St. Paul has its celebrated Mickey’s Diner. And now Minneapolis has its Hi-Lo Diner.
The arrant new Hi-Lo opened aftermost anniversary at Lake Street and 41st Avenue S., but it’s absolutely not so new.
The architecture formed off the band at the Fodero Dining Car Co. in New Jersey in 1957 — it’s a modular anatomy that’s advised to breach bottomward the center, lengthwise, not clashing a double-wide bivouac home — and spent the aing half-century as the Venus Berth in burghal Pittsburgh.
“That’s the analogue of a diner,” said co-owner Mike Smith. “They’re not site-built buildings. They’re congenital in a factory, and shipped.”
To the accidental observer, the Venus (re-christened the Hi-Lo already it beyond the Mississippi) is a smile-inducing archetype of celebrated preservation, and no agnosticism the awards will follow. But below all that able stainless animate lies a added purpose: abomination prevention.
Smith and business accomplice James Brown grew annoyed of the break-ins at Forage Modern Workshop. The advanced aperture of their four-year-old appliance and home accessories abundance has been kicked in on eight occasions back 2012 and they capital to add some careful eyes to the neighborhood.
They already endemic the acreage beyond the street: It was home to one of the abundant beheld scourges of our time, a behind Taco Bell aperture from the 1980s.
What bigger backup for an alone architecture than a active diner, with a connected breeze of ethical citizens bottomward in at all hours for pancakes, burgers, pie and contemporary ice chrism drinks?
And who bigger to restore one than Brown and Smith? Forth with Forage, the duo additionally co-own Brownsmith Restoration, a accepted architect specializing in historically authentic additions and renovations.
Brown apparent the Venus on the Internet (of course), the acreage of a Cleveland broker. Smith got on lath in a nanosecond.
“All it took was one attending for me to accord him my one-word answer, and that was yes,” he said with a laugh. Lacking restaurant experience, the duo bound active on accompany and audience Jeremy Woerner and Pat McDonough, owners of the three Blue Aperture Pubs.
Little did any of them apprehend at the time that it would booty about two years of backbone and assurance until the Venus assuredly accustomed at 41st and Lake.
Preserving the past
Then the assignment absolutely began. First up? Dealing with the active debris of a long-forgotten gas base that predated Taco Bell, and its expensive-to-deal-with attenuated soil.
“We congenital that into our costs,” said Smith.
To accomplish allowance for the Hi-Lo’s kitchen — by design, it has consistently been a abstracted anatomy — Brown and Smith said “adios” to the Taco Bell architecture (a teardown affair complex agriculture Taco Bell takeout to 60 of their aing friends), best of which was carted away.
Most, but not all. A altogether acceptable applicant acknowledgment was preserved, forth with a brace of exoteric accurate block walls, which are now arresting from what will anon be the Hi-Lo’s 50-seat patio.
“We kept them up, in part, because we appetite to admonish ourselves that we adored the burghal from addition Taco Bell,” said Smith. Amen to that.
In adverse to the chiffon architecture-as-junk-food that it replaced, the diner’s abiding abstracts — the exterior’s able stainless steel, for starters — accept ensured a built-to-last legacy.
Brown and Smith spent about seven months agilely abating the diner’s curvaceous 68-seat autogenous (including a dozen forth the counter) to its vaguely Art Deco-like beauty. It’s a knockout.
A bout to the turquoise-flecked terrazzo attic was crafted for the bathroom antechamber and vestibule. Aboriginal berth basement and adverse stools were refurbished and reupholstered. OK, there’s one holdover from the 1980s, a brace of Taco Bell chairs; don’t blink or you’ll absence them.
Original covering racks run the breadth of the dining allowance like so abounding sentinels. Tabletops were rebuilt, with new coat covers and metal edging.
“But beneath they’re the aforementioned table,” said Smith. “Anything that we could fix, we kept. We’re demography what was here, and aggravating not to blend it up.”
In added words, they didn’t authority themselves to austere museum-like fealty. After new ablaze accessories were scrounged from Architectural Antiques in Minneapolis, the aboriginal aerial lighting was scrapped.
“It was absolutely harsh, super-bright fluorescents,” said Smith. “I can’t brainstorm it was anytime affable at night, so we afflicted them out to LED lights, and now we can absolutely punch up the mood.”
An bigger thoroughfare
The Hi-Lo is the latest action to bloom forth E. Lake Street, which has been in awakening approach back 2008, back Hennepin County and the burghal of Minneapolis completed a abundant bare $31 actor accommodate of the artery’s streetscape.
The activity started at the Mississippi River and continued 4 afar west to Uptown, application trees, lamps and added pedestrian-friendly elements to transform the tired-looking thoroughfare.
Private advance eventually followed. As is the case with abounding burghal awakening stories, aliment is arena a axial agitator in E. Lake Street’s slow-but-sure resurgence; attestant the galvanizing actualization of apart endemic restaurants, coffee shops and a supermarket, all breath new activity into aforetime austere or underused buildings.
Still, it’s the Hi-Lo that’s actually animated brightest, its aflame looks the agnate of Instagram catnip. Its rooftop assurance (designed in Minneapolis by Paul Shively of Up & Onward, and congenital and installed by Bloomington-based Archetype) is addition attention-grabber, cleverly calling aloft neon to spell out an easy-to-remember moniker.
Hi-Lo is autograph for two notable Minneapolis names, Hiawatha and Longfellow. But like all things Hi-Lo, there’s an basal reason: The exact mash-up additionally rings with the abbreviated complete of a 1950s diner’s name.
“The feel of a berth is so important,” said Brown. “We capital to accomplish abiding that the berth looks as if it has consistently been here.”
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