If Minneapolis is a speakeasy city, we owe that in part to chef Ann Kim, who helped catalyze the restaurant-and-semi-secret-cocktail-bar combo when she opened Young Joni and Back Bar in 2016. Sooki & Mimi’s Basement Bar, spinning vinyl, followed in 2021 — but as of November 9, that space has been transformed into Bronto Bar (and the upstairs restaurant is now fully open as Kim’s). The bones of the speakeasy are the same: the stereos behind the bar, the plush couches, and the retro ephemera remain. The transformation lies in the Korean American influences on the menu — the shochu sours, the Shin Ramyun fries floating to every table — and in the bar’s extra infusion of fun. Bronto Bar is dark and moody, true to speakeasy form, but it’s also wading into the latest maximalist trends, serving scratch-made Spam and wedging candy sharks onto cocktail rims. Here’s a peek inside the new(ish) bar on a Friday night.
About those candy sharks — they come with the “By the Sea” cocktail, a bright blue infusion of shochu, curacao, pineapple, and Americano. (Because yes, blue drinks are back!) There are plenty of juicy notes on this list (a melon-infused Tokyo iced tea; a spiced mango-coconut mocktail) as well as Korean influences: effervescent shochu sours, ribbons of dongchimi floating in pine soju Gibsons, even canned makgeolli, a sparkling rice wine. The cocktail list is divided into three flavor sections — spirited, bright, and savory — with full-proof, low-proof, and no-proof options for each; all fall in the $10 to $14 range. Bronto serves a few wines and beers, too, including a Korean lager.
An absolute must-order at Bronto Bar is the fries, which are dusted with the tangy, umami-packed, almost oceanic spice that comes with South Korea’s instant Shin Raymun noodles. They’re impeccably crispy, too. There are three sandwiches on the menu: a smash burger, a breakfasty egg custard smeared with sweet onion jam, and a scratch-made Spam patty. They’re all served on hotteok buns, which are a little denser and sweeter than your average burger bun. The standout might be the Spam, which is briny, fatty, and topped with a thin layer of pickles, Kewpie mayo, and American cheese. The vibe is snacky, fun, and casual.
Bronto Bar has a “saved from extinction” theme, so there’s all kind of old-school ephemera, like rotary phones, boom boxes, even Kim’s family’s set of encyclopedias, nestled on the shelves. The vibe is similar to that of the bar’s predecessor, Basement Bar: It’s low-lit and cozy, built more for nightcaps than for pregaming. But here, there’s a revived sense of excitement. Lines have been trailing out the door at Kim’s — which is a party itself, bumping Bad Bunny at 7 p.m. — and the energy spills into the basement below. Get to Bronto early, if you can; seats have been filling up fast. Hours are Thursday to Saturday, 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.