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Imagine stepping into a corner wine bar. As the door closes, the outside world disappears and the soothing tones of a deep cut off a favorite album envelop you. Tables are spaced out, making it easy to slide into an empty space. A sommelier stops by and walks through the family history of a winemaker from a countryside village. Liquid tumbles into the glass, and the first swirl unlocks beguiling aromas. Then, there's the taste; complex and cool. Welcome to Small Hours.

This new hi-fi wine bar, which puts equal importance on wine and sound, is the work of sommelier Sarina Garibović and songwriter/musician Sam Cassidy. The duo are hard at work building out the space at 2201 NE. 2nd St. in Minneapolis to create a room with around 30 seats, a sound system bolstered by the room's thoughtful sound construction, and painstakingly curated wine and music lists. With luck and good construction karma, this dream of theirs should be a reality sometime this summer.

Garibović is one of the most sought-after wine palates in town. She has a gift for sussing out special bottles with intricate flavors and incredible stories. Until now, we've had to hunt for her picks at local restaurants around the Twin Cities.

Born in Croatia, she had moved to Tempe, Ariz., and visited Minnesota for the first time as an adult. It was springtime — when the trees are budding and the new green is poking through the ground. "I was like, 'Oh, get me out of the beige,' " she recalled. And then she moved here.

Working in the hospitality industry, she made fast friends and built a reputation for being able to weave hospitality magic by matching guests' tastes with wine pours. A certified sommelier, she worked at Blackbird, Restaurant Alma and the Libation Project. Then, when the pandemic hit, the way we drank and enjoyed wine changed. So did Garibović.

She, along with two other women, founded Ženska Glava, a beverage collective that taught classes, held pop-ups at wine shops and, once new restaurants started to return, consulted on bar programs, like the one at Herbst Eatery & Farm Stand in St. Paul.

"I grew up in a really diverse environment and restaurants are kind of a microcosm of that. It was people from different places who spoke different languages from different socioeconomic backgrounds. That felt comfortable," said Garibović. "And you're creating something together."

But the plan for Ženska Glava had always been to use it as a launchpad.

"While things were closed, I really had a chance to think about what could be different," she said. "I had time to think, what do I actually want to do? What do I want to wake up and look forward to? I'm so passionate about wine and I don't want to have to get up every day and have someone else tell me what to do."

Sam Cassidy and Sarina Garibovic in the doorway of the under-construction building in northeast Minneapolis that will become the wine bar Small Hours.
Sam Cassidy and Sarina Garibovic in the doorway of the under-construction building in northeast Minneapolis that will become the wine bar Small Hours.

Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

A baseline of trust

Garibović and Cassidy met at the wedding of a mutual friend. "His girlfriend is my very good friend," said Garibović. "She said you two should talk, you both want to do the same thing."

She was right. The minute the two began talking, ideas and ideals lined up. They met for brunch the next day, and the conversation was electric. Soon Small Hours was conceived.

"Sam is a really kind person who shows up in the world and thinks about others," Garibović said. "He thinks, 'What can I contribute to the world,' instead of what he can take away from it. I thought, yeah — I'm in alignment."

"I think it started with a baseline of trust," Cassidy said.

Cassidy is a local songwriter and musician with a carpentry day job. His business dream was more about the profound impacts of sound. When the stages went quiet during the pandemic, he, too, was thinking about what he wanted to do next. The idea was more of an intentional gathering space than a large venue.

As things opened back up, he was watching the rising trend of hi-fi bars, where people go to enjoy the music and atmosphere as much as exceptional wine and food. With his industry connections, lifelong passion for music and appreciation for sound, Cassidy dove deep on how to create a room and music to fill it with a specific vibe.

Small Hours will be intentionally intimate with a small staff, and Garibović pouring bottles and telling the stories of each one for those who want to learn more. She's been selecting this wine list in her head for years.

"I think you get to a point where you love it so much that you just want to share that with people," she said. "I want it to be more about the wine producers than the [grape] varietal." And for those who might not know how to order that way, Garibović will be there to make introductions.

There will also be a selection of wine-friendly foods for grazing, like fresh-baked bread and an assortment of tinned fish. The menu is still in development.

Meanwhile, Cassidy will direct the mood. "There will be a delicately curated record selection and we've acoustically treated the room — which means there are a lot of technical details to make it sound nice," he said. "There will be a good mix of vintage gear — big, old horn speakers and a couple of turntables." Cassidy has compiled extensive plans for what will be played and when.

"I love the idea of playing whole albums," he said. "I love experiencing the whole thing, but that's just not how we experience music now. Everything is so driven by an algorithm — it's all short playlists."

Not only will be music be selected to build the mood, but the room is built to reflect the music. While it's playing, guests will still be able to enjoy intimate conversations.

"We'll create this specific Minneapolis thing in this space, in this historic neighborhood, and turn it into something that's never been done before," Cassidy said.

Experience Small Hours

As a preview, Sarina Garibović and Sam Cassidy will hold their first pop-up Feb. 21 at Cafe Alma. Garibović will pour wines to pair with an Alma vibe, and Cassidy will be spinning records. Tickets are $25 and available on Tock.

The interior of what will be Small Hours wine bar in northeast Minneapolis.
The interior of what will be Small Hours wine bar in northeast Minneapolis.

Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune