Loring Bar & Restaurant’s new lease on life

After a century of iterations, Loring Bar & Restaurant is revamping as a coffee shop-restaurant hybrid while paying homage to its history.

The+interior+of+Gray%E2%80%99s+coffee+shop+in+Dinkytown+on+Monday%2C+Dec.+7.+Gray%E2%80%99s+has+recently+been+redesigned+to+better+appeal+to+the+University+population.

Emily Urfer

The interior of Gray’s coffee shop in Dinkytown on Monday, Dec. 7. Gray’s has recently been redesigned to better appeal to the University population.

Samantha Woodward

Cherone Vestal’s short time bartending at Loring Bar & Restaurant has only partly translated into her new role as a barista in the same location.

On opening day for what is now Gray’s, Vestal tidied behind the counter of the coffee bar next to the beer taps.

The former Loring Bar & Restaurant opened its doors as Gray’s on Monday, offering a more casual dining experience with the addition of a coffee shop and hangout area for students. The Dinkytown staple has held onto its classic bohemian ambiance with red leather booths and scattered vintage vinyl records on tables — but now includes an espresso machine.

Vestal said that the opening day for Gray’s was slow following the departure of students after Thanksgiving break, but she said she is “just glad to be working.”

Barista Cherone Vestal poses for a portrait in Gray’s coffee shop in Dinkytown on Monday, Dec. 7. Gray’s has recently been redesigned to better appeal to the University population.
Barista Cherone Vestal poses for a portrait in Gray’s coffee shop in Dinkytown on Monday, Dec. 7. Gray’s has recently been redesigned to better appeal to the University population. (Emily Urfer)

Jake Bruce, a longtime employee of Loring Bar & Restaurant and now operations manager of Gray’s, said the new shop is aiming at creating a balance between the classic dining experience Loring is known for and a study spot for local students.

Once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, the main floor can be used for mainly dinner service and live music, and the upper mezzanines will be suited for studying and hanging out while allowing for better social distancing.

“There was just really no kind of study space at a coffee shop around town,” Bruce said. “We want to utilize all of the space that we have in Loring and basically wanted to rebrand ourselves.”

Lyndsey Bramer came onto the marketing and business development team in July after the restaurant reopened following an initial COVID-19 shutdown that lasted four months.

Bramer said she thinks by creating a space where students can “grab a table, socially distance, plug in your laptop, hang out,” Gray’s will shift from a pricier, fancy dinner establishment to a more approachable, palatable dining option for students.

Principal owner Lynn Nyman, has been involved with Loring since before it first opened in 2001. She said that winter is a difficult time to pivot into a student-marketed hangout spot, especially since they are used to being a late-night, event-oriented establishment.

The menu still includes local brewery taps and classic Loring favorites like their artichoke dip and signature pasta during dinnertime, but it has been modified to add an extensive list of locally roasted coffee beverages, including a horchata cold brew and a “molten mocha,” among others.

The building occupying the corner of 14th Avenue Southeast and Fourth Street Southeast has a long history with many purposes over the course of more than a century.

In 1885, Minneapolis Street Railway Company’s “car barn” was located there at the original ending of the area’s first horse-drawn streetcar line. The site acted as storage for the streetcars that ran along what was then Fourth Street. In the following years, it would become Gray’s Drugstore, and Bob Dylan’s apartment was upstairs. It eventually became various iterations of Loring Pasta Bar.

When Loring Pasta Bar was sold in 2017, the restaurant reopened a few months later under new employee ownership. For a few years, the restaurant has functioned as a high-scale pasta bar and nightclub — until this week when the name Gray’s was resurrected.

In the wake of so many small businesses closing due to COVID-19, Bramer said she has seen an influx of big chains taking over places that were once Dinkytown landmarks.

In the past few years, at least two iconic coffee shops in Dinkytown have closed: Purple Onion Cafe and Catering and Espresso Royale. The Gray’s team hopes to fill that gap while giving a nod to the legacy of Dinkytown.

“Long term, we just want to be able to help preserve historic Dinkytown,” Bramer said.

Correction: A previous version of this incorrectly stated the former Loring Bar & Restaurant’s name in the subheadline.