Dark since March 2020, an icon of the St. Paul restaurant scene has finally come back to life.
The St. Paul Grill, which has long drawn local movers and shakers to its handsome dining room in the St. Paul Hotel for power lunches, pre-Ordway cocktails and steak dinners, reopened last week (350 Market St., St. Paul, 651-224-7455, stpaulgrill.com).
When the restaurant overlooking Rice Park closed for the first state-mandated restaurant shutdown 19 months ago, operators decided not to alter the space or the experience for pandemic life. "We said no masks, no plexiglass, no anything. When we reopen it, it's going to be just the way it was before," said Richard Dobransky, president of Morrissey Hospitality.
Leadership never expected such a long wait, however. More than hotel activity, they were waiting for downtown St. Paul events to return, including concerts and hockey at the Xcel Energy Center and shows at the Ordway.
The restaurant was only a couple of months into celebrating its 30th anniversary when the pandemic paused the celebration. While some Twin Cities restaurants took the shutdowns as an opportunity to refresh and rebrand, the St. Paul Grill chose to lean into its long history.
"We just felt it was important that when someone comes to the St. Paul Grill, that they have the exact same experience that they've had for the last 30 years," Dobransky said. "The Grill looks best when the bar is packed and crowded elbow-to-elbow. The noise level, people are eating and silver's clinking. It just could not happen under any of the restrictions with COVID-19."
But the decision to keep the restaurant closed so long was not an easy one. The times Dobransky checked in, "it looked like the bar of 'The Shining,' " he said. "There was nothing there."
The St. Paul Grill has limited hours for now. It's open for dinner only Wednesdays through Saturdays, 5 p.m.-9 p.m. in the dining room and 4 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. in the bar for pre- and post-event cocktails. Hours may expand later this year, but don't expect those martini-fueled power lunches to return until corporate travel picks up and downtown St. Paul's businesses bring workers back to the office.
While the most popular dishes — hash browns, bourbon pork chops, chicken pot pie and turtle tart — are still on the menu, some have been temporarily held back because of supply chain issues, mainly seafood dishes like king crab.
The Grill's famous extra long-pour martinis are, as always, on standby at the bar.