For a Friday Night Escape: Hit St. Paul’s New Bar+Cart Lounge and Restaurant

Photos by Linden M. Bayliss
Photos by Linden M. Bayliss

Or for a Monday one, or a Tuesday one or — any day except Sunday, really.

Bar+Cart is the baby of Twin Cities hospitality superstars Ralena Young and Brian Riess, who collectively share decades of experience in the industry, particularly behind the bar. Young is a St. Paul native, and in fact grew up and began her restaurant career in the very same neighborhood as Bar+Cart. It’s a real cool neighborhood lounge, a place where you can meet a friend after work, explore a world of phenomenal cocktails, and expect some favorite foods to round out the experience and satisfy those cravings.

“We have been each other’s boss, off and on, for like 25 years,” Young says of her and business partner Riess’ relationship. Both worked in management positions at Eyes Wide Hospitality, the group behind The Volstead House in Eagan and Chanhassen’s Tequila Butcher. The two had always enjoyed working together and dreamed of having their own space, but were happy where they were.

One Sunday, something interesting happened.

Young was eating dinner with her girlfriend Mashal and Mashal’s parents Emel and Masooda Sherzad at their restaurant, Khyber Pass, when the family announced that they were planning to retire. They would be closing the much beloved Afghan restaurant for good after 37 years, a bittersweet ending to what was a staple in the community.

Young says it didn’t even dawn on her that this could be the chance her and Riess were waiting for until a few weeks later. It was a tough day at work and she said to Brian, “’You know what, are you ready? … I think I might have an opportunity,’” And ready he was.

After long months of securing extra funds and putting in that elbow grease building tables and a bar, their dream became a reality. Seeing the renovated space in person you could hardly tell everything was made from scratch, the tables and paint jobs are beautiful and fit the vibe perfectly. There are some nods to the Sherzad family in the décor as well, the classic green floor is thriving and you can’t miss Emel’s gorgeous abstract paintings gracing the walls.

So, what’s on the menu?

Well, 40 different cocktails, for one. They have all the classic and vintage cocktails, leveled up. I enjoyed a killer mezcal Last Word and my date got to enjoy a top-notch version of one of his favorites, the Clover Club. And let’s talk about their 3-6 p.m. happy hour—$8 old-fashioneds, $6 margaritas, $5 boilermakers, and $1.49 oysters! Young told me what she loves most about cocktails is what they signify, “to stop, relax, and enjoy what’s in front of you.”

She may know her way around the bar, but at Bar+Cart you will find Young a bit farther back, slanging those tasty hummus platters and nachos from the kitchen.

Young serves what she likes, and never stops listening to what her customers are liking too. She has the ever-evolving menu divided up into different sections for ease. There is “Light,” where you can find more delicate fare like steak tartare and salads, “Spreads,” full of Young’s snacky favorites like pita bread and hummus, “Footlongs,” a new section due to popular demand dedicated to sub sandwiches (including porchetta and a lobster roll, yum!), and “Homey,” a section that includes more satisfying dishes like lamb chops and seabass curry. It is designed so you can find just what you’re in the mood for quickly, there is truly something for everyone.

My favorite reason to support Bar+Cart? How they treat their staff and run their restaurant.
They are a 100% equitable space, meaning every staff member makes the same amount of money from dishwashers to servers, and there are no managers. Everyone is on the same hourly rate, and they operate under the no tipping, 20% surcharge model which is split evenly amongst everyone nightly. It is incredibly rare in the industry that the folks in the back cooking and cleaning are making the same amount as the folks in the front, and knowing that someone is making that happen makes my heart happy. Bar+Cart’s way of doing things not only promotes the team being a true team, but it gives all staff income they can rely on, without as many unpredictables.

“Anybody who’s ever worked with me knows my number one is just fairness,” Young says. “You really can’t give the best experience if you’re not 100% invested and happy with where you’re working.”
Hospitality is a close number two, another piece of Khyber Pass Young is bringing into Bar+Cart.

“When you walked in their door it was hospitality from the beginning to the end, that’s just the kind of people they are,” she said of the Sherzad family. Young says she recognizes that putting a hospitality surcharge on the bill means guests in their establishment need to actually get what they are paying for— that means creating a welcoming environment where patrons can feel truly taken care of and understood, and she is overjoyed knowing her team are providing it for them.

“Watching the team that we brought on interacting with the guests, that’s the most rewarding thing,” Young says, “seeing everyone actually happy in the space.”

When my love and I walked out of Bar+Cart last Friday night, it wasn’t just a wave and a shouted “thank you,” across the room from Young, not at all; she gave us both hugs, and was genuinely happy that we were leaving her space with smiles on our faces.

Bar+Cart Lounge and Restaurant
1571 Grand Ave, St Paul, MN

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