local ingredients Hoff could find. The macaroni and cheese had perfectly salted bread crumbs sprinkled on top of it, the dry rub on the chicken wings was addicting and the array of flat breads would make anyone happy. For the more upscale comfort foods, the salmon was flaky and the porchetta had melt-in-your-mouth fatty bites with crisp edges that were bursts of savory goodness. A healthy list of tap beers, ciders, cocktails and wine graced the menu, and if you pull up a seat to the bar, you can see the game on a few screens tucked surreptitiously into the horseshoe bar’s metal-grate ceiling storage.
When we were in The Basement Bar, workers were still putting on the finishing touches, but arcade games were already in the corner and the stage was set with a huge Minnesota license plate as the backdrop. Danielle Mueller, The Basement Bar's general manager and venue coordinator, says she saw the basement when there was nothing in it except four walls. Trying to envision the arcade, televisions, food truck-style service, dance floor, pull tabs and stage the owners wanted was a lot. It's still a lot—but in a good way, and with Mueller's background as assistant general manager at Bellecour and manager at Vieux Carré, she has the experience and artist contacts to pull it all together.
“They [NOLO's and The Basement Bar] are under the same roof, but you can go and have a really nice meal upstairs and then continue the party downstairs,” says Mueller. “It's really whatever you want to make of it on a guest level. It's kind of like a funhouse, honestly. You can come down and whatever you want to do; we have it down here.”
Mueller, like the owners upstairs, has already built a rapport with the staff, and you can see it as she pauses our conversation to banter about some extra inventory. So really, it's no surprise when she turns back to me and says that this is the first place she’s worked at that takes care of the team first and the customer second. Because of the support and hospitality the staff extends toward each other, she says there’s able to be a welcoming and caring attitude toward the customers that is unlike any other place she has worked at.
NOLO’s Kitchen & Bar is officially open for business, and they have an open invitation for you. There may be some final finishing touches to do, especially in The Basement Bar area, but with every new component they add—the art gallery, the table-side prepared pasta, plus the untapped potential of their open kitchen—the hospitality will only get more generous.