New restaurant offers taste of Duluth's rich past (with video)The new pub and restaurant opening downtown Saturday pays homage to city’s 19th-century establishment.
By: Candace Renalls, Duluth News Tribune
The faux painting gives the walls and tall ceilings an aged look. New wainscoting matches the old. The old-fashioned bar resembles bank teller windows of a century ago. And the handmade brass and copper beer dispenser looks like gleaming 19th-century machinery complete with handles topped with old oilers.
Those are some of the details that have gone into converting the historic Old Duluth City Hall at 132 E. Superior St. into Tycoons, The Zenith Alehouse, a new restaurant and pub that salutes the city’s founding fathers and honors the building’s history.
To that end, the saying along the top of the bar, “Nanos gigantium humeris insidentes” is Latin for “Standing on the shoulders of giants.”
But much of it — like the old stock certificates that line the walls of the first floor men’s room and the walk-in vault that can be used for dining — is done with tongue-in-cheek fun.
Now, after years of planning and eight months of construction, the long anticipated restaurant that’s expected to help turn Old Downtown into an arts-and-entertainment district is set to open at 4 p.m. New Year’s Eve. It will employ 70 people.
“We wanted to create a place where the wealthy would have gathered,” said Brad Nelson, the business’s marketing manager. “But this is not a pretentious, stuffy place. This is not fine dining.”
Indeed, the menu is simple, offering burgers, sandwiches, soups, salads and vegetarian meals, costing $7 to $11 for lunch, $7 to $15 for dinner. Special dishes, made with locally produced foods, will be added over time. The bar will offer nine Fitger’s Brewhouse beers, including three that will be sold exclusively at Tycoons. The brewery will be expanded to accommodate the new restaurant.
“We were absolutely excited about doing it,” said Rod Raymond, who co-owns both businesses with Tim Nelson. Where others saw an old, tired building in Old City Hall, they saw potential steeped in history.
Designed by renowned architect Oliver Traphagen, the structure was built in 1888 and served as Duluth City Hall from 1889 until 1929. Many of the original doorknobs with “CD” for City of Duluth remain. That insignia is used in the restaurant sign in Pullman car green that now fronts the building.
“A lot of people remove what’s there and build new,” said Brad Nelson, who is Tim Nelson’s brother. “That wasn’t our philosophy. We don’t want to destroy what’s already there. We want to build on it.”
LONG ROAD TO COMPLETION
Construction to convert the 123-year-old building into a restaurant and pub began last spring. But work delays and the rules and regulations governing changes to buildings in historic districts delayed the opening, originally targeted for September.
Raymond and Tim Nelson, who also own the Red Star Lounge in Fitger’s Brewery Complex and the Burrito Union, wanted to do it right.
While some repairs and improvements went into the building after the two men bought it in 2005, the bulk of the $2.4 million project began last spring, helped with a $350,000 grant from the Duluth Economic Development Authority.
Work included replacing electrical, plumbing and heating and air conditioning systems and installing a large kitchen. A second staircase was installed, extending four floors down to the cavernous sub-basement where the Rathskeller pub with a secret society feel will likely open next spring.
Walls and ceilings were repaired, textured and repainted to look old. Wood floors that had been painted green were stripped and restored. The first floor was reconfigured into cozy sections for dining and a stage added in the pub, all while keeping the line of the original hallway intact. The second floor skylights were opened up. Opulent empire-style chandeliers harkening back to the late 1800s were installed.
The old second-floor City Council chambers overlooking Lake Superior was turned into a ballroom for special events and additional dinner seating on busy nights.
The exterior, originally built with quarried brownstone from Fond du Lac, has been repaired, though restoration work on the cornices remains to be done.
Many local ingredients went into Tycoons.
The large redwood banquet table in the new ballroom was made out of Fitger’s Brewery fermenters used until the 1950s. The restaurant’s speaker system uses repurposed sound boxes salvaged from an old school in Superior. The virgin maple bar counter formerly served as the lanes at Ridgeview Lanes. And the bar rail came from a Grandma’s restaurant that closed.
As the hard work was paying off and the end was near earlier this month, workers were in good spirits, proud of what they had accomplished.
“It’s a great, great project, and it’s going to be here a long time,” said Scott Lau, who had just made new drywall look old. “I want to be here when people walk though the front door for the first time.”
Now, he said with satisfaction, the building will last another 100 years.
Tycoons, The Zenith Alehouse, 132 E. Superior St., will open 4 p.m. Saturday with entertainment by a reggae band. It will be closed Sunday.
From Monday to Jan. 8, it will be open from 3-11 p.m. After that, its regular hours will be 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily for the restaurant and to
2 a.m. for the bar.
Local and regional bands will be featured on Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays with a cover charge of $5 to $7. A fourth night of music will eventually be added. Call: (218) 623-1889