A perfect Union?

MICHAEL RIETMULDER | Updated 12/6/2012

Three-level restaurant with retractable roof now open on Hennepin.

The retractable rooftop on the top floor of Union offers a stunning view of south Hennepin.
Star Tribune

On a corridor occupied by showy behemoths, making a splash on downtown Minneapolis' Hennepin Avenue bar and restaurant scene is difficult. But Union, the latest venture from Kaskaid Hospitality, which reigns over the Crave empire, looks to hit the block like a cannonball.

The way Kaskaid founder and CEO Kam Talebi speaks of his tri-level posh palace, which opened Monday in the old Shinders building, going big was the only option.

"I knew I wanted to do something special," said Talebi, standing on the then-unfinished rooftop a week-and-a-half before opening. "If we did something in this space it just couldn't be a one-level dining experience."

While each floor of Union has its own feel, the crowning feature sits at the top, where Talebi built a retractable dome to cover the bulk of his 6,000-square-foot rooftop terrain. The curved glass gable opens and closes like a sliding door on a motorized track, making for an open-air terrace or climate-controlled court as desired. A heating system ensures that the mid-meal star gazing won't end in the winter months, when the patio party shuts down at Talebi's nearby Crave.

"Obviously, it's a unique offering -- there is nothing like this in the Twin Cities," said Talebi.

True. In fact, the suit-sporting CEO looked as far as Turkey to find the model that would make his year-round patio possible. The roof looks like a lavish urban greenhouse, with a white brick wall and an artfully blotched mirror behind the sleek bar. But downtown sightlines are the star attraction. A small uncovered area speckled with high tables overlooks the Hennepin Theatre District. It will become the premier perch during warmer months.

To help realize his vision, Talebi tapped Shea Inc., the local design firm that has its offices on the second floor (Union leases the ground floor, rooftop and basement). The two have worked together on past projects including Kaskaid's reopening of Figlio at the West End.

"As we looked to develop the concept, David [Shea] and I traveled the country ... and really looked at what the trend was and what was happening in New York," he said. "I think we learned a lot from those trips. A lot of the experiences that we went through culminated into what the restaurant is today."

Talebi's club-hopping recon missions seem to have most influenced Marquee, the "boutique nightclub" tucked in the building's basement. This slick subterranean lounge (which opens at 10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday) is Union's own bottle-service beast with a separate back-alley entrance that smacks of NYC exclusivity. Color-changing LEDs line the side walls, while three large flashing screens are set behind a DJ booth where Talebi plans to bring in national DJs. "The look and feel is driven by visual stimulation," he notes.

Talebi said he intentionally separated the various functions under one roof. Limited small bites will be available at the full-service basement bar, and the rooftop restaurant closes at a late-night revelry-thwarting 11:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday (11 p.m. the rest of the week).

Talebi went with a pair of local luminaries to design Union's food and drink menus. Cocktail kingpin Johnny Michaels created its 11 signature drinks, including the Persian Pussycat -- an explosively sweet concoction made with pomegranate gin, orange, vanilla and rose. It's about as subtle as a pink Lamborghini. The Twin Cities' pre-eminent mixologist, who's created cocktail programs at La Belle Vie and Icehouse among others, was an obvious choice for such a high-profile project. Meanwhile, Jim Christianson of La Belle Vie, Sea Change and Denmark's world-renowned Nona invented Union's upscale American cuisine.

 Now that Union is open, it's time to let the reservations flood in and patrons judge whether it lives up to its lofty expectations.