Barrio Sneak Peek – Check Out the New Tim McKee Tequila Bar

Tim McKee, the stratospherically talented chef and co-owner of La Belle Vie and Solera (and now Smalley’s, the Stillwater barbecue restaurant which will I review in the magazine’s August issue) has yet another restaurant opening in August: It will be called Barrio Tequila Bar & Café. Curious? Of course you are/ I know I was, so I called up McKee to find out more.

McKee told me that, as the name implies, Barrio is indeed a tequila bar and will offer more than 100 tequilas—that is, the top shelf sipping kind, as well as fancy margaritas and such, concocted by the supremely gifted Johnny Michaels, the La Belle Vie bar manager and creator of another of the Twin Cities most creative and delicious cocktail menus, at Café Maude.

Barrio, slated to open in downtown Minneapolis on Nicollet Mall (near the Local) is actually owned not by McKee and Josh Thoma, his business partner, but by Ryan Burnett (son of Ralph, the developer/art collector behind the Chambers Hotel) and Tim Rooney, a one-time Manny’s waiter turned real estate developer. (Yeah, that confirmed some suspicions for me about how much money Manny’s waiters take home, too.) McKee and Thoma have a small ownership stake and are responsible for the creative side and staffing—staffing like longtime La Belle Vie sous chef Bill Fairbanks, who will be the head chef at Barrio.

I got a sneak-peek at Fairbanks’ and McKee’s Barrio menu, and it looks pretty great. As of today (and, of course, a lot of things could change before the place opens) the menu is divided into three categories: small plates; tacos and enchiladas; and large plates. The small plates include dishes like spicy crab soup with cilantro and lime; diver scallop ceviche; potato sopes with goat cheese; and tequila cured salmon. The tacos are a little more haute than the ones on Lake Street: There’s a spiced shrimp taco, with a grilled tomato and mint salsa; a red chile enchilada with potato, chorizo, and fried egg; and a fried mahi-mahi enchilada, with citrus cucumber pico de gallo.

To me, the set-up of the menu bears a resemblance to the one at Solera, with the biggest plates being the most conservative ones. So far, some of the tentative big-plates include a grilled skirt-steak with chile lime tequila butter and fried yucca; roasted chicken with apricot pine-nut mole with sautéed greens; and seared tuna with tomatillo-avocado salsa and quinoa salad.

Sound good? It does to me. It also sounds like it could revolutionize late night dining in this city: Barrio plans to offer their full menu till 2 a.m. nightly.

What’s next for McKee and his crew, now that they have the cities’ most comprehensive sherry list (at Solera); the longest rum list (at Smalley’s); and, possibly, the longest tequila list. (Both Bar Abilene in Uptown and Barrio will have “more than a hundred” tequilas; if anyone wants to make surprise visits to each in August and count the bottles on the premises, let me know.) I asked McKee if he’s going to open a gin bar or single-malt scotch bar in, say, September. He laughed. “No way,” said McKee. “I’m the oldest of 8 kids, and my mom would always be saying, ‘Mark! I mean Matt. No, I mean Tim.’ I’m already doing that with my restaurants. I say Smalley’s when I mean Solera, Barrio when I mean Smalley’s. The guys think it’s hilarious. I think I’m losing my mind.”

Barrio Tequila Bar & Café

925 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis