Skip to Content
Food & Drink

A Neighborhood Bar in Linden Hills? Picnic Pulls it Off.

Inside the cozy hangout spot that's zhuzhed up the old Clancey's Meat & Fish.

Em Cassel

I’ve never met the owners of the new Picnic, but I feel like I know them well. Most of their website is dedicated to an open letter to the Linden Hills community, in which Pete Nguyen outlines in great detail how he, along with E Kitzenberg and her husband Andrew, set out to create a cozy south Minneapolis wine and cocktail spot that would be a gathering place for the neighborhood. 

You can tell that E and Andrew love their kids, because Hazel and Banks appear on the new bar’s team page as “director of noo-noo development” and “lead toupee consultant.” You can tell they love lasagna, because Garfield also makes an appearance—and because their email address is It’s all a good balance of fun and thoughtful, sort of silly without being ironic, and it made me fairly certain that these first-time restaurant owners could pull off what E has written at length elsewhere about trying to pull off: creating a vibrant neighborhood bar in a part of the city that needs one, and one that would be complementary to already-bustling Linden Hills. 

But honestly, more than anything, I was curious about what the old Clancey’s Meat & Fish space would look like post-transformation. The Linden Hills butcher shop moved from this building to a much bigger space on Grand Avenue after 19 years there, with owner Kristin Tombers saying they'd been "bursting at the seams for quite some time." A man seated near me at the bar asked our bartender whether the former tenants had left anything behind. Huge hunks of ham, perhaps, or a freezer full of fish? Clearly I’m not the only one who’s seeing sandwich specters.

Em Cassel

At Picnic, where once there was a meat counter, there’s now a striking stone bar; where before there were a series of chalkboards on string listing the daily sandwiches and soups, a marble-backed, illuminated arch displays Picnic’s formidable array of bourbon and rye. 

In addition to the dozen bar seats, there are a few tables for larger groups, and a trio of two-tops lines the right-hand wall. These were actually a fascination of mine—the wooden tabletops are on hinges attached to the wall so they can be folded down flush with the surface, presumably to accommodate big gatherings or just to make it easier to sweep up at night. It’s one of a number of clever ways Picnic’s crew have made the most of the pint-sized space. And then there are a handful more stools along a counter looking into the kitchen in the rear. That’s also where you’ll see a roller full of glistening hot dogs. 

Glancing around the room, you’ll notice lots of wine glasses and snacking trays—“picnic boards” make up one section of the menu here. The South End serves up crab dip with chili crisp eggs, pimento cheese, and pickled green beans; there’s also a meat and cheese platter with a rotating selection of… you guessed it. We opted for the third, The Bandshell ($23), with a trio of dips: mama ganoush, muhammara, and a feta mint. All were wonderful, but the terra cotta-red muhammara was especially lovely spread on warm, za’atar-dusted pita. 

Em Cassel

We took Garfield’s advice and ordered the lasagna—or as Picnic calls it, Bowl of Cheese ($18)—to which our bartender replied, “Hell yeah.” Good sign! Apparently, the bowl of pasta about to materialize before us was the result of the staff testing 15 or more pans of the stuff. The one that won out is a marvel: smooth, almost silky, and so cheesy. The square of layered pasta wasn’t just blanketed with cheese, it was covered in a quilt of cheese, a comforter of cheese, a weighted blanket of cheese. Divine.

I don’t know if it’s a purposeful homage to the building’s former tenant or not—I have to believe it is, given how intentionally the Picnic team did everything here—but I love that there’s a baguette sandwich on the menu. Like so many Clancey’s sandwiches before it, The Marais ($15) comes on a skinny, crusty baguette. It’s got butter and brie and silky, salty ham. And it’s the kind of simple and elegant sandwich you can dress up or down; I started my evening with a dirty gin martini ($12) and wrapped it with a Hamm’s ($5). Neither felt out of place alongside it.

Em Cassel

Picnic has a few beers (including Hamm’s) on draft, although (and I’m not just saying this for effect) I think I only saw those taps used three times in the hour we were here. This is a wine crowd, and Picnic has made the wine list fun and accessible with cheeky little descriptors: “The Patio Pounder” (L’Agnostique Rosé), “Basically, Grown on the Moon” (Fronton de Oro Tinto Gran Canaria), “#BDE Pasta Wine” (Damilano Lecinquevigne Barolo). There are several NA offerings, including Proxies wine and beers from Athletic.

It all feels welcoming, right down to the menu that’s printed with both Picnic events (Meat Spin Monday is on May 6—and that reference, I have to believe, is not intentional, as it benefits the Lake Harriet Lower School PTA) and upcoming community events, like the next book club meetup at nearby Comma, A Bookshop (April 21), and the Linden Hills Garage Sale (May 11).

The Picnic trio were right that their neighborhood needed a fun and fancy neighborhood bar, especially one that stays open late. Every seat was full for the bulk of our visit, and even this little Powderhorn rat felt welcomed in a sea of starched tops and gold bangles for the evening. 

The smell of hot dogs wafting through the air helped.

Address: 4307 Upton Ave. S., Minneapolis
Hours: Monday-Thursday 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Friday-Saturday 11 a.m.-1 a.m.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter