Minnesota-born musician Caroline Smith, who performs as Your Smith, and her partner Adam To, formerly a chef at Michelin star LA restaurant Trois Mec, announced Wednesday that they bought Whitey’s Bar, a downtown Stillwater institution of 20 years. They’ll reopen the space as Howard’s Bar on June 7, keeping many of the bar’s historic touches and introducing a new saloon-style menu.
Smith, originally from Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, has been a big presence in the Twin Cities music scene for many years, known for her band Caroline Smith and the Goodnight Sleeps, her collaborations with Lizzo, and her smoky, neo-soul solo work. In 2015, she moved to LA, where she changed her artist name to Your Smith, released two EPs, and met To, who has roots in Apple Valley. The pandemic brought the pair back to Minnesota, where they had a baby and eventually decided it was time to start their own restaurant. When they heard Whitey’s was for sale, says Smith, everything clicked.
“We were like, what an amazing way to raise a baby — above a bar that’s homey, that’s not pretentious, where Adam can cook what he loves to cook. Obviously, Adam can cook Michelin star-level French food, but what he’s really good at making is an amazing burger,” says Smith — not to mention a mean sandwich.
The Howard’s menu will feature American saloon-style classics, says To, like wings, a Cobb salad, steelhead trout dip with the fish smoked in-house, and a local Peterson Craftsman Meats burger. He’ll be rolling fresh pasta sheets for a sweet Italian sausage and ricotta lasagna, and trimming whole ribeyes in-house, which he’ll serve with loaded baked potatoes au jus.
There’ll be no cocktail menu — Howard’s will have a rail bar, with beers on tap. And, of course, pull tabs. “It’s very Minnesota,” says To. “We really want it to feel really comfortable and small-town.” They’ll be sourcing ingredients locally, but keeping prices affordable and the vibe understated and unpretentious. “What’s cool about it is we’re calling it Howard’s Bar — it’s not Howard’s Bar and Eatery. It’s like, boom, you get great food, and really great specials.”
The Whitey’s building dates to the mid-19th century, says To. They’ve replaced the carpeting with a checkered floor, but the integral elements of the bar are staying the same. “We want it to feel like a 70s basement,” says Smith. “We’re warming up the space with warm colors, and doing a lot of old neon signs.”
One thing that certainly won’t change is Whitey’s famous fresh-squeezed juice behind the bar. “The locals are hell-bent on making it known that we are never allowed to do away with that,” says Smith, laughing. “We make a hell of a Greyhound,” says To. “Titos and fresh-squeezed grapefruit.”