Self-serve taproom opens in new North Loop apt building
By ERIC BEST
First Draft Taproom & Kitchen opened earlier this summer on the ground floor of the new Variant apartment building along 4th Street between 7th and 8th avenues. Besides the brewing facility and bartenders, co-owners Andrew Valen, Joe Maselter and Mark Slattery envision First Draft as having the traditional taproom experience with more drink choices, food and variation.
“(We wanted) three things a brewery doesn’t have: Really good food made in house, wine and TVs,” Valen, a local partner, said. “We have all those things here.”
Patrons get a wristband when they walk in that will track their spending. First Draft offers 54 taps of craft beer from many Minnesota-based breweries and others from across the country, along with several tap wines, ciders and kombucha teas. There are coasters from local breweries across the taproom highlighting some of First Draft’s Minneapolis-based offerings.
“We’re obviously very supportive of craft beer in Minnesota,” Valen said, but “we bring in great beers that you can’t access in the great state of Minnesota.”
Valen said the taproom’s concept is based on variation so customers can create their own experience.
Above each tap is a screen that displays the drink’s costs, origin and ABV. Beers cost roughly about 50–70 cents per ounce, while wines, which Valen said are much harder for them to carry than beer, are quite a bit more. There’s no minimum pour for each beverage option.
The taproom serves an “over-the-top Minnesota” menu designed by chef Jason Littlefield. It features dishes like walleye sliders, a “North Loop Cobb” salad with blue cheese and Minnesota sushi, or what the taproom calls pickles wrapped in prosciutto, herb-infused cream cheese and bacon. Several shareable plates are served with Scotch eggs, grilled steaks, sausages or Holy Land hummus. A regular hotdish rotates flavors like the traditional tater tot or beef stroganoff.
The food’s popularity has been the “best surprise” so far, Valen said. The taproom ran out of food its first two weekends.
“We’re so happy (to be among) some of the best restaurants. We wanted to fit into that because there are some things we have on our menu that you can’t find anywhere else,” he said.
First Draft’s décor continues the Minnesota theme with a purple neon sign referencing Prince’s song “Let’s Go Crazy” and a mural depicting Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox from Minnesota-based artist Amy Marie. The bar seats more than 200 at several long tables inside and about 45 people outside.
So far, he said First Draft has done well on game days at Target Field. Valen said they’d like to pull in more lunch traffic from nearby office buildings during the week.
The taproom shares some ownership with another First Draft Taproom & Kitchen in Denver’s arts district, which Valen said is independently operated.
Similar pour-your-own beer bars are popping up across the metro. Tap Society opened earlier this year in the former Kings Wine Bar space in Southwest Minneapolis. Union 32 Craft House opened last year in Eagan.
First Draft, at 324 N. 6th Ave., is open 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m.–midnight Friday and Saturday, and 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Sunday.